4 Ways to Handle Interview Questions You Don’t Know How to Answer

Preparing for an interview is a daunting process, and one which should be taken seriously. There is high probability that you will be faced with a question you simply don’t know how to answer. Whether it’s a technical question on something you’ve never heard of before or one which is completely unexpected, a question which stumps you can really throw off the pacing of the conversation and leave you feeling shaken up.

So, what should you do when you get an interview question that you have no idea how to respond to?  Here are 4 top tips we’ve come across and would like to share:-

1. Take Your Time

Firstly acknowledge that the question was asked will require some thought as this will suffice as your opportunity to take some time to work through your first thoughts on how to approach the question.

It may feel that an awkward silence needs to be filled but this is not the case and waffling is the worst possible mistake you can make at this point. So take a deep breath, have a sip of water and use the opportunity to gather your thoughts and make sure you don’t blurt out anything that gives away that you’ve hit a blank.

2. Think Out Loud

Bear in mind that hiring managers are asking tricky questions to get a sense on how you approach a problem and the method you use to work through and solve it.  So after you’ve taken a minute to gather your thoughts try explaining succinctly where your thoughts are go forward from there.

If the scenario you’re given is something you have not had experience in then a fair approach would be to imagine that you’re undertaking the task and share your approach out loud. Add transitional adverbs like “first,” “then,” and “lastly” to give your answer some structure and finish off with a qualifying statement that “the process varies depending on the situation,” which shows that you’re flexible even if your answer isn’t what the hiring manager would do.

3. Redirect

If you’re asked a question that you really can’t work through, own up and try redirecting to an area you are familiar with. You may not be able to speak to a certain skill directly, but if you’re able to connect it to similar skills, you’re much better off than just saying you don’t have the skill they’re looking for.

4. Have a Fail-Safe

Of course, you might get a question that no amount of stalling, thinking aloud, or redirecting can help with. Questions that call for definitions or understanding of concepts that you don’t know can’t just be worked through on the spot. For these questions, lean on the research you’ve done about the company and industry the position is in and be prepared with a fail-safe answer that focuses on your enthusiasm for the position and knowledge of the industry. Something like, “That’s not a concept I’m totally familiar with yet, but is something which really excites me, and I’ve been actively trying to learn about.”

Finally and most importantly… learn from all your interview experiences. Remember that regardless of what question you get, consider what the hiring manager is really trying to learn from the question.  And don’t let the experience dishearten you if you’re unsuccessful. Practice makes perfect and if the interview doesn’t work out then it’s almost certain that your next opportunity will be on the horizon – and one which you’ll be that much more equipped and versed to manage.

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