ANSWERING AN INTERVIEW QUESTION, YOU DON’T HAVE AN ANSWER TO
No matter how well you prepare for your job interview, there’s a good chance you’ll be thrown a curveball – a question leaving you stumped, searching for an answer.
Are you fully prepared for this to happen? What should you do? Should you admit to the interviewer that you don’t know or don’t have an answer?
In a job interview, stakes run high, and how you choose to respond to these kinds of tough questions will say so much about you and the way you handle yourself in high-pressure situations.
Most experts agree that transparency goes a heck of a long way in these situations (and in most situations, for that matter). This article will outline how you can score points in a job interview when you’re unsure how to respond to a question and the mistakes you can make that could reflect poorly on you.
Human resource experts recommend that when faced with a challenging question, try to answer by drawing from your personal experience. If you can’t do that, the next best bet is to draw comparisons by saying something like, “Although I have not been in that specific situation before, here is how I believe that I might handle a situation like that.”
The worst mistake you can make as a job candidate is to lie rather than acknowledge that you don’t have an answer to the question. Far too often, when candidates are being interviewed, they get caught up in lies. Once a candidate lies and the interviewer presses with more specific questions, the deeper the candidate will fall into a hole. Once the lie is told, there’s a chance the candidate will have to follow the lie with another and then another. There is a greater chance that things will fall apart with each lie.
If you cannot draw from personal experience or even draw a comparison, it is far better to explain that and ask for another question rather than lie.
When a job candidate doesn’t understand a question or thinks they don’t have the correct answer, they tend to babble or ramble on and hope that it works out. That is never a good idea! If you’re unsure or don’t understand the question being asked, it is far better to ask for clarification than to try and talk your way around it.
Most employers agree that the worst thing that a candidate can do during the interview process is to answer a question that they don’t understand by babbling and rambling their way through.
Often, job seekers believe that if they simply talk about something, anything, for long enough, interviewers will think they know what they are talking about. However, this is never a good idea, and it will give the interviewer the impression that you don’t know how to communicate. It will give the interviewer the impression that you believe they are not smart enough to see that you are attempting to overwhelm them with words when all it does is prove that you have no idea what you’re talking about.
Remember, a good interview may throw questions at you that are unclear as a way to test your communication skills. The truth is that they may want to hear you ask for clarification if necessary, and it will put you in a better light when you ask for that clarification instead of beating around the bush.
When a job candidate has the strength to ask for clarification, it demonstrates a level of assertiveness and confidence that most employers are looking for in their employees. There is simply no point in bringing the interviewer down some completely irrelevant rabbit hole with you merely because you don’t understand the question. In the end, it just reflects poorly on you.
You can also buy yourself some extra time to craft the appropriate answer in your head by asking the interviewer to repeat the question.
It is also natural for job candidates to find themselves going off on a tangent due to nerves. An excellent way to pull yourself out of that is by injecting some humor and asking to start over. Again, honesty is the best policy.
It’s never too late to pull yourself out of a tense situation. If you find yourself rambling, stop and acknowledge it. Blame it on nerves. Apologize and ask for clarification. Whatever you do, don’t let yourself ramble on and on because it could cost you the job.
Although you should never lie or babble in a job interview, you also shouldn’t just give up by saying, “I don’t know,” and leaving it at that. Instead, it would be best if you took the opportunity to advocate for yourself and let the interviewer meet the person that you are.
A good interviewer or employer knows that you won’t have to answer every one of their questions beyond the most basic ones. With that said, it is completely fine (and expected) if you admit that you haven’t acquired a particular skill or experienced a specific problem yet in your career.
Companies are not looking for superhero candidates who meet every qualification in every situation. That would be impossible. However, when stumped by the interviewer, you shouldn’t simply say that you don’t know. Instead, engage the interviewer and let them know that you are ready, willing, and able to learn.
The whole point of the job interview is to make a case that you’re the perfect candidate for whatever job you’re applying for and, whenever possible, to connect your skills and past experiences to the job requirements.
Again, you should never say that you don’t know or don’t have experience and leave it there. Instead, connect the things you have done and the experiences you’ve had with the job you seek. Most of all, always stay honest and, when necessary, redirect your answers to share how your existing skills have prepared you for this job.
EMPLOYERS ARE ALSO ON THE FIRING LINE
Although you are the one being interviewed, you are also an interviewer, interviewing a potential employer. How the interviewer responds to you when you ask for clarification and help on a specific question will tell you quite a bit about the company and its values.
When you encounter an employer or interviewer who responds negatively to your vulnerability, they do you a favor. That is likely not the kind of company you would want to work at anyway.