The Interview: When You Just Don’t Know What to Say

By Jobma

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In preparation for an interview, most of us brainstorm a list of questions that we assume will come up in the interview, and then practice answering them or at least preparing answers to respond to them. Pretty basic. But what about the questions you can’t anticipate? How do you prepare for those?

Until recently, I never thought about what I would do if an employer asked a question that I didn’t know how to answer in an interview. I only tried to brainstorm as many questions as possible before the interview to avoid this situation from arising.

As a job seeker, no matter how prepared you are, eventually you will be posed with a question that temporarily stumps you. You need to be prepared to be unprepared.

Here are some tips to consider when prepping for this moment:

  1. Take a moment. The first thing I do when asked a difficult question is take a sip of water from my water bottle in order to give me a moment to breathe and collect myself. Do whatever you need to do in order to give your nerves a chance to settle.
  2. Don’t feel the need to panic. This sounds obvious and basic, but truly, you do not need to answer the question right away. In fact, some of the best answers may come to you after you take 5-10 seconds to reflect. Learn to feel comfortable saying, “That’s a great question. I’ll need just a few seconds to collect my thoughts.”
  3. Ask for more time if necessary. If you have tried taking a few moments to brainstorm and can’t come up with a suitable answer, it doesn’t mean that you’ve blown it! Again, simply tell the interviewer that you’ll need a chance to think about that question, ask if you can move onto the next question, and assure the interviewer that you’ll answer it at the end.
  4. Supplement your answer with an email. If you panicked during the interview and rushed through an answer that was less-than-mediocre, know that you always have the option to send the interviewer an email afterwards. Introduce your answer with something like the following: “After our meeting, I realized that I forgot to mention XYZ when you asked about XYZ. I just wanted to clarify my response to this question.”
  5. There’s nothing wrong with admitting that you don’t know how to do something. I have a handful of friends and acquaintances that have done this and still landed the job. To successfully handle this situation, offer a response like this: “I’m not familiar with how to do that yet. However, I’ve learned several new tasks in my previous positions and am confident about my on-the-job learning abilities. How would I approach this situation? Or what would be my first step?” Adding these last two questions really does show that you are eager to learn, which is something that employers want to see.

When it comes to interviewing, just as with creating a video resume, practice makes perfect. If you’re going to practice interviewing with family and friends, ask them afterwards how you did in answering questions you weren’t prepared for.


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