Job interviews can make you anxious, even when you know what you want to say – but when the interviewer throws you for a loop and asks you a question to which you simply do not have the answer? That can make even the most confident professional start to panic. Empower yourself by having a strategy prepared for these situations. Here is what to do if you do not know how to answer an interview question:
● Get Comfortable with Silence
When you are caught off-guard in an interview, there is often a natural tendency to start and keep talking in order to avoid “awkward” silence. However, taking a few moments to gather your thoughts before you respond can allow you to be intentional with your response, rather than just rambling. Practice getting comfortable with some silence by pausing and breathing before you talk – it may feel like an eternity to you, but it is not likely noticeable to the interviewer.
● Ask Questions to Clarify
If you do not know the exact answer to an interview question, it may be because you do not understand the question or the interviewer was not being completely clear. In that case, aim to uncover more detail or the purpose of the question. Rather than responding right away, ask questions to clarify what insight the interviewer is hoping to learn from your response. For example, you could ask something like, “Just to make sure we are on the same page, would you like to know…?” or “Are you looking for an example of when I….?”
● Work It Out as You Talk
Sometimes interviewers may purposely ask challenging questions because they want to see how you go about solving problems. If you are asked a question, such as how you would handle a hypothetical situation (in which you have no direct previous experience doing), you can work out the answer as you talk. In this instance, you could utilize a chronological format (“First, I would….Next,…Then..” etc.) and essentially think aloud.
● Avoid Faking It
Sometimes you simply do not have the answer, such as if you are asked a technical question with a definitive right answer. Your integrity is more important to hiring managers than you being able to give all the right answers, so avoid faking it and be honest. Admitting you do not know does not have to be an interview killer – just have a statement ready, such as, “I do not have experience in that area, so I am afraid I do not have the answer to that” or “I would need to do some research on that topic to best answer.”
● Spin in a Positive Direction
Rebound from a question you do not know how to answer by spinning the topic in a positive direction. The fact you do not know about a particular subject matter or lack direct experience in an area can be an opportunity for you to demonstrate your enthusiasm for the role. Tell your interviewer that you are excited about the opportunity to learn more and gain experience if hired and that you are committed to professional development.