When Candidates and Interviewers Disagree About “The Answer”

You’re a candidate. You’re talking to a couple of technical interviewers. One of the interviewers asks you a question. You answer “black.” The interviewer says, “No, it’s white.” Wishing to avoid confrontation, you don’t push the answer. Geek that you are, you check the answer when you get home. Sure enough, it’s “black.”Well, you have some possibilities for dealing with this problem:

  • Contact the hiring manager and tell him his staff are bozos:

    “Hiring Manager, during the interview yesterday, your interviewers asked me this question. Clearly the answer is “black,” but they said it was “white.” Well, I’m looking at the reference-guide-to-end-all-reference-guides and the answer is “black.”

    I don’t recommend this possibility at all. If you did land the job, you’d still have to work with these people you have labeled as bozos. Great way to start a job off right! (NOT)

  • Contact the hiring manager and sound apologetic:

    “Hiring Manager, during the interview yesterday, I may have misunderstood one of your technical questions. I thought your folks were asking this thing, for which the answer is “black,” but maybe they were asking that other thing, for which the answer is “white.” I’m wondering if I was confused by the question and answered it wrong. Just wanted you to know, and that I’m still quite interested in your job.”

    This is too placating for me, but might be ok for you.

  • Contact the hiring manager and make a suggestion.

    “Hiring Manager, we had a difference of opinion in the interview yesterday, and I’m not sure your staff saw me in the best light. So I got to wondering about how to prevent that in the future. Instead of asking candidates these highly technical questions, why not have an audition? That way the candidate can show you their stuff instead of just talk about it. And, I’d like to do that, because I’m not sure about the question.”

    I like this one the best.

You might think of additional alternatives that fit your situation better. But when you want to bring a deficiency in interviewing to a potential manager, make sure you bring it in a joint problem-solving mode. Blaming people may take you off the list faster than your perceived wrong answer. Placating people sets you up for placating relationship if you do land the job. Joint problem-solving creates an on-the-spot audition for the hiring manager: what does the manager do when faced with a report that his staff are wrong and convinced they are right? How does he or she handle the situation? You may not have a chance to see what happens inside the organization, but this technique should impress the hiring manager.Hiring managers, make sure you check the technical questions your staff are asking, and — where possible — replace those questions with auditions. I prefer to ask a few elimination questions and then ask for an audition. I emphasize the working together skills much more than the technical skills, assuming that the elimination questions and audition(s) will eliminate the technically incapable candidates. It’s much harder to find people who’ll fit into a team than it is to find specific technical skills. It’s easy for people who fit into the team to learn technical skills. It’s much harder (impossible?) to make someone who hates other people to work well in a team. (I wrote a little about this in Retrain Your Code Czar.)

Ok, a minimum of 10 lashes with a wet noodle for me. I’m not sure what I was thinking 🙂 Clearly, as Jason said, honesty is the best policy. Yes. You can call and say, “Hey, I just checked that answer here on this site (or in that book or wherever) and here’s what it said.” As long as you don’t say “na-na-boo-boo” you’re probably ok 🙂 I will address Michael’s comment of asking questions to see what the candidate does in a future post. Thanks for the wakeup, guys.

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