Interviews decide whether you get a job or not, and that’s why you should take them very serious. Often, as much as we practice for an interview, there are questions for which we have no answer. It could be a factual question on something that you have no idea about, or a tricky question, which you least expected. It just hits you – just like that – and leaves you shaken up. So, what to say in an interview when you don’t know the answer to a question? You can try the four-pronged approach described here.
Take Time to Gather Your Thoughts
The first thing to do is not to act surprised or dejected by the question, but to take your time to gather your thoughts. Say something like, “That’s a good question. Can I take a minute to think about it?” No interviewer would object to that. Now, think through the question silently, don’t blurt out your thoughts until you have arrived at something intelligent to say. Don’t give the impression that you are lost.
Explain Your Thoughts
When an interviewer asks a tricky question, it’s not to get an immediate answer from you, but to understand your thinking process. He or she wants to know how good you are at solving a problem under pressure, which is what you will be required to do in the job that you are applying for. So, take a moment to gather your thoughts, structure your answer and explain your thinking process as succinctly as possible, in steps such as “first”, “second” and “lastly”. Show that you are flexible and don’t mind being corrected.
Redirect the Question to an Area You are Comfortable With
Now, if you are completely unable to structure your answer even after having taken your time to think through it, what you can do is to own up to the fact that you don’t have an answer and direct the question to an area or skill that you are comfortable with. This is better than to tell the interviewer that you don’t have the skill that they are looking for. For example, if you are asked a question about “data structures” while applying for a position as a software engineer, and you don’t have the answer to the question, explain how you can solve the same problem using “arrays” – which you are comfortable with. Remember, there are different solutions to the same problem, so don’t freak out if you cannot solve it in a certain way.
Always Have a Fail-Safe Answer as the Last Resort
This is the last step and you should resort to it if you none of the steps described above work. Basically, you have absolutely no idea about how to answer the question, so you should now look for a fail-safe answer, one which you had prepared earlier, specifically for such an emergency. For this, you will have to do your research on the company and the industry as well as on the position that you’re applying for. Say something like, “I am not familiar with the concept as yet, but it is something I am excited about and eager to learn. I’ve read a lot about your company and am eager to share my views on it.” This is a great way to distract the interview and to divert their attention from the question to something you’ve already prepared for – a thorough analysis of the company and the position that you are applying for, and what you have to offer.
Lastly, learn from every interview, even those that don’t go well. Remember – the interviewer is not always looking for a specific answer to a question, but they really want to see how you think and test your problem solving skills. So, it’s okay if you don’t have the perfect answer to a question, as long as you give a thoughtful and structured reply that makes sense.