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What to Do If You Can't Answer an Interview Question?

4 Quick Tips

Leigh Gillatt  •  Careers Advice


What to Do If You Can't Answer an Interview Question?

WHAT TO DO IF YOU CAN'T ANSWER AN INTERVIEW QUESTION?

4 Quick Tips


No matter how well you prepare, it will almost certainly happen to you.

Somewhere during the course of your job interview, your potential future employer asks you a question that you can’t answer. This situation can be quite a distressing experience, even for the most seasoned of job seekers.

Sometimes you actually do know the answer, but for some reason, it remains lodged at the back of your mind and you can’t seem to call it forward!

Our 4 quick tips for what to do when you can’t answer an interview question are:

  1. Remain calm
  2. Turn the tables
  3. Be up front about it
  4. Tell them how you would find the answer

Let’s dive into each of these tips in more detail…

1. Remain Calm


It’s easy to freak out in this situation, but it’s important that you retain your composure. You may feel dreadful and want to panic, but you must at least give the appearance to your interviewer that you are unfazed.

Sometimes, interviewers will put an unanswerable question to candidates to see how they handle pressure. It might seem cruel, but it does happen and it’s important that you’re prepared for it just in case.

Remember, you were a strong enough candidate to make it this far to the interview. Ignore that voice in your head which says you’re going to fail because you don’t know the answer to a question. Stay calm.

2. Turn The Tables


Turn The Tables In An Interview
Did you know that in a conversation, the person who asks the questions is the one who holds the power?

This isn’t the goal of the interviewer, of course - simply to make you feel small and make them feel big. It’s just a simple fact of social interaction.

However, this dynamic does provide you with a way out when you encounter a question you can’t answer. Simply answer their question with a question!

For instance, you could ask: “Can I have a think about that and get back to you?” Then take a note of it and move the conversation onto another question. Volunteer the question at the end once you’ve had more time to process it.

Alternatively, you could send your answer to the interviewer in an email afterwards. This can be a useful tactic to make your application stand out from your competitors’ in the interviewer’s mind as they weigh up the different candidates.

3. Be Up Front About It


This is just one question among many others, so try and keep this in perspective. It might actually be that the interviewer wants to gauge your honesty by posing a difficult / impossible question.

In other words, will you try to make up an answer to a question you don’t know the answer to? Or will you admit that this is an area where you need to refine your knowledge?

Regardless, try to keep the conversation moving and try to steer it towards a related area that you’re more familiar with.

For instance, if you’re going for a marketing manager job, and you’re asked about your thoughts on the latest Google AMP developments, you could say:

”I confess I’m not too familiar with AMP. However, I do know that Google is constantly updating its search engine algorithm. This is why my experience to date has involved adapting my employers’ websites so they can maintain and improve their rankings…”

4. Tell Them How You Would Find The Answer


Even if you don't know what the answer is, you can tell the interviewer the steps you would take in order to find a solution to the problem / question.

Interviewers ask you hard questions because they want to see what your thought process is. Sometimes, the thought process may be more important than the actual answer.

They want to see that you can take initiative and have an idea of what resources you would use or methods you would employ to come up with a solution on your own, instead of needing someone to hold your hand through problems.

While you're trying to find the solution, you can admit to not knowing certain parts; this way, you come off as being honest, and the interviewer will know you are not trying to fake it.

Showing a little honesty shows vulnerability and transparency. It also makes you more likeable.

Following these 4 quick tips should help in any difficult interview question situation, giving you a good chance of remaining as a strong candidate in our interviewer's mind.


Not been able to the interview stage yet? It could be your CV letting you down, read our definitive guide to writing a CV


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