System Design Interview Tip #2: Ask clarifying questions

A system design interview session usually lasts 45 minutes to an hour. We have between 35 to 45 minutes to demonstrate our abilities. We can’t afford to be unfocused. Asking clarifying questions helps us and the interviewer focus on the right things in such a short amount of time.

From the interviewer’s perspective, not asking clarifying questions is often a no-hire signal. On the other hand, asking good questions gives the interviewer a good idea on how we think and approach problems.

Here are a few pointers to consider when asking questions. The primary goal of these questions is to eliminate misunderstanding, confusion, and ambiguity. Use the questions to pin down the functional and non-functional requirements. Use them as a tool to keep the requirements simple and manageable. Leverage them to get a solid idea on the scale and performance constraints.

These questions are the primary tool in Step 1 of our 4-step framework: “Understand the Problem and Establish Design Scope”. Use them well and we are on our way to a great finish.

Published: 2022-04-13

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