What to Do When You Can’t Answer an Interview Question

What to Do When You Can’t Answer an Interview Question

Job interviews can make everyone anxious. Even if you believe you are pretty much qualified for the job, the format of an interview itself may get you nervous. And this is totally fine. People tend to get worried when they are pushed out of their comfort zone in the middle of their job search.

However, a successful applicant is a person who mastered the art of communication during a job interview. It doesn’t mean you should take over the leading role of a recruiter or hiring manager to tell your story the way you see fit. It’s rather about developing a strategy that makes you an interesting person to talk to and lets you avoid all traps.

“What traps?” – you might ask. The ones interviewers from recruiting firms set to filter creative problem-solvers from people who studied books by heart. The latter isn’t good for roles requiring innovation and critical thinking. These people are doers rather than achievers and might not be a good fit for a managerial role, for example.

Yet, it would take hours to describe every situation that can knock you out during the interview. Interviewers use all those tough questions, assignments, case studies, and other tricks to make you leave your comfort zone. However, this is a part of your interview preparation. The better you prepare, the harder it is to throw you off your pace.

That’s why we partnered with top-resume-reviews.com to help applicants get employed and teach them to mobilize when they feel that something goes wrong. In this article, we’ll discuss how to behave if you don’t have a good answer to an interview question.

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Here you go!

Recognize Your Small Victory

Before you even get to the interview, you need to understand that the very fact that you were invited means you trumped several dozens of other job seekers. Being able to land an interview is already a huge leap toward a dream job.

It means you succeeded in crafting a bot-beating resume and managed to go through the applicant tracking process. Or you made a smart move by deciding to invest in your career and hire a cover letter writer to make your job application look professional. Your work experiences and accomplishments wowed recruiters and the hiring team. Altogether it means that you are halfway close to landing a job.

In this case, would a small question be of crucial importance?

Take It Easy

You might not be the only one who doesn’t know how to answer this question. And this alone is definitely not a marker of whether they employ you or not.

It’s a part of the conversation where you let hiring people formulate their opinion of you. Of course, it’s great if you can answer it, but if you don’t, it’s not the end of the world.

You need to be able to tame a natural reaction, which is a spike of adrenaline. Don’t let others understand that they’ve got under your skin. Stay calm, take deep breaths, and accept the situation. Learn to enjoy the process, even if it’s not 100% as you imagined it.

Don’t Say, “I Don’t Know”

Since interviewing is a game, you need to learn to play by its rules. One of the biggest mistakes is to actually say “I don’t know” out loud. Instead, circle around, ask a few clarifying questions and try to lead the conversation in the opposite direction.

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Whenever you have more details, you’ll be able to use them to tell the interviewer what you actually know. This is truly diplomacy and the art of communication, but even if you fail on it, you’ll still get some time to figure out what to answer.

Take a Leading Role

Try to change the course of the conversation. You can shift the main focus from the tough question to something you specialize in. You can also joke or tell a story about the situation that reminds you of the current one.

There are lots of tactics that can help you take over a leading role in the conversation to change the course of the interview. However, don’t engage in this leading role for long. All you need is to ensure that you are in the domain you feel more confident in.

Explain How You’d Look for an Answer

Professional interviewers ask tough questions, but they don’t expect you to know all the answers. Sometimes, the goal is to push you out of your comfort zone to see what your thinking process looks like.

Instead of answering, demonstrate your key skills by explaining how you’d look for an answer. Be as specific as you can to ensure you employ problem-solving, critical thinking, and interpersonal skills in generating a solution.

Come Clean

If you feel that you can’t find the answer, you need to come clean. It’s of vital importance to find that fine line when you’d better accept your vulnerability rather than continue to play the game.

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If you are successful in finding the right time, you’ll build an image of a person willing to work on the problem to find a solution. And by showing that, you’ll actually make yourself more likable in the eyes of recruiters and interviewers.

Follow Up

A great strategy to make up for an unanswered question is to follow up. You can write a letter to let interviewers know that you found the answer.

This approach is very much welcomed by many hiring teams. Some of them actually expect that from successful candidates. Interviewers may intentionally ask questions that are impossible to answer off the top of one’s head. They just want to see if you are determined enough to land this role.


Most importantly, to ace an interview, you need to treat it like a game. Do not approach it as you did with a school exam. You are not supposed to know everything.

On the contrary, you need to show your employers that you know how to win some time to handle a problem. Your ATS-friendly resume already proved your work experience and qualification. They are hunting for your personal and soft skills now.

After all, recruiters and hiring managers are interested in closing positions with the right people, saving their time and resources.

Ayhan Fletcher

"Subtly charming zombie nerd. Infuriatingly humble thinker. Twitter enthusiast. Hardcore web junkie."

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