My Interviewer Is Wrong. What Do I Do?

While it’s usually candidates who make the mistakes in interviews, interviewers can screw up, too. Handling that kind of situation can be tricky.

Business People ArgueIf you back down completely, you’ll be “confessing” to a factual error that you never actually made, which may damage your interviewer’s perception of your performance. If you argue too much, though, your interviewer may perceive you as hostile and arrogant, and could reject you. And, there’s always the off-chance that your interviewer is testing you to see how you handle those sorts of situations. Whatever the case, you want to proceed with caution.

These steps will help you challenge the error without losing points.

#1: Take a Step Back

Usually, when candidates think that their interviewer is wrong, it’s actually the candidates who are wrong. This isn’t because interviewers are always smarter than candidates. Not at all! It’s simply because your interviewer has usually asked this question dozens of times. Any incorrect knowledge by the interviewer has usually been corrected by then. The odds are, frankly, against your being right.

This doesn’t mean you can’t challenge the interviewer, but it does mean that even when you’re pretty sure you’re right, you need to remember that you might not be. Haven’t we all been wrong even when we’re really confident that we’re not?

#2: Clarify and Question

If you’ve decided to challenge your interviewer, approach the situation by clarifying (or at least pretending to clarify) where you might be mistaken.

For example, if your interviewer is explaining that your solution won’t be as good as another solution when a data set is large, repeat back what she’s saying in your own words, so as to clarify the differences between your perspective and hers. For example:

“So, you’re saying that on a large data set, this database design will end up being slower than the other one due to joins during operation Foo. Won’t the other database design also have to delete with slow joins during operation Bar?”

Taking an approach like this lessens the feeling of being “attacked. And, if it turns out that you’re wrong, you’ll wind up looking a lot less stupid.

#3: Find a Middle Ground

In some cases, it may not be an issue of someone being 100 percent wrong. Look for different assumptions or situations that could affect the “right” answer, even if that means conceding to a bad design being better given seemingly bizarre assumptions.

For example, if you were debating which of two designs was better, there may be a specific set of cases – however unusual or unexpected — in which the interviewer’s design is superior. Express that.

#4: Back Off (But Not Necessarily Back Down)

When all else fails, it’s time to back off from the debate. This doesn’t mean saying that you’re wrong and the interviewer is right. It just means conceding that you might be wrong (which you might be!). You need to find a way to peacefully end the debate without engendering hostile feelings.

Ultimately, your goal in an interview is to land a job that you will find personally and professionally rewarding. Vigorously fighting with your interviewer over some simple matter might soothe your ego, but it won’t help you achieve your true goals. In interviews, just as at work and in your personal life, it’s important to be able to speak up for yourself without squashing other people.

13 Responses to “My Interviewer Is Wrong. What Do I Do?”

    • First off, it’s TOO bias, not to. For someone who wants to criticize someone else’s writing, you should at least know the difference between TO and TOO. Also, the article totally favored the interviewer way more than it favored the candidate. I don’t know how you got the opposite!

      • Unca Alby

        Max, if you’re going to criticize someone’s English, you need to be 1000% sure that your own is correct. Alyssa’s statement was correct, it is “TO” using “bias” as a verb. You’re probably thinking of “too biasED” using “biased” as an adjective. Thereafter, you absolutely agreed with her sentiment while complaining that she said the opposite? HUH? Is this a test? Are you trying to see who’s paying attention?

  1. John Kerr

    Related, I often have an interviewer whom has no idea about the job they are being the interviewer for. Could be a recruiter, could be an HR person, but certainly not the hiring manager. I have (twice) “taken over” the interview, thinking I needed to get most from the interviewers time. I’m pretty sure this action cost me a second or third interview. How should this situation be handled?

    • Oliver Clothesoff

      Don’t attempt to “take over” the interview. The interviewer has goals in mind (including culture fit) that you’re probably not aware of. Follow their lead. Or, strike out on your own, but don’t be surprised if without a map, you fail to reach your destination – a job offer.

  2. There was a job that a company was hiring for and gave all applicants a test. I did the test and submitted it. They pointed out one of my wrong answers. I factually showed them how the answer was correct. They got back to me a couple of days later and said that yes, I was correct, but they also marked another person’s answer wrong (when they were correct) so they would keep my answer marked as wrong also. I told them I was not interested in working with a company whose would not correct their mistakes.

    • Unca Alby

      I took a test and was told I made two mistakes. I pointed out how one of the “mistakes” was correct, and explained why. The interviewer was impressed, and I got the job.

  3. Naseem Arshad

    Working in North America, all these techniques shown by hiring companies are useless and not based upon reality.
    The Reality Check:
    a) Find someone inside the game
    b) Find some outside reference attached or beneficial to employer
    c) Tailor all you lies to the requirement… Resume is an art of matching your skills with job requirement, otherwise you will be overqualified or under qualified
    d) If you have no such credentials, all your ability is ZERO

    Best strategy:
    Apply all three techniques and be successful…

    Nobody on North America can say that they were on a position due to shear ability
    and without using above mentioned techniques.

    Good Luck in your career pursuit

  4. This is a very tricky situation. you should challenge the interviewer, but not in aggressive manner.
    In one interview same technique worked wonders..the interviewer started to analyze my comments and found that I am correct and he admitted it , in some way you end up making a good impression to the interviewer.
    But things are not always the same, sometimes they are not ready to listen properly and will keep on repeating like a broken record. [ nothing can be done on this.. break the deadlock.. go to next question.. tell him to cross check this after the interview]

  5. Mountains

    Very often there’re different ASSUMPTIONS about the problem in the head of the interviewer vs. candidate. Both can be correct, based on what assumption is used. So, I agree, it’s very important to request clarification of the problem and remove all potential AMBIGUITIES about the question.

  6. John Whitfield

    My preferred response is to state an opinion (“I think that’s not right. . .”) because it could be a test on my knowledge or my willingness to speak up. If the interviewer pushes back, I’ll go to something along the lines of “I’ll have to look that up.” It lets the argument drop without having to back down or pretend I was wrong when I wasn’t.

    After that, I really do look it up. If I was right, I drop it rather than appear petty. If I was wrong, I email the interviewer a thank-you for the interview and let them know that I did look it up and what I found. It lets them know that I’m careful with my analysis (it’s a big part of what I do) and that I’m not afraid to admit it when I’m wrong.