91

I had a technical phone interview today where the interviewer and I had a disagreement on a (small, very unimportant) technical detail in my code where he was suggesting one thing and I disagreed and thought we should try a slightly different thing.

He insisted I was wrong and, against my better judgement, I got too attached with the argument and I kept arguing with him on that point. It didn't escalate beyond the issue at hand, though it did get a little heated, and in hindsight I just would have dropped the point after the first iteration of argument.

I realize I blew my chance with the company for now, but as far as maintaining a possibility to work there in the future and general politeness to a fellow human goes, is this something I should send an apology about? If this happened with a coworker I think would have sent an apology note.

I do not have the developer's contact information but rather the recruiter's.

  • Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. Feel free to continue the discussion on technology in that chat room. – enderland Oct 6 '17 at 13:45

13 Answers 13

134

This was the test.

Your interviewer wanted to see how you would respond to criticism of your code. Clearly arguing about whether your code was correct or not was not the result the interviewer was looking for.

In business it does not matter if your code works; if the boss says "I see what you did, but I want you to do it a different way", your response should be, "OK, I will do it that way." That is not to say you can not question if it is the right way to do it, but if those questions are overruled then it is not your place to argue further.

If there is a problem with the way suggested, the correct way to address that concern is to ask the question, "Won't doing it that way result in {Failure Condition}?" If the senior says no, then you do it the way the senior suggested, and then correct it when and if you get the bug report.

If I were being interviewed and something similar was said to me, I would probably ask "How would you suggest implementing that?" Then respond with something along the lines of, "I can see why you would choose that way." Or if the proposed solution looks like it may not work, I would respond with "I would need to play with that and see how it works, but I am good with that if it does."

In real world team development you are going to work on something for days, maybe weeks, just to have a senior come in and refactor your code in a few hours. They may or may not have made it better, but that doesn't matter. The code is not yours; it belongs to the company, and the company trusts the senior when they overhaul your work. And if you can not tolerate that, then a team environment is probably not the best place for you.

There is little or no point in apologizing now. If you run into them again sometime in the future, then yes apologize, but otherwise take it as a learning experience and move on.

For those that disagree and think that arguing with an interviewer during a pre-employment interview is the right thing to do, I respect your opinion and simply ask that you not come here asking questions about why you are not able to find a job.

  • Not true for the best bosses: [you tried to deviate from instructions to do what was right. I want you to do it a different (my) way]. Good bosses don’t care about “different”, or “their way”, only optimal results. It’s simple and safe just to do what ur told. But if you can really get an objectively better result, do it. Of course, don’t just go rogue, you have to make a convincing argument. In this case it seems the problem was you were wrong, or the argument was not compelling, and you let emotion creep in and didn’t stay dispassionate. – whitneyland Dec 18 '17 at 19:41
  • Another comment, the last paragraph about arguing being wrong is presumptuous. “Argument” is not the problem, it’s temperament. If you can master the balance of respectfully questioning things, in a productive way, it shows a positive attribute. I personally find it exciting when a candidate shows this level of composure, independence, and maybe the talent to teach me something. – whitneyland Dec 18 '17 at 19:47
70

I realize I blew my chance with the company for now, but as far as maintaining a possibility to work there in the future and general politness to a fellow human goes is this something I should send an apology about?

Yes.

It sounds like this is bothering you, and you know that you went too far in your argument. We've all been there and done that.

Apologize. You'll feel better about it and may just salvage a potential relationship somewhere down the road.

  • 13
    And maybe, just maybe, it will salvage it. It's one thing to screw up. We all do it on a regular basis to varying degrees. It's another thing to admit it and apologize for it. It's something I see far less often. If a candidate did the latter, it would make a really good impression on me. – Chris G Oct 3 '17 at 0:11
  • 12
    Thank you Joe for your advice. I think I will send an apology tomorrow. I chose to accept the other answer as it explained the probable reasoning behind my interviewer's behavior, but I absolutely appreciate your answer as well. – Nitin Oct 3 '17 at 0:34
  • 2
    @IDrinkandIKnowThings Not only that, it's always good practice to send follow up letters/emails saying "thanks for the interview" afterwards, it wouldn't be hard or bad to incorporate an apology into that as well. – 410_Gone Oct 3 '17 at 15:59
  • 3
    @IDrinkandIKnowThings OP did not indicate they were booted. If this conversion was par-for-the-course in the interview, not following up shows two things: first, the OP did not respect or appreciate the interviewer's time; second, the OP did not respect or appreciate the discussion. By all indications, the remainder of the interview went well and without issue, so it's not at all a bad idea to apologize, especially since a thank-you response is always appropriate.. – 410_Gone Oct 3 '17 at 16:03
  • 3
    Even if it doesn't salvage anything, I don't see how it would hurt. An apology ? I was thinking of hiring him, but now, not a chance. – Brandin Oct 3 '17 at 16:25
31

Best to forget it.

I assume you were correct in your stance.

Don't let it worry you too much, it was a tech, he might hold a grudge but he's not the hiring manager. It may even work on your behalf.

I'm not a developer, but I have argued with engineers and soon after realised they were actually correct and thought highly of them for not caving in to my error.

  • Who is wrong is irrelevant. It’s good faith, egoless, exploration as a collaborative effort to get to the truth, If you show that, you’ve done your job. – whitneyland Dec 18 '17 at 19:52
15

I read a book, "Cracking the coding Interview", by Gayle Laakmann McDowell. I can relate to things which are described in that book from your question. I was expecting the book to be consisting of whole lot of technical stuff, but it wasn't. The beginning part includes important aspects which one must have to be a good team member. A small text from the book that amused me was,

What an interviewee asks to him/herself during the interview in head?

“Would I have a beer with this guy?”, or at least, “Will I mind working next to this guy for six months?” From the interviewer’s point of view, they’re picking a neighbor that they’re going to live and work with 200 hours per month for foreseeable future.

I know it's always good to hold on to your beliefs and knowledge, but sometimes it is better to hold back and keep your guns in your pocket. Take one or two on the chest, but don't die. Make your points, but don't offend the other person. Intelligence is just one aspect of a job. There are a whole lot of other secondary stuff like patience, flexibility in thoughts, less rigidity, etc. which you must keep in mind.

For now, make this experience educational and move on.

  • 1
    From a previous workplace I remember two distinctly different coders. One of them would always take a code suggestion on board positively and say "ok, let's do it that way, help me to understand how we can make it work" and the other would say "no way! im doing it my way". ...Would you rather work with "Mister positive" or "Mister Cranky" ? – vikingsteve Oct 3 '17 at 11:38
  • 2
    I myself was mister cranky, but now I am mister positive, i make my point politely but do what they say,coz I have learnt that whatever I am doing is not my code, it belong to the company. If later on any issues will come, they will give me time to fix as I had already made my point. – nobalG Oct 3 '17 at 11:41
  • 1
    "Mr Crankys" are the bane of many workplaces. Unless they're right 100% of the time (extremely rare), I find people simply stop challenging them, and eventually stop seeking their opinions on anything because it's not worth the ache. Then they're isolated, and the first out the door when it comes to 'downsizing'. Unless they're geniuses, in which case they tend to hang around! – Pete855217 Oct 6 '17 at 4:02
  • She is on Quora. – Peter Mortensen Oct 7 '17 at 11:44
7

If it really bothers you, tell your recruiter. Your recruiter may send an apology on your behalf. These types of disagreements and argument doesn't happen often but it does happen. Your situation doesn't warrant a huge red flag unless you guys were both cussing each other out.

I would suggest that you move on and let it go. Learn from this. Make sure on your next interview that you don't go this far into a heated disagreement again. Once hired, you have plenty of chances to disagree and on a better place to prove your position.

To be perfectly honest, I would be more concern that your recruiter probably would be inclined to pass on you for future opportunities as you are probably labelled as someone that argues during interview. Because of that, I would suggest also to let go of that recruitment agency and find a new one (if you can).

  • On the contrary, I would not hire someone who is argumentative; it's destructive to team work and collaboration. You need to learn to accept other people's advice and/or opinions, wrong or right. If they were wrong in the method it would show up in the work, would it not? – Debbie Hall Oct 4 '17 at 20:56
  • @Debbie no one is perfect, and I'd rather like to work with someone aware of this deficiency and willing to work on it. No one is perfect. – rubenvb Oct 5 '17 at 7:38
7

By all indications, the remainder of your interview went appropriately, and you don't mention it being ended prematurely, so in that case chances are the argument was not egregious enough to warrant immediate dismissal.

So, here's the advice I'll give you based on typical responses to interviewing:

  • First, it's always appropriate to send a follow-up letter or email, typically your standard "thank you for your time" letter to the interviewer (and all personnel of the company you interacted with). I've done this after every interview I've had, and it's served me well. You should always let them know you appreciate them taking the time out of their day to meet with you. Even if an interview goes poorly, you should still (and especially if there were negative points) tell the interviewer you appreciated their time. This sends them the signal that you respect them, and that is the second strongest signal you should try to send. (The first being competence in the field.)

  • Second, since it's already SOP to follow-up with a "thank you" within the next 24-48 hours, I recommend you include a small snippet in there about the "argument", depending on how it went. This can probably be a single sentence to the effect of:

    In regard to our discussion on ____, I want to apologize if I seemed aggressive/defensive, and I appreciated the conversation. Your points <perhaps mention something they said on the topic> definitely helped me look at the problem from a different perspective.

    Keep it simple, concise, and don't admit fault. You can apologize for coming off as aggressive or defensive, but don't say something to the effect of "I'm sorry I said...", you just "want to apologize if", and bring something positive of the conversation up. Chances are the interviewer will not hold a grudge.

  • Third, turn this into a learning situation. You should always take something away from an interview, and I hope the biggest thing you learned here is that you should not be immediately defensive to an opposing argument. Always keep an open mind, and look at the situation from every angle.

  • Great advice all round: send the follow-up, although I would probably not include the 'sorry if I seemed aggressive/defensive' (unless the candidate really was unpleasant about it'). Just a simple 'I thought more about your comment xyz, and can see how it would work well in this situation, but in others, a different approach might be warranted.' And always: learn from these things - real situations are the best teachers! – Pete855217 Oct 6 '17 at 3:57
4

I had an argument in a software interview, regarding text parsing methods. In the subsequent programming challenge they set for me, there were some elements of parsing and templating - I saw the opportunity to demonstrate my points to them, and I was subsequently offered the job.

I guess if depends somewhat on a few things:

  • Where's the data? Can you back your arguments?

  • Culture - Even if you have the data, is the interviewer accustomed to making data-driven decisions? Or do they value faster "gut" decisions?

  • Composure - Does the discussion stay calm and evolve as arguments are put forward, or is it just two people going in circles repeating the same points over and over again as their faces get redder?

In the end, I declined that job. In the company that I've been working in since then, people have not only got used to my tendency to dig for evidence when making design / optimisation decisions, but they also appreciate it and reciprocate.

4

I don't think it was a test at all. I've never seen anything like that in interviews, ever. The tech guy wheeled in to interview you would be there solely to determine your technical capabilities, nothing more, and he might have been a bit annoyed at having to ask the same old questions to yet another interviewee!

So what happened was two developers got into the usual argument over whether space or tabs are better, or something equally trivial and yet oh-so-important at the time.

Now the dust has settled and you realise it was silly, yes an apology would be appropriate - but not to apologise, to remind the recruiting company that you're not the argumentative sort who will be a drain on teamwork at the place.

So you contact the recruiter, and tell him you were so caught up in trying to answer the questions correctly that you got a little carried away. Interview environments are very artificial and put quite a bit of stress on people after all. So explain you want to say sorry for making the interview not as easy as it should have been, but more importantly, add that you're not usually like that, and you never get into stupid arguments over code in real work situations.

The recruiter, looking at his potential commission for hiring you, will be on the phone to his contact at the company to pass on this and to soap him up a bit with the intention of getting you hired (well, getting his commission).

And it's a nice thing to do; interviews are so impersonal nowadays that a human touch like this will be appreciated, even if you still don't get the job.

And lastly, don't argue over trivialities. The end result is what matters in code, not the cool toys or 'fad du jour' used to produce it.

  • Let's remember also that if the employees at the place your were trying to get hired are confrontational, why are you worried about working in an environment like that? Apologizing after the fact may make it worse if that is their modus operandi. Walk away and find a culture that suits you, and watch your temper. – Debbie Hall Oct 4 '17 at 21:00
  • I've seen lots of interviews where the interviewer is probing the candidate's ability to handle criticism this way. It's a common technique, and a good idea too. No team or employer wants someone who can't manage criticism constructively. – Pete855217 Oct 6 '17 at 3:54
2

It really depends on the kind of job you apply for and which personality they're looking for.

Who knows? They might be looking for someone with a strong backbone, someone who's passionate about his code and someone who's willing to defend his position in stressful situations.

Maybe the interviewer knew he was wrong but kept pushing you to know how you'd react. In real life, sales people will promise stuff to clients even though you told them that you cannot do it. Bosses will want to add features X, Y, Z and everything but the kitchen sink. Being able to say "No" is a very important skill, and being able to say "No" politely but firmly isn't always easy.

I'm not saying what you did was the right way : it's just too early to say "I realize I blew my chance with the company for now". Right now, you could look at pros and cons of both solutions, in a detached and objective way. If the interviewer was right, write an apology saying so. If your method is objectively better, write an apology about the way you presented it.

Finally, if you applied for a client support or boss baby-sitter position, yes, you screwed up. ;)

1

Interview the interviewer. If they disagree, move on. If you moved on, you'd get the job. Who is right or wrong does not matter at that stage. Do you want the job? The question is relevant after you get an offer. Before that try to gather as much about the company and its employees to make an informed decision. An interview is a great opportunity for you to get that information.

What to do now? Move on, try better next time.

1

We don't know how your argument was taken, but in neither case will apologising help.

Either they are happy that you stand up for yourself and express your opinion, even when there is pressure not to do so, like in a job interview. In that case, apologising only weakens your position.

Or they think that you, as a lowly interviewee, are not supposed to question your superiors or even dare to argue with them, in which case not only do you not want that job, but apologising isn't going to help you.

0

The interviewer may have been doing a sort of test to see how you responded to criticism. If you think this is the case, can't hurt to apologize, even though it might seem an odd sort of response to the interviewer. If you go down this route, make sure you've got more to say than just the apology e.g. thanks for your time, I thought more about the technical question you raised, and (briefly) here are some thoughts etc. He might have been testing how argumentative/defensive you are about your work: people who display these attributes are in general not great to have in a team environment. If that's you, and you got sprung, the interview worked from their perspective.

Other people's answers have well outlined how to respond in future i.e. try to get into a respectful dialogue, asking questions about how the interviewer's solution might work....this is the best way to handle this situation.

If you think the interviewer was just putting his 10 cents in, and it wasn't part of a script, I'd just chalk it up to experience and not bother apologizing...it comes across as a bit 'desperate' and might signify to them you don't have high self-worth.

I think the fact you recognized the problem and sought help here though shows you'd be a good employee. It's a shame you can't subtly make them see this posting! Good luck, this is great example of how to learn from the interviewing process.

0

As a software developer, I have found myself defending the code I wrote many times. But I think that this is a more generic question as it's not "should I have defended my code" it is

Should I apologize?

And my answer is

It depends.

Did you offend them? Were you rude? Were you arrogant? Even if not, when the interviewer was arguing with you, did the tone of your voice give off a "what's this B/S you are telling me now" attitude? Then yes apologize. But not for having the courage of your own opinion. Apologize for your attitude. Apologizing or not is (IMHO) not a question for workplace specifically, it is for interpersonal skills in general. Try to apologize (again IMHO) only when you've hurt someone, not if you did what you thought was right and they simply didn't like it. Otherwise, you will not only find yourself apologizing way too often, but you will also give the impression that whenever someone tries to put the blame on you, even wrongfully, you will gladly accept it and apologize.

Lessons - Notes for the future

Now it seems a bit obvious to me that you are in the process of finding a new (or perhaps your first job). In my opinion, every interview should be a good lesson for the future, regardless of its outcome. You can do the same for this one.

Have in mind that you are not yet in their payslip, so you don't have any obligation to agree with anything they tell you specifically for the code, because they don't pay you yet to write their software. If you have cultural differences, now it's the time to unveil them without forgetting your manners. The trap here is that if you both insist, you will end up in a non-technical argument, and then it's a whole other situation. It's better to stop the argument in a polite "let's agree to disagree" manner, and move on. One way to exit that situation is in ray's comment who he actually suggests to throw the ball in their court, and let them elaborate what the problem with your solution was.

There are multiple benefits from that: first, this is an exit strategy. Your question was should I apologize, the answer is not to get yourself in that position at first. By asking them to elaborate rather than defending your solution minimizes the risk. Then you have them explain to you their disagreement. If it's for the sake of disagreement, you've exposed them. If there is a real reason behind that, then you can see how can you resolve these in the future, should you work with that person in the future.

Finally, always remember that the interviews work both ways: they interview you and you interview them as well. And there is no way to improve your skills other than practice (as sad as it might be). So ask yourself these: Do you want to work with them? Do you want to work with someone who argues for simple things and makes big issues out of nothing? Do you want to work for a company that promotes this culture? Even if this is a test as others have mentioned, it emits a message like listen buddy, here we want people that say "yes sir" when we tell them that "the sky is green". I'm exaggerating of course, but if they want to prepare you and test you for these situations, then this means that this is the norm. Or that they have lost/fired employees for that reason and it's been such a major issue to cover it in the interview.

Disclaimer: How much you stick to the above, heavily depends on how badly you want the job. If it's your first one, then you might want to apologize even if it's somebody else's fault. But then just be careful not to become a "yes-man" by habit down the road.

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.