Take a Breath When the Interviewer Makes a Mistake

Minefield

Tip of the Day

Interviews have crazy dynamics because everything is, quite literally, a test. Hyman Rickover, the father of the nuclear submarine, used to seat his interviewees in a chair that had the two front legs slightly shortened, just to see how they’d react. Granted, Rickover was known as a high-pressure guy, but whoever you’re meeting with, few things equal a job interview for making you feel like you’re under a microscope.

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So it’s not an easy place to be when the interviewer says something that’s wrong. Is he simply making a mistake, or is he testing you? My guess is few people are Machiavellian enough to set you up on purpose, but in any case, what do you do?

The most important thing is to take a step back. First, the interviewer may not actually be wrong. Remember that he’s probably raised this particular point over the course of numerous interviews, so any mistakes he’s made may well have been corrected. This doesn’t mean you can’t challenge him. It just means that even if you’re sure that you’re correct, you should at least entertain the possibility that you might not be. It’s always best to be on solid ground.

The other reason is obvious: No matter how you look at it, you’re in a delicate situation. If you back down completely, you’ll be “confessing” to a factual error that you never actually made. If you argue too much, the interviewer may regard you as arrogant. And, again, there’s that off-chance that he’s testing you. You want to proceed with caution.

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