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Yesterday I went for a job interview at a product based company. In one of the interviews the interviewer asked me a question that I answered correctly (I have cross checked it) but he kept on asking me the same question again and again.

First I thought maybe he just wants me to get confused and change my answer so I didn't budge but later it looked like he didn't know the right answer as he spent whole 15 minutes discussing it and still didn't look convinced!

The worst part is that we ended the interview at that question.

Is there any polite way of handling such situations? How can I tell him "you are wrong" or "let's check it in the IDE right now" without sounding arrogant?

  • 6
    This has happened to me before. I was asked how to perform a task in an API and gave a correct answer. The interviewer said I was wrong and gave me an answer that was also correct, yet insisted that there is no method in this API that I mentioned. I looked it up to make sure when I got home and found that the method I mentioned did exist but it was deprecated in the new release. It happens to a lot of people. Interviewers shouldn't ask questions unless they completely understand every possible answer that could be given. – maple_shaft Oct 4 '12 at 11:23
  • The point of the question might not have been technical mastery, it could have been a test of how you handle a difficult situation. – Jesse Oct 4 '12 at 20:02
  • @Vivek: you don't....... – Greg McNulty Oct 8 '12 at 18:08
  • @GregMcNulty I know :) & I didn't but it just pisses me off !!! As if you have to go thru 8-10 interviews stretched over 1-3 weeks to get a job not to forget the stress and then end up with the sinking feeling of not getting the offer !!! – Vivek Oct 9 '12 at 5:26
  • See past answers regarding how to tell a boss they're wrong. Same mechanisms for keeping it polite and leaving room for the chance that the error is yours can and should be applied with most folks., actually. – keshlam Mar 7 '16 at 23:56
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You can learn a lot about someone in situations like this (even if the interviewer KNEW you were right). However ethical this may or may not be on the part of the interviewer there IS a lot of insight they can learn from this rather than just Q/A over mindless trivia.

Consider:

  • How does the candidate react when others inaccurately tell him he is incorrect? Is he a team player or a "my way or the highway" type person?
  • How well does the candidate understand why his answer is correct? Does he have a deep understanding over the material/question or just know it without understanding why?
  • How does the candidate react to conflict?

Conflict and disagreement comes up all the time in the working world. Being able to deal with things in a mature way is important.

Is there any polite way of handling such situations?

The polite way is however you would react to someone on your team similarly disagreeing. A statement like, "I understand we disagree on this issue. Is there any chance we can and move forward?"

That phrase could be any of the following depending on the tone of the interview:

  • Research via Google at the end of the interview, time permitting
  • Followup with email
  • Determine if this particular question is a show stopper
  • Agree to disagree until you've both had a chance to look things up and verify your positions
  • etc

How can I tell him "you are wrong" or "let's check it in the IDE right now" without sounding arrogant?

This would be more difficult. You could suggest something along the lines of, "I understand we disagree - if this was in the course of our normal work I would recommend we look at this over an IDE and determine what our disagreement is. However, this is likely not possible at this time - is there any chance we can move forward?"

You do not want to leave the interviewer the impression of you being condescending or arrogant (unless you are so ridiculously qualified and competent you feel this won't matter?). Nor do you want them feeling you are argumentative for the sake of being argumentative. Pulling up an IDE and going "hah! I was right!" does not exactly bode well for leaving a positive impression on the interviewer in most cases.

The best end result is the interviewer feeling your are competent and confident in your own abilities but able to resolve conflict in a meaningful fashion (especially if they are being intentionally argumentative).


As an aside, sometimes this sort of dialogue can be quite revealing about whether you actually understand material and the subject being asked about rather than just the surface level answer. Imagine a question like

How is std::vector implemented?

If you answer "with an array" your interviewer might be able to go "correct!" but if they disagree and you start discussing why it is or why it makes sense to be, they learn a lot more about your understanding of lookup times, copy times, and all the other factors which go into why std::vector is implemented the way it is implemented. Just by disagreeing with you.

Now imagine if instead they say "no" and you respond "no, really, it is, let's look it up" instead of dialoguing about the why - you lose this opportunity to talk about your answer's justification and show deeper understanding of the above ideas. Additionally, your interviewer may go "oh this guy doesn't really understand why std::vector is done the way it is but just knows it is."

This somewhat assumes your interviewer is attempting to adequately interview you to determine your abilities. Sometimes you just will have a bad interviewer, in which case all bets are off...

  • Could you elaborate on how this could be unethical? – user8365 Oct 8 '12 at 15:08
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    @JeffO - some people may see an interviewer directly lying to you as an ethical issue – enderland Oct 8 '12 at 15:13
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    @JeffO: it's a form of lying. And whether you or the interviewer agree, at the very least you should be aware that a) others do consider it unethical and b) lots of people are not going to want to work for a company that starts the relationship by lying to them. – jmoreno Oct 8 '12 at 15:50
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    The interviewer doesn't have to disagree in order to ask why. – CodesInChaos Apr 1 '14 at 16:31
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    Being wrong about something is not the same as lying. Remember the saying, Never attribute to malice that which is adequately explained by stupidity. – Cronax Mar 27 '15 at 8:31
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Is there any polite way of handling such situations? How can I tell him "you are wrong" or "let's check it in the IDE right now" without sounding arrogant?

How would you handle it if you were hired?

Realistically, you're going to be working with this person and you'll get into arguments about things. If you can't work through those arguments to come to some sane consensus, your working relationship is going to suffer. If they're so stubborn as to not acknowledge that they may be wrong, consider that as part of your decision to take the job. If your response is completely offensive to them, then maybe your personality isn't a good fit.

Use the situation as a trial view of what working there is like.

5

I have been in this situation before. You can defer to an authority: a specification or the IDE for example.

In my case the interviewer was not aware of the <<= operator in C. So I simply stated I'm sure that is correct but will check K&R later.

  • How about the downto operator as in for (size_t i = len; i --> 0;) { ... } very useful for unsigned index types. Many people don't know about this one, but it's been there since the 70s. – chqrlie Feb 21 at 19:39
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Be yourself, but be polite. You don't know what they want in this situation. Hopefully, you can tell if they want to drop the subject or if they feel uncomfortable and intimidated by your disagreement. I've been at places where you had to jump up and down and scream to be heard (And was complimented by the CEO after doing so, believe it or not.) and others where disagreement was insubordination.

Technical people like to live in a world where being right along with truth and justice are held above politics and the feelings of others. By being yourself, you'll know if your approach is appreciated or would be punished. Do you want to stick to your answer or be a "yes" man? Faking it will just set you up for future failure and/or misery.

Remember, being right is no excuse for being rude.

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It is a difficult position to be in - giving a correct answer to a question but the interviewer believing it to be incorrect.

If you feel that the interview is ending up bogged up with this single question and your answer to it, you can politely suggest that it may be more productive to move on with the interview and go through other questions.

When it comes to technical details that can be easily checked (online or through documentations or tools), you can suggest that this can be checked after the interview.

The point here is to move on and not end on a negative note.

In one occasion, I simply said to the interviewer that I might be wrong (about the default value of some configuration option). This meant we could move ahead with other questions.

2

The best approach in my mind is to calmly state that perhaps my understanding of the question is not what the interviewer had in mind, or perhaps I had used a different version of the product.

It seems to me it is best to ask the interviewer a question that is unrelated, but still relevent to the position, to steer the discussion to a different aspect of the job. If the interviewer is still fixated on the controversial detail, this may be your signal that you might want to reconsider working at this place, if this person would be your supervisor.

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If they were playing games with you, meaning, this was a test, then don't pursue the job cause it's a sign they have bad management.

However, you don't be the first technical person in an interview where the hiring manager or someone from HR doesn't have a clue about things. During the interview, the best thing to do is discuss it, say what you need to in a gentle way but move on to another topic. It's all in how you do this. If you come across as trying to make them feel stupid that doesn't work in your favor.

  • Everything in an interview is a test and depending on how you look at it, a game. Literally asking a candidate how they respond when told they are incorrect is like giving a multiple-choice test. You want a carpenters's position, show me you can cut a board. – user8365 Oct 8 '12 at 15:13
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    You shouldn't be so focused on being a seller, but a buyer too. Many companies have very poor management and you need to be on the alert for them. It is naive to assume that whatever going on in an interview is proper and above board and correctly thought out and constructed. Life is not a TV show where everything is has a well intended meaning. Often it's not a good company. – Edward Oct 9 '12 at 4:56

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