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I've been in this situation several times so far.

Once it was a practical problem given for me to solve (maths was involved - only one solution was correct). The interviewer corrected my solution, but I was sure the solution was actually ok. So the question was: should I try to convince him knowing he will probably hate me for pointing out his error or just accept his error hoping it won't influence my chances to get the job too much. I went for the first option but I was very diplomatic, I proposed we analyse it together, asked questions to make him understand his mistake, which was really evident, etc. We ended up having a long discussion on that and him telling me I had no idea. A few seconds later he actually told me I was right - and looking at how furious he was (he was so nervous he actually spilt some of his coffee on me) I knew I would never get the job.

I didn't get the job. The feedback was I didn't come across as assertive enough.

Now another situation like this. I was given a brainteaser which required me to guesstimate one economic indicator for my country. When explaining the solution to the interviewer he told me I was completely wrong and the indicator had actually a much lower value. I didn't want to argue this time as I wasn't completely sure. Now I checked it. I was actually very right, I missed the correct indicator from last year by less than 5%.

What is the right way to deal with the situation when the interviewer is wrong? The goal is not being eliminated as a candidate.


I don't think the linked question is the same. The question from 6 years ago seems to suggest that the interviewer was trying to test the interviewee's reactions (by repeating the same question many times in a very confrontational way, etc.). It seems to have been a typical stress interview. I've had that before, but the situation I describe in this thread is different. In this case I'm convinced the interviewers were actually mistaken.

Moreover, my question is not, "how to tell a interviewer that he is wrong", my question is how to react to this kind of situation - whether it makes sense to tell them or what better alternatives there are.

marked as duplicate by gnat, paparazzo, mhoran_psprep, scaaahu, Rory Alsop May 20 '18 at 7:51

This question has been asked before and already has an answer. If those answers do not fully address your question, please ask a new question.

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    The correct question is: would you want to work for them, if this kind of situation is a daily/weekly thing? There is a small chance they are doing this on purpose, to test how you react. – Juha Untinen May 19 '18 at 6:58
  • I'm quite sure they didn't want to "test my reaction". Actually I supposed the first one wanted, which is why I tried to convince him in the first place. But the fact he got furious makes me think he really believed I was wrong. The other one wasn't testing me for sure. They (he and his colleagues) made several doubtful assumptions and when I was trying to politely discuss, they made it clear no discussion was expected, so... – BigMadAndy May 19 '18 at 7:05
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React as if they were your new boss

If you had a new boss, manager, or technical lead and they said something wrong to you how would you normally react and go about correcting them? In an interview situation the person interviewing you likely will be your boss or someone with authority over you. As such treating them in the interview as if they were your new boss will tell both them and you how well you two can work together.

A few seconds later he actually told me I was right - and looking at how furious he was (he was so nervous he actually spilt some of his coffee on me) I knew I would never get the job.

At that point I would not want the job unless I was very desperate. If a person gets furious and nervous over a simple mistake, do you want to work for them? Interviewing is a two way street. If you correct them, then observe how they react. For example, if they immediately start to admonish you, do you really want to work for that type of person?

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I proposed we analyse it together, asked questions to make him understand his mistake, which was really evident, etc. We ended up having a long discussion on that and him telling me I had no idea. A few seconds later he actually told me I was right - and looking at how furious he was (he was so nervous he actually spilt some of his coffee on me) I knew I would never get the job.

I didn't get the job. The feedback was I didn't come across as assertive enough.

From your description it sounds like you were assertive, and not over-assertive, in how you handled this issue. Unless there was some other aspect of the interview that gave rise to that assessment, it might be that you just got unlucky in getting a bad interviewer.

That happens sometimes, and sadly there's not much to do about it. It's important to learn from experience, but sometimes it's just as important not to over-learn. Sometimes the error isn't on your side, in which case you shouldn't change your approach to cater to one person's foibles.

The tough part is figuring out which ones should be learning experiences and which ones shouldn't, but then that's what this sort of post is for - getting feedback from others.

When explaining the solution to the interviewer he told me I was completely wrong and the indicator had actually a much lower value. I didn't want to argue this time as I wasn't completely sure.

Possibly something along the lines of "You may well be right, but can we please check that?" (assuming it's something that's easily googled) would've worked here, but it's impossible to know for sure. This one, also, sounds like it's more on the interviewer than on you.

A while back my wife applied for two positions at a government agency, slightly different levels in the same area. Both had the same question about understanding of the agency's purpose and values, and she gave the same (written) answer for both. The feedback from the lower-level position said she hadn't shown enough understanding on the "purpose and values" question; the feedback from the higher-level position said she didn't have enough experience, but mentioned that she'd given a good answer for "purpose and values". So her answer was good enough for the higher-level role, but not the lower-level one.

Just goes to show how much of the process comes down to luck of the draw.

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I think there are possibly two issues here. One is that you were not assertive enough, the other you were, in fact, wrong.

ONE: Improve Your Communication Skills

Once it was a practical problem given for me to solve...I proposed we analyse it together, asked questions to make him understand his mistake, which was really evident, etc...

Seems like a fair way to go about the issue. If you are called out as being wrong you should be diplomatic, although maybe you took a while to get to the crux of the issue?

A few seconds later he actually told me I was right - and looking at how furious he was (he was so nervous he actually spilt some of his coffee on me) I knew I would never get the job.

Furious isn't nervous, so which is it? Interviewers shouldn't mind if they mess up (their job isn't on the line!). This particular interview sounds weird.

I didn't get the job. The feedback was I didn't come across as assertive enough.

You do note that you both had a "long discussion", so perhaps replay that interview with a friend and see if you could perhaps have a shorter discussion in future.

TWO - You're Wrong

Now another situation like this. I was given a brainteaser which required me to guesstimate one economic indicator for my country. When explaining the solution to the interviewer he told me I was completely wrong ... I missed the correct indicator from last year by less than 5%.

In these questions, the answer isn't the point. This is a typical consulting interview question, and "the right answer" isn't the point. The actual point is how you get to the answer. The framework you use for estimating, the numbers you assume, the reasons behind the assumptions. If you come up with the completely right number - but your logic is flawed - then you "failed".

However, in this case as you didn't know you were "right" I can see no way you could have responded. You can really only press back if you know you are correct in an interview. Alternatively, you can always press back in the interview if they say you are wrong. After all, being wrong is an excellent way to be eliminated, so you might wonder what you have to lose.

I've refused hires in the past because they pushed back (when they were wrong) though, so perhaps this isn't a great solution.

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    Sorry, there are some problems with this answer. Maybe you could improve the consistency and logic? Also, you are misunderstanding my question. The point of the second question was actually to give a correct answer as it was a question about a well-known indicator, not a case study. Also, if being correct isn't the point, you don't normally get corrected. If it hadn't been the point, I wouldn't have mentioned this question in the thread. – BigMadAndy May 19 '18 at 9:01

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