Going to job interviews are always a little nerve-wracking. You can dress your professional best, prepare answers to the most common questions, and walk in confidently in the interview room, thinking that you have all the answers and will ace it and get the job.
Suddenly, the interviewer hits you with an interview question that leaves you stumped and speechless. That confident image that you built up in your mind crumbles as your mind freezes.
Sometimes, you simply don’t know the answer.
Sometimes, you may have known the answer, but your mind suddenly goes blank and everything goes out the window. Anxiety can cripple you, so it is best to prepare yourself for the times that you are unable to respond to alleviate some of the anxiety.
Here are some tips to keep in mind should that ever happen to you during an interview:
1. Don’t Panic
This is the most basic yet most essential tip. When you are faced with an interview question that you are unsure of, whatever you do, don’t panic. Don’t give up on the interview just yet.
You may assume that you must have the most perfect interview to land the job, but often, a solid but imperfect interview would be sufficient enough to get the job done.
2. Keep Calm and Carry On
Your reaction and composure upon being asked an interview question which you can’t immediately answer can actually be more important than simply having an ability to answer.
Remember to keep calm and confident when confronted with tough questions, as a calm and confident demeanor can convince the recruiters that you actually do know your stuff. Don’t make them lose confidence in you by getting upset or by falling apart.
Take a moment to breathe. You’ve got this mate.
3. Take Your Time
If you are asked a difficult question, it is important to acknowledge the question and show that you are thinking about it. Don’t just blurt out anything! Take your time to gather your thoughts.
This is an important point to remember as it’s almost a reflex to fill up the empty airspace with thoughtless words just to avoid awkward silences.
You could say “That’s a great question. Let me think about that.”
4. Buy Some Time
You may also buy some time by rephrasing the question or asking for clarification.
“Are you looking for an example of how I ______________ or whether I _________________?”
By the time the interviewer answers or clarifies, you would have had some time to think about something to answer. Smooth…
5. Think Out Loud
One of the main motivations for hiring managers to ask those tricky interview questions is not particularly to hear an immediate answer, but to get a sense of your thought process when confronted with a problem. Gather your thoughts about the question, and then try explaining those thoughts in a step by step manner.
That kind of approach tells the interviewer that you have a thorough and systematic thought process which is highly regarded in any kind of job.
Don’t make something up and come across as a clueless fool, rather, admit it, and try redirecting to an area you are more familiar with.
When asked about a certain skill, you may not be able to speak of the specific skill directly, but if you can connect similar skills that you do have, that would be better than nothing. See how your previous skills could combine and build into the specific skill they are looking for. If you have any related skills or experience, lay it out and describe what you can talk about and how similar it is to the skill in question.
Making this connection clear to them will let them know that you are indeed qualified for the role.
7. Have A Backup Plan
Sometimes all those tips and tricks can’t help you if you have absolutely no clue about what they just asked. Remember all that research about the company, industry and position you did beforehand? Lean on that for now. Be prepared with a fail-safe answer about your enthusiasm for the position and knowledge of the industry.
You can go with, “That’s not something I’m really familiar with yet, but it’s something I’m really excited about, and I’ve been actively trying to learn more.” Then you may ask them if they would like to hear about a skill or experience you do have.
8. Follow Up
If all else doesn’t do it for you, a significant thing you can do is to research and formulate a strong answer to the key question that had you stumped, after the interview. You could then include the answer in your follow up communication.
Keep in mind that they don’t necessarily require all answers on the spot. Answering a question this way shows that you are persistent, hard working and resourceful, even if you initially did not have the answer on hand.
Examples on what you can say in the interview itself:
“That’s a very interesting question, can I take some time to consider it and get back to you later?”
“Great question, I can answer it in part but would like to consider it further and get back to you.”
In the end, don’t be an ignorant know it all. The hardest thing to do sometimes is to admit that you don’t know; but that is the most responsible and mature thing to do. Wise people aren’t afraid to admit when they don’t know something.
The more you know, the more you know you don’t know… you know?
Whatever you do, don’t just make something up or ignore the question to talk about something completely unrelated. You don’t want to come across as difficult to communicate with or having poor listening skills.
Now, you are ready for that interview. Good Luck!