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During an interview with a well-known technology firm, I couldn’t remember the exact output generated by a certain method call belonging to Python, the split() function. I admitted this to the interviewer (in fact, I noted that in a "real" situation, I would double-check on Stackoverflow or the docs). My interviewer stated that the function would generate a certain output, and notated that output in our shared document (to be clear, I believe that this was an honest mistake and didn't have a malicious intent).

However, after the interview, I discovered that the output the interviewer provided was, in fact, incorrect, and had cost me time in trying to code my solution to match their incorrect hint (unfortunately, the result of the interview was dis-favorable for me). How should a candidate accommodate a possible interviewer error in this situation?

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  • Do you believe this was a mistake or intentional?
    – cdkMoose
    Dec 3 '20 at 2:52
  • @cdkMoose an honest mistake.
    – Daniel
    Dec 3 '20 at 2:52
  • Did you have to run you code? at some companies the code never executed during the interview, just discussed with the interviewer. So an interface not matching the real one should not matter.
    – max630
    Dec 3 '20 at 6:08
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Unless you have reason to think that the decision to hire you would be reconsidered if you correct the misunderstanding, the only thing to do is to chalk it up to bad luck and move on to the next interview.

And I mean a concrete reason, not a hunch or a hope or a belief in justice. Because if you bring it up and it doesn’t make a difference, all it is going to do is make you look worse. It’s going to make you look like a sore loser and a complainer. That may never matter, but if then again it may.

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During an interview with a well-known technology firm, I couldn’t remember the exact output generated by a certain method call belonging to Python, the split() function.

You have no way of knowing if that specific piece of knowledge made the difference. It's possible they decided not to hire you for a totally different reason. Perhaps they interviewed another candidate they liked better.

I would doubt that a company would decide not to hire you just because you forgot one specific call that, as you say, you could just look up in a reference.

How should a candidate accommodate a possible interviewer error in this situation?

You don't, unfortunately. There is no standard process to "appeal" a hiring decision -- it's not a negotiation. Companies rarely, if ever, provide feedback on interviews, so you have no specific grounds on which to contest the outcome.

By calling out the interviewer's error, you run the risk of offending someone, and ruining future chances to work with the company. It's possible that they will call you back in six months and want you to interview again.

You simply need to be gracious, accept the company's decision, and get ready for the next interview.

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How should a candidate accommodate a possible interviewer error in this situation?

Best way is to do nothing, and move on. Mistakes happen, and majority of people do not like to be pointed out for the minor mistakes which can be obtained by a simple google search. If you try to go back and correct them now, most likely you'll draw negative attention and that's not going to be helpful for you.

There's two things to keep in mind:

  • Sometimes unintentional mistakes happen, the exacts of the output of a single function generally do no decide the outcome of an interview - there's more to that. Take this as a one-off incident and move on. If anything, look at the positive side, you modified the approach to suit an alternate input/output, as needed. Any good interviewer will see that as a positive.

  • Some other times (albeit rare), interviewers intentionally try to mislead you to see whether you are confident of you are guessing things and being lucky. However, that's only form of a question "Are you sure it's X, and not Y?" and not dismissing your answer fully, or providing you with a wrong hint / requirement altogether. Not that this is a case, just wanted to mention so that you are aware.

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