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Stumped? How to Handle Interview Questions You Really Don’t Have an Answer For

Zingers. Curve balls. Brain teasers.

You know they’re coming in your next interview. But unfortunately, no amount of practice, preparation or research will help you answer them.

So, if you find yourself completely bewildered by a tough interview question, what’s the best response when you really have no response? Let’s review a few smart ways to handle a question that stumps you:

Understand why interviewers ask them.

Often, hiring managers pose gotcha questions to get a better sense of how you think through problems and handle yourself under pressure. The way you respond is just as important as (if not more than) the answer you give. Simply knowing this fact will help you develop a sound process for answering zingers on the fly.

Relax! (And buy yourself some think-time.)

Sure, your palms may get sweaty and your heart may begin to pound – but you can’t let it show. Remind yourself that it’s okay not to know the answer to every question you’re asked. Identify the question for what it is: an intentionally difficult one. Then, verbally acknowledge the fact to buy yourself a little time: “Wow, that’s a great question. Let me think about that for a second.”

Respond to the question with a question.

If you’re not clear about the question itself, ask the interviewer to clarify what they’ve said. Probe deeper into the question to get more detail, because that additional information may spark an idea for your response. Just be sure that, if you do answer a question with a question, your tone is sincere (and not snarky).

Verbalize your thought process.

Once you’ve taken a moment to gather your thoughts, let the interviewer know what’s going on inside your head. Even if you don’t have the exact answer, explain the steps you’d take to find the answer, using transitional words like “first,” “next” and “finally” to give your response structure.

Redirect the conversation.

If the interviewer asks a question you truly can’t work your way through, be honest – and then steer the conversation toward a more familiar topic. Try saying something like “while I can’t speak to that point specifically, I can tell you that…” to regain your composure and momentum.

Keep fail-safe verbiage in your back pocket.

Phrases like “that’s not a concept I’m familiar with yet, but I’m actively learning more about (X)…” can be immensely helpful when a technical question stumps you – and there’s no way around it. Develop a few back-up phrases you can use in a pinch to demonstrate your enthusiasm for the role, the industry or the employer.

Follow up with an email.

If you walk out of an interview frustrated with the way you responded to a question, send a follow-up email to clarify or improve your answer. Be careful, however, not to draw attention the mistake or omission you made (e.g., don’t apologize for not knowing something). Keep the tone positive, and focus on the information, solution or conclusion you’d like to offer.

Looking for the best jobs in Murfreesboro?

Or anywhere else in Middle Tennessee? Make sure you’re prepared to answer tough interview questions by using the tips listed above. Then give Wood Personnel a call! Our expert recruiters can help you practice your interview skills in a low-stress environment, so you’re prepared to shine when you talk to a hiring manager.