Scared you might be caught out by an interview question you don’t know how to answer? Don’t stress. If it happens, just do this.
Even with the best preparation you can still find yourself in an interview without a clue about how to respond to a question.
Next time this happens to you, don’t panic.
Here are 5 things you can do to make this pass without incident and get back on track with the rest of the interview.
How to handle interview questions you don’t know how to answer
Step 1 It's not you - it's the situation
Of course, if you have gone into the interview with no preparation and decided to just wing it, then it might actually be you.
Well, let’s be more honest – it is you!
But I am assuming that since you are reading this, you are the type of person who has prepared thoroughly but have still found yourself floundering for words due to a probing question you can’t handle.
The first thing you need to know is that you are not alone. This can happen to anyone and it regularly does.
It isn’t a failing in you, and it certainly doesn’t mean that you won’t get the job.
In fact, if you use the following tactics, it may actually be helpful in securing the role because you have made a connection on a deeper level with the interviewer.
If they see you under pressure but you handle it well, that is a huge benefit.
So, if it happens, take a deep breath and use the following tactics.
Step 2 Buy some time
When faced with interview questions you don’t know how to answer it is stressful so there is a huge risk you will go into a primal fight or flight mode.
In an interview situation it looks like this.
Fight – fill the silence by blurting out whatever you can think of to fill the silence, ultimately letting them know you are struggling.
Flight – you can’t just walk out but you opt for just sitting there in an excruciatingly awkward silence looking like a rabbit in headlights, which ultimately lets them know you are struggling.
The answer? Expect that it might happen so if it does, it isn’t a shock.
Then take a deep breath and acknowledge the question.
Say something along the lines of “that’s a great question, let me think about that”
Alternatively you can ask them to clarify exactly what they mean.
Doing this calms your mind whilst buying some time for you to think.
Step 3 Think out loud
Keep in mind why a recruiter or hiring manager has put you on the spot.
Their main aim is more about how you handle the question than how perfect your answer is.
So, once you have gathered your thoughts, think about why they are asking it and go from there.
Ask them if they want to hear about the thing you think they are pursuing.
Say something like “given that I have a back ground in x, I am assuming you would like to know about Y. Am I right in thinking this?”
If you are right then you know that you are on the right path.
If you are wrong they will tell you the specific direction they want you to go in.
Step 4 Redirect
If tactic number 3 didn’t work for you, and you still don’t know how answer, try to redirect to something that you are confident about.
For example, if they ask if have you used a particular software to complete a specific task, and you haven’t, say that you haven’t used that system but you are a competent user of another platform which you have successfully used for the same task.
Also add that you are happy to train on their platform of choice and that you have been able to pick up new systems quickly in the past.
Step 5 Be Honest
If all this fails, just be honest and say that you are not familiar with whatever their question is based on.
People like honest people so this is not as bad as it sounds.
Say something like “that’s not an area that I have experience with currently but I would very much like to explore this. I have a real interest in X and a proven background in Y. During my research on your company I discovered that you operate in z markets and that is precisely the direction I would like to go in.”
It doesn’t really matter exactly what you say but you need to show enthusiasm for their company and the industry they are in whilst emphasising your key strengths that you would bring to the role.
Remember, they have invited you for an interview based on your skills and achievements so focus on these.
Then, when you send your interview follow up email. include this aspect so that they are in no doubt that you are a prefect fit for the role.
- Expect it might happen because then you will not panic if it does
- See it as an opportunity to prove who you are rather than as a problem
- Acknowledge the question to buy time
- Tell them out loud what you think they are asking and ask for clarification
- Redirect the question to something you are confident with
- Be honest if you really don’t know but remind them about what you do know.