5 Tips for What to Do When You Don’t Know How to Answer an Interview Question

Maddie Lloyd
by Maddie Lloyd
Get The Job, Guides - 2 years ago

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We all know that one of the most important parts of preparing for an interview is to do your research on the most common interview questions and to practice your answers ahead of time. Knowing what to say ahead of time is a great way to ease your interview anxiety and to feel more confident.

Here’s the deal:

No matter how much you prepare and practice, there’s always the chance that you might run into a question that makes you feel totally stumped. Not having an answer to an interview question is scary, but it’s not the end of the world.

Here are five tips on what to do when you don’t have an answer to an interview question:

1. Take a deep breath and don’t panic

Many interviewers ask though questions not to see if you know the answer, but to see how you react under pressure. How you respond to an interview question that completely stumps you is much more important than being able to give an answer, so you’re going to want to avoid freaking out at all costs.

When you’re faced with a question that you just don’t know how to answer, try to maintain a calm, confident posture and take a deep breath. Staying confident will show interviewers that you can compose yourself, while completely falling apart and getting worked up will make them lose faith in you.

Try saying something along the lines of, “That’s an interesting question, could I take some time to think it over and get back to you?” or “That’s a great question, I could give you a partial answer, but I would like to consider it further and get back to you with a full answer.”

Not having an answer isn’t the end of the world, but totally losing your cool and having a meltdown will most likely be the end of your candidacy for the job.

2. Take your time coming up with an answer

When you’re asked a tough interview question that you can’t answer right away, don’t just try to come up with an answer all willy nilly. That’s a recipe for disaster. Instead, acknowledge the question and that you’re thinking about it.

“Hm, that’s a good question. Let me think about it,”

You can also give yourself some more time to answer by rephrasing the question or asking for some clarification. Plus, by the time the interviewer responds to you, you have already come up with an answer!

“Would you like for me to give you an example of how I completed a difficult project on a very tight deadline?”

These approaches will buy you enough time to actually work through your thoughts and come up with a solid answer, instead of just spurting out whatever comes to your head first. It’s better to give a thoughtful answer than to say something that will show the interviewer that you’re stumped.

3. Think out loud

Sometimes interviewers ask tough questions to get an idea of how you work through problems. After you’ve taken some time to think through the question, explain your thought process to the interviewer and go from there.

For instance, if you’re asked about any processes you have to complete projects, but you don’t have an actual process, think through how you would approach the project and the steps that you would take to complete it.

Thinking out loud about a tough interview question is a great way to keep the conversation going and to avoid any awkward silences, plus it serves as a means to show interviewers how you think and work through unexpected obstacles without losing your cool.

4. Redirect the conversation to a topic you’re confident talking about

If you’re asked a tough question that you just don’t have the answer to, you can always just own up to your lack of expertise and redirect the conversation to a skill or topic that you feel more comfortable talking about. Even if you can’t answer a specific question, it doesn’t hurt to change the topic to something relevant that you have more experience with.

For example, if you’re asked about your experience with a specific skill that you don’t have yet, you could try instead to redirect the question to another relevant skill that you do have experience with.

“While I don’t yet have much experience with social media marketing, I do have a lot of experience with copywriting, and I am up to date on current SEO practices.”

You can also use this as an opportunity to show your excitement for the opportunity to learn a new skill in the position.

“One of the things that caught my eye about this position was the opportunity to learn about social media marketing and build my skill set in that area. Because of my affinity with writing and SEO practices, I think that I’m well equipped to take marketing head on and grow with your company.”

5. Answer the question when you follow up with the interviewer

When you’re faced with a question that you just can’t seem to come up with an answer for, there’s no harm in answering that question later on when you reach out to the interviewer with your follow up email.

Interviewers don’t expect you to have all of the answers to every single tough question, but showing them that you’re persistent and resourceful will stand out and impress them more than your being able to answer a difficult interview question on the spot.

Now you know what to do when you can’t answer an interview question!

Even though it may seem like a total nightmare, not being able to come up with an answer on the spot for a tough interview question isn’t a death sentence for your job prospects.

Make sure to study up on the most common interview questions and prepare your answers beforehand. If you still run into a question that you just don’t know how to answer, stay calm, take your time answering, and if you have to, just give your answer later on in your follow up email.

Interviewers are more interested to see how you handle challenges and work through tough problems than knowing that you have all of the right answers. So just stay confident, don’t panic, and all the right answers will come!

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