You are at your interview and everything seems to be going smoothly. The recruiting officer is pleasant and the conversation is flowing. But then sometimes you are asked that one question during a job interview that completely stumps you. Do you know that feeling? Your stomach hits the floor and the silence is excruciating.
Although it is unfortunate when this happens, there are some tips that you can use which will get you out of the situation without you having to losing face.
Should you find yourself unable to answer a question, firstly take in a deep breath and try to remain calm. Holding your breath and panicking has never solved a single problem! Stress and panic can prevent you from thinking clearly and you could throw out any old answer to the question and immediately live to regret it.
Just reassure yourself that don’t know the answer to the question right now, but you will be able to find the answer later on. Never blurt out that you don’t know the answer and definitely don’t make an answer up and hope that it is right. Most interviewers will understand that you could be nervous, and this could affect your response, but making up answers will certainly not wash.
If you cannot give an answer then maybe it is the question that you don’t fully understand. Don’t be afraid to ask questions – you can ask the recruitment officer for clarification and they will be able to re-phrase the question or give examples of what they want to know. Quite often doing this can help you figure out the answer or you can piece together an answer from the clues they give you.
After asking for clarification, if you still find yourself stumped for a concise answer, then talk about what you do know. You can talk about an experience you have had with the same or similar situation, so showing that you understand where they are coming from. This can often help you figure out an answer too.
Explain how you would find the answer
If you are truly stumped about giving an answer and the interviewer hasn’t moved the conversation on, then take some time to explain how you would go about finding the answer to their question. Recruiters often throw in a hard question here and there to test your response and see how you process the problem. A person who can provide a thoughtful way to find an answer is going to be far more appealing than someone who just shrugs, shakes their head and gives up.
You may expect more tricky questions to be thrown at you during your interview if you are applying for a job that requires strong decision making skills or independent thinking. In this case the recruiter will be looking to see if you are able to take the initiative and find solutions to problems as they arise. They will want people who can think on their feet and have the drive to lead rather than follow.
Follow up after the interview
Admitting that you truly do not know the answer to a question when pressed can be a sign of honesty, but you shouldn’t let it lie at that. Tell your interviewer that you think it is a good question that deserves an answer. Tell them that although you don’t know the answer right now, you will follow up their question after the interview via email. Doing this can demonstrate that you have a dogged determination to deliver results. This is a real positive for your prospective new employer.
Actually DO follow up with an email
Your follow up email providing the answer to that awkward question can actually be your foot in the door. The interviewer will be impressed that you took the time to research their question and deliver an answer a promised. This can create a deeper personal link with the interviewer and you will stand a better chance of being invited back for a second interview. Remember to word your email positively though. Never apologise for not knowing the answer – instead, simply say that after giving it more thought, you have found a couple of answers that could solve the problem.
Always be prepared for a tricky question, or even one that you simply cannot answer off the top of your head. Rather than admit defeat and walk away from the interview as an ‘also-ran’, take the opportunity to prove your worth and determination, and to never be stumped during an interview again.