How to Respond to an Interview Question You Don’t Know the Answer To

Job interviews are stressful for even the most seasoned candidate. What’s even more nerve-wracking is when you’re asked a question you don’t know the answer to. What can you do to make sure you’re not left scrambling – sabotaging your hard work? Here are a few measures you can take to deal with this tricky situation.

Pause for a minute.

Don’t jump right into an answer when you’re not quite sure what you’re going to say. Instead, take a minute and think through the question and how you’d like to answer it before speaking aloud. This will give you a moment to gather your thoughts and articulate a strong response.

Ask the hiring manager to repeat the question.

Make sure you understand the question before jumping into an answer. There might be times when a hiring manager is asking one thing, but you think it’s something else. To give the most effective response, you need to clearly understand the question. So, ask for clarification or if they could give you an example. You can also repeat back to them what you think they are asking to confirm.

Think aloud.

In some cases, the hiring manager might be asking a complicated question on purpose to gauge your problem-solving skills or how fast you can think on your feet. In these circumstances, think out loud as you’re answering the question. Brainstorm openly and discuss how you’d react to the situation, approach the issue, or solve the problem.

Answer honestly.

If you’re still not sure how to answer the question, let the hiring manager know. Perhaps they can rephrase it in a way that makes it easier for you to answer. Even if you still don’t have a response, then you can say you’re unfamiliar with what they’re asking, but that it’s an area you’d like to learn more about. When this is the case, offer a quick, concise response and then aim to move on quickly.

Return to the question later.

Another strategy for dealing with a question you don’t know the answer to involves circling back to it later. Tell the hiring manager you’re unsure about that question and ask if you can return to it later in the conversation. As you’re answering another question, inspiration might strike you.

Redirect the hiring manager.

When asked about a concept or process you’re not familiar with, redirect the hiring manager to an area where you’re more knowledgeable. You can state something like: “I’m not familiar with that area, but what I do know is that…” and then go on to discuss a related or similar area where you have experience. Don’t dwell too much on what you don’t know, but focus on showing that you’re a skilled, capable professional who can think fast.

Unfortunately, no matter how many hours you spend preparing for an interview, you might still get stumped by a question you don’t know the answer to. The key is to not let it throw you off track for the rest of the interview. Aim to answer quickly, stay confident, and move onto firmer ground.

Need more help with your job search?

Interviewing for jobs can be stressful. Let Snelling Georgia Group help! We can work with you to polish your resume, prep for interviews, and find a new job in the Atlanta Metropolitan area that’s a great fit. To learn more, contact us today.


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