So, You Don't Know the Answer to the Interview Question...

When I ask friends, candidates, and clients what their least favorite thing is about interviewing, the answer I get often is “I hate not knowing what they’re going to ask me.” I get it! Interviews are like real-life, one on one, tests, and the testing anxiety is just the same…but now you also have to take into consideration this person on the other side of the desk. What if I told you that you could get ANY question in an interview, not know the answer, and still come out “positive” on the other side? It’s true! This is the procedure to follow when answering an interview question you don’t quite know the answer to:

Acknowledge the Question!

I know this sounds simple, but it is a skill! Even the most stoic of candidates can be thrown of their game with a left-field question, and sometimes, recruiters try to throw you off, just to see how you respond! (I may or may not have asked an HR candidate with a brewery background, what beer he would recommend to me as a customer. Did we hire him? Yep. He may even read this article: Hi, Aaron! I miss working with you!) As a candidate, confidence is key, and if you give your interviewer a deer-in-the-headlights blank stare, they’re going to lose their confidence in you. Respond naturally and quickly with a “That’s a really great question!” and if you need a second to formulate your thoughts, ask for one. It’s entirely acceptable to say, “I want to respond thoroughly, can I take a moment to organize my answer?” If you’re able to answer on the fly, then that’s even better, but taking the time to acknowledge the question, and ask for extra time, if you need it, shows the interviewer that you are engaged, thoughtful, and not easily shaken.

Explain your thought process aloud.

You don’t have to have the answer in its entirety scripted and ready to go, but you should be able to work through the problem and explain your thought process to your interviewer. Take them through the steps you’re taking in your head to get from question to answer! Even if the answer isn’t what the recruiter had in mind, they’ll be able to see your problem solving skills on display. Not t

o mention, many times, the answer isn’t even really the point of the question—they’re trying to figure you out! If you show them how you think, and your ability to concisely communicate your ideas with another individual, you’re showing off about 15 important, necessary qualities that every interviewer is looking for. That’s all before you even get to the answer!

What’s your fail safe?

Yes, there can be interview questions that you just can’t talk your way through or out of. Sometimes you just really don’t know the answer. This is most common when you’re in a new career field, or a more advanced position. So, what do you do when you don’t know that answer? If you have some knowledge on the topic the interviewer is referring to, ask for further clarification, and then explain your thought process. This is often helpful when different verbiage is used that you may not be used to. For instance, in your current field a process may be called “X,” but in your new field the exact same process, or a very similar one, may be called “Y.” However, if clarification isn’t going to do you any favors, admit it. Yes, the best practice is to admit you don’t know something *gasp!* Remember what we said about The Weakness Question? Most times, admitting where you have room for improvement can get you pretty far! Nonetheless, there is a “correct” way to do this, and it hinges on a little bit of humility and a whole lot of confidence. After admitting that you “aren’t familiar with that process,” or “haven’t had exposure to this concept,” lean into your knowledge of the company and your ability to learn new things. Be optimistic and enthusiastic in your answer, and let your interviewer know that you’re passionate about the company and position for *insert researched reasons here,* and you have faith in your work ethic to quickly learn any areas that may be lacking in your experience, because you’re dedicated to this company and position for the exact same researched reasons you’ve listed above. Now, I will admit, you really have to sell this answer, and not in the fake “sales” way, but you need to give your interviewer reason to have confidence in you as a candidate—enough so that they believe you when you say you can learn these things quickly, and you’re still the best candidate for the position.


How to instill confidence in your interviewer will be a topic of a future blog post, so be sure to stay tuned for that, but if you’re ready to start interview prepping right now, check out a Hearth & Hobbies Interview Consultation, where we'll answer any questions you have about interviewing, provide interview tips and advice, and take all of the panic sweat out of the prep in an easy-to-schedule 60 minute phone call!

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