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I don't know
Admitting you don't know something in a job interview is OK
Even though I may have set my career back a few years with my decision in The choice, I eventually left the Library of Congress. I didn't go as much by desire as out of resentment and spite, which shows I was a slow learner. Don't be like me.
I liked my original manager, who I've renamed Bob to protect my nether wares from vengeful knees. But, unfortunately, he decided to promote his secretary, Toot, to a managerial position when she placed him in a half-nelson and demanded a raise from minimum to mediocre wage. Then, he wedged me beneath her as her only report to get even with me for the wasp.
Toot and I got along fine before Bob transmogrified her into a pico-manager, which is like a micromanager, only a million times worse. She was funny and had been one of my favorite people to talk to before the change.
For example, before the organizational shift, Toot told me a story about her son Timmy and his cousin Kyle. They had been at a family outing when Timmy ran up and asked, "Mom, how come my wiener is usually soft but sometimes gets hard like a bone?" She replied, "Sometimes, your body causes it to fill with blood, which makes it hard like that." Timmy thought about that for a second, looked satisfied with the answer, and then replied, "Wow! Kyle must have a lot of blood."
All the chit-chat and humor died after Toot became my manager. For instance, I had worked from 7:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. for three years and had a key to the building to let myself in. Yet, as soon as Bob placed Toot over me, she took my key away and forced me to work from 8:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. because that was her shift, and she "couldn't manage [me] unless she was there to see what [I] was doing." This change almost doubled my commute times due to rush-hour traffic and ate away a significant part of my evenings.
She also stopped allowing me to use the shared computer at work. I'm still trying to figure out why. Maybe she felt threatened. When I started working for the Library of Congress, I didn't know anything about computers, and she was the guru of the office. When Bob made Toot my manager three years later, I was writing programs and solving network issues for the entire organization.
The situation between Toot and I seethed for several months. In all fairness, I was just as terrible a peasant as she was an autocrat. I applied for another position within the Library of Congress to escape but failed to get the part. The conflict finally fried my patience, and after far too many years, I started looking for work outside the government.
Three days after applying, I scored an interview for a technical support position at Hewlett Packard Bell & Howell. Wow! So soon? I thought. I was impressed with myself.
The real name of the company was Packard Bell. Of course, Hewlett-Packard and Bell & Howell were separate companies. Still, half of the customers who called Packard Bell's technical support team would say, "I just bought a Hewlett Packard Bell & Howell computer, and now the sun doesn't rise anymore." I don't know how they did it, but Packard Bell found a way to sell despair in a friendly off-white box.
I didn't know what to expect as I parked in front of Packard Bell's support office. This meeting was my first technical interview. What if I flopped during the interrogation? I walked in and sat nervously by a large plastic fern. Judging by the crowd in the entryway, it looked like Packard Bell had invited half the state in for an interview, whether they had applied or not. I didn't feel as impressed with myself as before, and the odds of getting hired felt more insurmountable.
Finally, after Packard Bell's hiring managers had cleared out half the people in the foyer, an enormous scraggly beard walked over, poked out his hand, and introduced himself as Doug.
Doug walked me back into a small room full of computers and offered me a seat at a small desk. He sat on the opposite side and started grilling me.
"What command would you run to list all the files in a directory in DOS?"
"dir," I replied.
"How would I prevent dir from scrolling a long list of files off the top of the screen?"
"You could add the /P flag to paginate the file list," I answered.
"Good! OK, what does fdisk do?"
I had never used the fdisk command and had yet to learn what it was for. Is this what you shout at your computer when you lose a file? I didn't know.
"I, uh, I don't know," I said with a sinking feeling like I had held the interview underwater until there were no more bubbles.
"OK, next. What does xcopy do?"
I knew the answer, but I was so surprised that my lack of response on the fdisk question hadn't ended the interview that I almost failed to answer this question, too. Fortunately, I overcame my shock a moment later and answered the rest of the interview questions correctly.
I received a call from one of Packard Bell's HR representatives the next day, and she offered me a job for twice the pay. So I walked into Toot's office and gave her my two-week notice with a giant smile so wide the corners of my mouth touched each other around the back of my head.
The team threw a farewell party for me on my last day. Toot seemed angry yet relieved that I was leaving, but there was ice cream, so we both went away content.
Since this experience, I have seen some people honestly answer, "I don't know," in interviews, and others try to fake their way through. The entire point of an interview is for you and the company to see if you'll be a good fit. There's nothing wrong with discovering you aren't. Finding out in the interview is better than getting fired or quitting a few weeks into the job.
Despite my positive experiences admitting my ignorance, I've tried to fake my way through interviews several times. Still, in my experience, the outcome is always better when I say, "I don't know," and move on to the next question instead of wasting everyone's time. More often than not, I get the job anyway, and people don't expect me to know things I don't.
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