What to do if you can’t answer an interview question

It’s an important topic that will come up again and again throughout your professional career: what do you do if you cannot answer a question?


Well, whatever you decide to do, don’t do what Miss Utah did last weekend during the Miss USA competition and churn out an excruciating, long-winded answer that not only failed to answer the question, but also showed she didn’t know what she was talking about.

It’s horrible to watch, isn’t it? But there was some good among the bad: although she did not take time to think before starting her answer – which led her into all sorts of trouble – she remained composed and didn’t fall apart, even though her stress levels must have been going through the roof.

So, what should you do when an interviewer asks you a question to which you don’t know the answer? There are a few blog posts which offer some sage advice, such as this one, this blog and this post, but it can be summed up as follows:

  • Don’t panic: maintain your composure and breathe deeply. The interviewer may not even notice you’re struggling with the question.
  • Buy some thinking time: ask for clarification on the question or perhaps get them to rephrase it. This should give you a few seconds to come up with a response.
  • Be honest. It’s OK to say “I’m not sure”, “I don’t know” or “I’m not familiar with that yet”, and then follow it up with how you approach the problem and how you’d find out how to solve it. Just don’t say “I don’t know” a lot during the interview.

We all have blind spots – we can’t be expected to know everything. Just remember to stay calm, breathe deeply and remind yourself that however badly you think your interview is going, it cannot be as bad as these. Or Miss Utah.

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