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

When an interviewer asks a question and you blank on the answer, the silence can seem louder than a scream. You might not know how to answer or, more commonly, nerves get the best of you and your brain freezes up. Whether applying for a permanent job or a temporary position, many job seekers find themselves in this situation at one time or another.

Interviewing is all about research and strategy. You should know and understand not just the position, but also the company before you go in to meet with the hiring team. The better prepared an applicant is for an interview, the more confidence he or she has going in. Even then, that still doesn't guarantee you won't get thrown a question curve ball. Not to worry, though — keep these tips in mind the next time you find yourself in an interview where you're strapped for an answer.

Stay Calm

Take a deep breath and remain calm. If you lose your cool here, it will look much worse than just not knowing how to answer. Don't blurt out a stress response, but instead give yourself a moment to work through the answer. Take a deep breath and try to break the question down into smaller parts until you find an element you can respond to. If they ask you about a specific process that you've never done, walk through the question out loud. "What is your process for proofreading articles?" If you don't have a specific process, think about when you did edit an article and talk about what you did. You might not think you have a specific process but you might actually have one. Avoid defaulting to an "I don't know" and please don't ever just make something up.

Ask for Clarification

Buy yourself some time by asking the interviewer to rephrase the question or, if applicable, provide an example. Many employers ask about hypothetical situations that a candidate may face in this position, which can sometimes be complex or confusing. Ask a few questions to get more details about the situation so you can find something relatable in your experience. When asked a question, it's perfectly acceptable to ask "Just so we are on the same page, you want me to explain X" or "Am I correct in that you are asking about X?"

Talk Through Your Process

Employers know that critical thinking skills are one of the most beneficial soft skills an employee can bring to the table. If you don't know the answer right away, talk through the process you'd take to answer the question. For example, if an employer asks you how you would solve a malfunction with a piece of equipment or an interpersonal dilemma, talk through the steps you would take to fix the problem.

Take it to the Follow-Up

If you aren't pleased with your answer, revisit the question toward the end of your interview or during your follow-up. Whether you're emailing a follow-up or making a phone call, take the time to explain that you weren't entirely satisfied with your answer and you'd like to expound a little more.

Above all, learn from all your interview experiences. Take the time to reflect after an interview and decide how you could have performed better. If you're looking for additional interview support, call Burnett Specialists or Choice Specialists. We've successfully helped candidates just like you nail their interviews and land positions that are great fits.

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