A reader writes:
I had an interview this morning and I answered one of the technical questions wrong. I had heard the term before, but I didn’t know how it was used (or how I use it, which was the question they asked). So, I just made up an answer. Is it okay for me to address the flub and attempt to answer it in my “thank you” letter to them or should I just leave it alone?
Someone suggested I call the leader of the interview panel and address it that way, but I’m not sure if that is appropriate. Also, if I should address it, how do I do that when I don’t have any experience in it….I only know the definition of it.
Oh, no. Noooo! This is not good, but you probably already know that.
Here’s the thing: It’s one thing not to know much about X. That may or may not matter to them. But if they could tell that you fudged your way through it, that almost certainly will matter to them.
Here’s why: In addition to the obvious issues of honesty and integrity, let’s say you’re working for me and I ask you about Z, and you don’t know the answer. But instead of saying, “I don’t know but I’ll find out and get back to you,” you make up an answer. This is very, very bad because I’m going to make decisions and move forward in some way based on what you just said. So I need to be able to count on you giving me reliable information (and especially to not knowingly give me bad information).
Now, this may be the only time you’ve ever fudged your way through an answer on anything, but they don’t know that. They’ve got limited information about you, and now one of the pieces of info they have is “she makes up answers when she doesn’t know for sure.” To most interviewers, that’s a big red flag. (Unless you’re applying for a job where bluff and bluster actually help — and there are such jobs.)
As for how to handle it now… Send your interviewers a thank-you note, reiterating your interest in the job, and mention something like, “I realized after we spoke that when you asked me about X, I spoke of it as if it were Y. I realized my mistake right afterwards and wanted to correct it!” You could also add, “I should be candid and say that I’m not experienced with X, although I do think that my background in A, B, and C would be hugely useful in achieving D for you.”
Few people own up to their mistakes, and people who do almost always come across well. Addressing it may not completely assuage their concern, but it’s your best bet at this point.
(And ignore your friend who told you to call them.)
Last, if you have a habit of making up answers when you don’t know for sure (in any work situation, not just interviews), use this as impetus to stop, right now, today! It doesn’t take much of this to destroy your credibility.