How To Answer Interview Questions

Written by on November 3, 2014 in Blog, Interviews with 3 Comments

What To Say When You Don’t Know The Answer To An Interview Question

Interviews are easy, especially when you’re prepared for them. Some people, however, grow anxious as interview time approaches. They are unsure how to answer interview questions.

Relax. Take a deep breath. I know you may be nervous, but there’s no need to be. Picture yourself going in and acing the interview. Picture yourself smiling.

Now that you feel better, here’s one last piece of advice…

Don’t Be Afraid To Pause

This is a critical strategy. Don’t be afraid to pause; in fact, you should embrace this strategy. Too many candidates rush out a response without thinking and then end up stammering their way through a mediocre answer.

When someone asks a question, pause and think. Make sure you understand what they are looking for. If you don’t understand, get clarification. If you do understand, think of what you’ll say and how you’ll say it.

The pause might seem like an eternity to you, but nobody will fault you for it. Take a sip of water if you have some and if it makes you feel more comfortable. This isn’t Jeopardy where you have to be the first one to hit the buzzer.

When all the interviews are done and the team is reviewing the candidates, they’ll remember how you answered them properly, not that doing so took an extra fifteen seconds to do it.

Don’t Be Afraid To Say, “I Don’t Know.”

I covered this in several posts dealing with interview preparation but it bears repeating. Many people get flustered when they don’t know the answer to a question. This is a key interviewing strategy, and knowing how to say I don’t know is crucial.

Some people may be able to get through an entire day of interviews without having to say that, but not many. And the problem is that most people who don’t know the answer will try to bluff their way out. Bluffing is a poor choice. It can work in poker, but not in an interview. It’s like telling a cop, “Officer, I wasn’t speeding,” when you know he had a radar gun pointed at you.

If you’re hit with a question that you’re not sure how to answer, just say so.

“Bob, I’m not sure about that, but I know where to get the answer, and I’ll get back to you on Friday. Is that okay?”

Don’t worry that you didn’t know the answer. Here’s why: Even if another candidate was asked the same 
question and knew the answer, you can still come out ahead of the game.   

How?

  • The interviewer will be impressed that you said, “I don’t know,” instead of trying to bluff your way through it.
  • The interviewer will also be impressed that you delivered on your promise to get back to him by Friday with the answer.

Those couple of days give you time to put together a complete, comprehensive answer that will probably make the other person’s answer pale in comparison.

The company is smart enough to know that no one will have the answer to everything, so you just showed them a valuable skill—several, actually. You were able to find the answer, deliver it on time, and do so in a clear, concise manner. The other candidate didn’t get that opportunity; all they got to do is show that they knew the answer to a question.

Bottom Line

I wouldn’t say I don’t know if you really do know, but I wouldn’t worry about it if you don’t.

If you enjoyed this post, please share.

Jim (Giacomo) Giammatteo is the author of gritty crime dramas about murder, mystery, and family. And he also writes non-fiction books including the No Mistakes Careers series.

He lives in Texas where he and his wife have an animal sanctuary with 45 loving “friends.”

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About the Author

About the Author: When I’m not headhunting, or writing, I help my wife take care of our animal sanctuary. At last count we had 45 animals—11 dogs, 1 horse, 6 cats, and 26 pigs. Oh, and one crazy—and very large—wild boar named Dennis who takes walks with me every day and happens to also be my best buddy. For information on my mystery/suspense books, go to giacomog.com .

3 Reader Comments

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  1. avatar Christine says:

    GG- you give so many creditable and insightful tips. Thank you for giving us “job seekers” hope, it is a priceless gift!

  2. avatar giammatteo
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    Thanks, Christine. Feel free to email me with any questions.

    • avatar Christine says:

      GG -I hope you and your family and pets are having a great evening! Forgive my nomistakes.org ignorance, because I am not sure how to email you. I may be that the reason I do not see the email link, because it has been a rather long week…
      My birthday was Tuesday (which I always get Disneyland excited about and usually Disneyland let down too) and more unwanted drama at work. I hope your week was everything you wanted it to be! 😉

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