Ask Gayle: My interviewer misled me. Can I argue?

Dear Gayle, I interviewed with a major tech company and I was asked a tough question. I started to think of a brute force solution and the interviewer said that brute force is fine.  I began to write the code and before I was even finished, the interviewer began to bombard me with questions.  His questions then led me to a better solution.  I also noticed later that I had some bugs and other mistakes in my code, but these seemed fairly minor.

I feel that he misled me in telling me that my initial solution was fine, and I ended up getting a reject as a result.  Do I have any chance to put up an argument?

~ Frustrated, WA

There's a lot going on in this question, so let me break this down.

Did your interviewer mislead you in telling you that brute force is fine (when it really wasn't)?

It is possible you got a bad interviewer who didn't direct you properly.  Bad interviewers do exist, even at the best companies.  I suspect that your interviewer was probably looking for whether or not you would notice and look for a more optimal solution, or if you would be satisfied with a "good enough" solution.  Depending on how far along you were in your interview, the interviewer may also have been thinking "ok, we don't have much time, and I want to make sure I see this candidate's code.  Let me encourage him to just get on with it."

Did this cause you to be rejected?

Again, very hard to say that this really caused the reject.  First, typically about 3/4rds of candidates are rejected at each stage, so it's almost like you have to do things really, really right to not get rejected.  Second, it's unlikely to be any one issue that caused a reject.  As you noted, you had some bugs and other mistakes.  I'd guess that your interviewer's thought was more like "hmm, I liked this guy, but his solution wasn't very good, and he had some bugs in his code, and a few other mistakes."

Can you put an argument?

No.  In high school, did you ever try to argue a case to your principal that a teacher did something wrong? Did they ever side with you? Unless your teacher's actions were egregious, your principal almost certainly sided with your teacher.  This is much the same way. Whatever you say to your recruiter, he/she will almost certainly side with your interviewer.  You're more likely to spoil your decent reputation at the company, and it's just not worth it.

That said, there are times when you should not stay silent about an interviewer's behavior.  If they say anything or do anything offensive, speak up!  Or, if your recruiter asks for your feedback, then you are welcome to share it.

I'm sorry things didn't work out for you, but you're not alone.  Interviews are hard and, unfortunately, very random.  Most of my coworkers at Google admitted that they didn't think they'd pass the interviews the second time around.  Luckily, companies understand this and let you apply again in six months to a year.

Best of luck!