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Interview Question

The only non-A grade I got in college for computer science courses was in Principles of Databases (B+).  The particular professor that taught it is a punchline amongst students and even other faculty (althought they have to be subtle about it :-).  I have no idea how this man got tenure.

Anyways, I could have taught the class myself, and the other students would have gained more from the course.  The grade was most definitely arbitrary, as I was not a close personal buddy of said professor.

During my last job interview, I was asked why I got my lowest CS course in a field that I claimed to be knowledgable in.  Fortunately, the interviewer had heard horror stories from other interns, and simply mentioning his name was a suffient answer - all doubt about my knowledge of the field was dropped.

I fear I won't have the same luck with the next interviewer.  What sort of spin can you give in a situation like this, without simply "blaming that crotchety ol' prof".

RecentGrad
Friday, September 19, 2003

I had a wierd experience like that.  I had a professor who thought exams shouldn't test your knowledge, but be more like a brain teaser.  With no example input he presented a triply recursive ML program.  By the time that I figured out it was some soft of binary processor (having tried just normal ASCII strings which the program would gladly read in), the test was over.  I got a B in the class because of that question.  I'm still bitter about it 8 years latter. 

I would just be honest with the interviewer.  We've all had those lame professors. 

christopher baus
Friday, September 19, 2003

You could try:

1) Is a B+ so bad really?
2) As I said, I am a recent grad so when I say I am an expect in database design, I mean  to say that I don't know squat but thanks for asking.

Unrecent grad
Friday, September 19, 2003

Fortunately, the power of a single grade falls off as time passes.  And JIC you need it, there's this: http://www.ratemyprofessors.com/index.jsp

A Spin might be that you obviously worked hard for perfect grades and while you feel the B+ was subjective, you've let the disappointment and irony also motivate you.  People Like when you're driven to do their bidding...

sammy
Friday, September 19, 2003

Saying, "Yeah, I got a B+ because the professor is a luser" doesn't fly in most interviews because it reads as: "Yes, we shipped a month late and probably cost the company a few tens of thousands of dollars, but that's just because John is a bad programmer and everyone knows it."

You're better off saying, "My Relational Database class was really difficult and the professor really challenged us to learn.  There was a lot of material and I really worked hard for that grade.  In the process I learned a lot about the subject area, and I even studied other areas we didn't get tested on so I could further expand my knowledge base.  Unfortunately due to the wide range of knowledge we covered, studying for the exams was a bit difficult.  I think I've learned a lot from that class, not just course material, but also how to handle high pressure situations with chaning demands and I'll definately do better going forward."

Good luck with the interview.

Lou
Friday, September 19, 2003

If you can show that you are competent, then I don't see how the grade really matters anyway.  If you had gotten Cs across the board, then I could see the problem.  Maybe the interviewer was just testing you to see how you respond under pressure.  I think most would excuse a B+, and not claim you are ignorant of Database issues. 

Maybe you should just carry a nicely normalized ERD that you've designed to the interview, incase the question comes up.

christopher baus
Friday, September 19, 2003

People look at grades?

I never showed anyone my grades out of college, just my GPA which, at 3.7, is good enough for all intents and purposes.

Alyosha`
Friday, September 19, 2003

Yeah I was thinking the same thing.  Did this interviewer see a full "report card" or something?

No interviewer has ever seen my college grades in an itemized list format.  Not because I hide it but just because it never came up.  GPA on the resume seems pretty standard.

Mister Fancypants
Friday, September 19, 2003

I've had an unofficial transcript be part of the application process, so its not too uncommon for a recent grad.  I think its one more thing for people to narrow the list with.

Lou
Friday, September 19, 2003

I agree with Lou. Read a few interview books and you'll see that this is just an opportunity to show that you've overcome adversity and you're stronger for it. Never try to justify your poor grade, you're proud of that B+.

Always talk positively of your past experiences... Why didn't you deliver that project on time?

"It was challenging, I overcame adversity, and I'm stronger for it."

Of course in story format so it's not obvious you're saying the same thing over and over. Like I said, get some of those "100 best answers to interview questions" and just read it... Put it next to the toilet, and read a little every day. Then read it a little on your way to the interview, or draft your own answers to these questions and read them over.

If you're the type who typically puts a negative spin on your experiences, be sure to write up positive versions of what happens. Maybe get some friends (uh, I guess JoS forum members count) to help you. They'll be a little more objective about something you can't be objective about.

Mark T A W .com
Friday, September 19, 2003

Any interviewer that is a CS grad himself will understand the grades are almost arbitrary.

Just me (Sir to you)
Saturday, September 20, 2003

I would question whether you really want to work at a place where they are anal enough to tackle you about a single B+.

NoName
Saturday, September 20, 2003

Maybe the interviewer was just making idle conversation. Either way you still need an answer to the question.

Mark T A W .com
Saturday, September 20, 2003

If you think your interviewer really *is* bothered about that B+ rather than just seeing how you react to criticism or pressure, consider the following options.

1. (If it's true, which it sounds as if it might be) "Yes, I was a bit disappointed with that one. I felt better about it when I discovered that only one person got anything higher than a B+ on that course. I think it was just marked rather harshly."

2. "That's a very good question, and I'd love to know the answer too. I've no idea what happened. I felt that I understood the course very well, I thought the exam went fine, and then my grade was only a B+. A lot of other people who did the course had the same experience. Some did better than they thought they should. Some did worse. Maybe the marking was a bit random."

But Lou's answer is probably better unless you're pretty sure that the interviewer is really bothered by your "low" grade.

If you give any sort of "defensive" answer (like the two above) then you should be prepared to justify your belief that you're better than the B+ suggests...

In any case, the chances are that once you've got a job you'll never again be asked that question. No one will care.

Gareth McCaughan
Monday, September 22, 2003

Sometimes developers get an unusually low grade for a course that they thought was really easy, so they just didn't bother to show up for class and never did the assignments, and then they crashed and burned at exam time.

I always ask about their worst mark or attribute to see what they'll say. If someone says "Oh, but the DB course was a complete waste of time because no-one actually uses RDBMs these days", I'll know he probably won't enjoy our bread and butter :)

Astarte
Monday, September 22, 2003

"The only non-A grade I got in college for computer science courses was in Principles of Databases (B+)."

You might want to rethink your career goals of being a software developer.  Everyone knows the only good developers out there are those that quit school after 2 years and got a job cause all that school stuff was so easy and worthless in the "real world"....

apw
Monday, September 22, 2003

I think some might also score low when they're particularly passionate about a topic, so might question the professor on everything, or take on too big of a term project (for example).

Rick
Monday, September 22, 2003

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