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Consider the situation where you've applied for a technical position (i.e. in Software Engineering) and on a phone interview you were asked a technical question. Regardless of the reason, you respond to the question with either an "I don't know" or an answer that isn't what the interviewer was trying to discern in regards to your personal expertise.

After finishing the interview, you realize the correct answer. What should you do?

Let your response rest as it is or should you respond, via email, explaining why you initially gave an incorrect answer and provide an amended response?

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4 Answers 4

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Honestly, I would say don't say anything about the technical questions; at this point, you're an interviewee who got nervous and missed a question you might have gotten right in a better environment. If you respond back at this point, though, then you run two risks:

a) you look a bit obsessive, like "I have to let them know that I knew this answer".

b) you've waited long enough to respond that it could look like you looked the answer up, and you don't gain anything with a right answer.

If you want to do anything, just respond back with a general thank-you, and possibly add a caveat: "I was so pleased to meet with you yesterday. I'm sorry I was so nervous and missed a couple of questions I should have answered correctly, but I look forward to hearing from you again." Also, find a way to reiterate your interest in the position; add in some things you learned about the company from the interview.

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4  
Just to add to this, "I don't know" is a safe answer as many places use negative marking for wrong answers. –  Simon O'Doherty Feb 2 '13 at 10:59

Recruiter of software engineers here, and I have seen candidates who have botched an interview question send an answer after the interview (sometimes immediately, sometimes after a few hours or even a day or two) and the results have been very positive.

Here is how to do it.

  1. Find out the email address of the person who did the interview
  2. Write an email that says something about your mindset during the interview and that afterwards you realized what the correct answer was.
  3. Write out the question as best as you can remember it, try and write out what your answer was (the botched answer) and then how you should have answered and what you did wrong.
  4. Close by saying that you are very interested in the company/opportunity and that you feel that your performance on that question was not indicative of your abilities.

If it was a tech question that could be answered with a coding example or some kind of app design, write the code/model and send it along.

I have to disagree with the answer above (by Adam V) as I don't think this tactic will make you look obsessive at all, but on the contrary it will make you look very interested in the position. Letting an employer know you are interested is a major problem for some candidates, and this is an easy way to do this - particularly if you go 'above and beyond' in your response.

I also disagree with Adam V's assessment that they will discount your answer now because you've had time to look up the answer. The job of a software engineer is an open book test, with lots of reliance on looking things up during work. Companies want to hire candidates that have great knowledge, but it is equally important to hire employees that are resourceful and know where to find the answers. That is why some companies ask very difficult questions in interviews - not just to see whether you know the answer, but to see whether you will either try to lie about knowing the answer or to measure how resourceful you are and how you describe the act of finding an answer. Telling an interviewer how you would go about finding an answer is always better than a simple 'I don't know'.

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I think there are two different questions:

If you said "I don't know" and outside the heat of the interview you do know then I'd leave it as it was said - you didn't know at the time for any number of reasons but you don't need to try and justify it.

If you answered and in hindsight you think they were asking something different then a very brief follow up could be useful.

I'd caveat this with that the success or failure of an interview very rarely comes down to a single question.

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Well, unfortunately I had a rough day yesterday. I was tired, I couldn't think clearly and if I had to grade my performance on an interview, it would be a "C". Some of the questions that were asked I gave a decent response, though my thoughts seemed scattered. There was one question that was sort of the "big" question. The one you want to nail because if you get that right, you'll probably get a job offer by the end of the day. I botched it even though it was a simple problem for me. I am smarter than the interview portrayed and, ultimately, I'd like a second chance. –  RLH Feb 1 '13 at 14:13
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In all honesty, I think you're unlikely to get one - interviewing someone once is already very expensive, there's very little reason to do so again in most companies. –  Michael Feb 1 '13 at 14:44

imho, the best thing would be to get deeper - take that technical question, try to come up with something better than just a plain answer (for example, not-so-obvious connection between this question and something else - take your time and try to find something good) - then, later you might bring this thing up again, explain the situation (you were distracted etc) and offer that new idea described above.

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