Correcting an Interviewer: Why, When & How!
Recruitment season is soon going to begin for the class of 2016. Investment banks, Tech-Industries, MNCs, E-commerce firms, startups all will be bee-lining to recruit talent from campuses across the country. Your dream company is hiring, for your dream profile, your grades are perfect, skills and internship on fleek, and you have slogged for the interview prep. You sit for the interview and questions get fired from across the table. Suddenly you come to a halt. Silence. You have no answer. The problem is not that you don’t know. The problem is that the question itself is wrong. In those sixty seconds you need to make a decision: You can risk not answering the question and let all your preparation and career dreams go down the drain OR You can CORRECT THE INTERVIEWER. Would you? Should you? If you must, then how should you?
It’s a sticky situation to be in. Everyone knows it’s a dangerous proposition to correct your boss (or in this case, the interviewer gate keeping the door to your ambitions). As any a wise man can tell you (& your placement counselor must have) stay away from correcting the interviewer!
But then if it’s not done, you will be proven an ignoramus imbecile yourself and your chances will anyways be over! So you begin “Well actually…”
But before that very moment, here are 10 things that must actually consider in your mind:
Could it be an Umbrella Question?
So what if an interviewer asked you off-topic, random, fact based question on a variety of topics which you did not claim any expertise in? The first rule of preparing for any interview is to prepare “Cocktail Umbrella” questions. The main purpose of asking such curve ball questions is to get a glimpse of the way you approach and analyse challenging problems and think on your feet. It’s best to take a moment to visualize the problem and think out aloud and walk the interviewer through your approach to your solution. However, if you have completely no idea whatsoever then DO NOT LIE!!! Admit lack of knowledge and turn the question around. “Gee, I have no experience in that yet. Based on your years of industry knowledge, what’s are the best ways to handle a situation like that?” If you’re adjusting your answers just to say what you think the interviewer wants to hear, they may pick up on it and exclude you for it. Interviewers have been known to test people with intentionally faulty questions to see how a person responds.
Seek a Clarification
Before you blatantly accuse the interviewer of being incorrect, double check if what you heard was exactly what the interviewer meant. Apologize that ‘your ear’ is not what it should be and request the interviewer to repeat the questions. Or you could ask one-or-two related questions to seek clarification (or additional information) whether you and the interviewer are on the same page, then go further. If you could not hear the question properly because of the interviewer’s accent try to look at them closer, and pick out the words they’re saying. If you still aren’t clear on what they asked, then you do need to ask. One way to do this is to say “I’m sorry I’m having trouble hearing your accent” and then you can offer your best guess of what they said. Or simply ask them to repeat it slowly. It would not harm to seek a clarification before you roll into the fighting pit.
Inform without Insulting
Correcting an interviewer requires a deft hand, and diplomacy: “If I may say, Mr. Doe, you asked earlier about this programming language, but in my experience, the actual practice is…” The key is to demonstrate confidence in the subject, and technical skill, and also an emotional quotient (EQ) which is important in the workplace. If you really want the job, it would be a terrible idea to tell the interviewer on face that they are wrong! You need to carefully assess the danger of the involved flaw. If the interviewer simply obliterated (or misquoted) tiny details then it is probably not worth correcting them. However if the faultiness of the question can actually cost you the job, then you must find way to let the interviewer know. Being tactful is important. Rather than setting yourself up for an “I am right, you are wrong” game, choose a more delicate stance such as “My understanding of that is…” and then state what you think is correct.
Give an Alternative Perspective
You can reword your answer to give the interviewer another way of looking at it like “That is a good point but perhaps there is another way of looking at the situation that might reveal a few additional options like X, Y and Z. However, since I am not as close to the situation as you are, this may or may not fit but might be worth considering” Just open the door! Don’t close it! Telling someone you “don’t know” that THEY ARE WRONG, is bad. But worse is when there is no actual useful alternative.
Keep in mind the importance of maintaining a respectful and humble tone. Arrogance can end an interview quickly. Even if you get selected for the job, you might have to work closely with the said interviewer. So, offensively arrogant might translate into a challenging workplace battle in future.
It is natural for an interviewee to feel dumbfounded in a sticky situation as this. However, most companies today appreciate the spirit of confidence in Millennials to be forthright. Maybe some won’t! But then even if you don’t answer the question or try to twist the facts to conform with the interviewer (especially in case of intentionally wrong ones) you will anyways loose the job opportunity. If the interviewer is receptive to healthy corrections then there is a huge chance that they might hold you in higher regard.
If matters escalate to a tussle and feel being ousted for no-fault of yours, then you can report the incidence back to the company. Unless you know someone with real juice, it’s likely to go nowhere. Plus the person who interviews you is likely to become your co-worker. If they have too strong of an accent, state many opinions which are wrong, or are extremely condescending, then chances are you don’t want to work with them anyway. It might be best to take this as interview training and find people you can work better with.