AEE 1198: What to Say When You’re Stumped in a Job Interview

Have you ever had a job interview where they asked you a question and you weren’t sure of the answer?

This can be an extremely awkward situation and make you feel really unsure in an interview.

We’re going to show you how to work through this situation and come through with the best possible answer that will help improve your chances of getting the job.

We actually have a listener question about this today!

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Hi Lindsay and Michelle,

My name is Ruby Chang, and I’m a big fan of your podcast from Taiwan! I have been listening to AEE for almost two years already. I really enjoy it and my English has improved a lot thanks to you guys!

So I have a question I’m hoping you could help me with. I’m currently applying for MBA admission and there will be an interview if I pass the document review. I am trying to prepare for it as much as possible, but I’m a bit nervous about one aspect. What do I say if I don’t know the answer to the questions from the admission officer during the interview? I’m pretty sure that it’s not a good idea to say “that’s a very good question, I’ll get back to you later.”

Thank you again for providing us such an amazing show and I’d appreciate it if you could answer this question!

Sincerely,

Ruby Chang

Working Through The Pressure

This has definitely happened to many of us in similar situations.

Sometimes you get a little flustered or you need a minute to think about the question you’re being asked.

So when we look at the question in the example- can you say “That’s a very good question, I’ll get back to you later”?

The first part may work well, but what about the second part?

You might find that saying “later” makes it sound like you aren’t going to answer the question until AFTER the interview.

This is probably not the type of response that they are looking for.

If however you are asked for references, specific scheduling, or something that requires a response later, then it may be fine to push off the answer a bit.

Today we are talking about basic interview questions, and this is what we’ll focus on.

Handling The Tough Questions

So imagine that someone asks you a question on an interview and it’s not one you have prepared for.

This is a situation that can come up, no matter how prepared you may feel for an interview.

The key is to work through it and to think quickly to provide the best response possible.

What do you say in this situation?

  1. That’s a great question
  2. Thank you for asking that OR I’m glad you asked that question
  3. Stall, but be direct about it : “Let me think about that for a second.” Or you could say something like “Please give me one moment.”

These are all common phrases, and usually people are happy to give you a second.

It’s important to be direct but show that you can think quickly and on the spot.

It’s all about that fine balance, and how you demonstrate it.

Not all questions are easy and it shows how you work under pressure.

Some Help Along The Way

There’s an article published on The Muse that can really help you with this very situation.

It’s all about being prepared, and ensuring that you know how to think on the spot no matter what question you are faced with.

This is the article that will help you to work through the pressure and to know how to be ready for anything.

This article talks about strategy, but it also gives some really good tactics to help you along the way.

This will ensure that even if you find yourself in a situation without an answer readily available, you know how to work through it.

This is a major component to being prepared and can help you.

Here are some points that this article highlights which can ensure that you can handle any question that comes your way in an interview.

  • Work through the problem out loud: They suggest using words like “first” and “then” to show that you are thinking through this actively. They also recommend that you say something flexible at the end like” it depends on the situation. “
  • If you don’t know the answer, it’s okay to talk about something that you do know which happens to be applicable: Be sure that there is a relationship that makes sense here, and that you can pull examples that help you to answer the question at hand.
  • Have a good qualified answer ready: Be prepared to say something like “that’s a great question and it’s so good that you asked because I have experience in______________________.” This shows that you have related experience and you know how to draw parallels in what you are discussing.
  • Be honest: If you REALLY have no idea then be honest and say “I’m not familiar with that but I’m learning more all the time.” This is a sort of quote from the article and it expresses that you are already ready and eager to learn.

The article focuses on speaking as much as possible, even if you don’t know what to say.

Sometimes the interviewer may not care as much about the answer, but rather about how you handle the question before you.

Using A Role play To Help

As always a role play can serve as a good example in a situation like this.

Let’s take a look at a role play that shows you what to say and how to act if you find yourself in a situation like this.

L: So tell me about a time when you had a conflict as a team leader.

M: That’s a great question. Let me think about that for one minute…..

L: Sure

M: Well when I …..

L: So what do you think about the current situation with insurance?

M: I’m glad you asked that. I am still learning about the healthcare system and I’m really enthusiastic about it. In fact, I’ve taken some classes already and am learning more about the ins and outs every day. So far, I think it’s going well but we will see what happens.

Takeaway

There are many strategies you can use when you don’t know how to answer an interview question.

My favorite is just taking a moment to think and provide a thoughtful answer.

If you really don’t know the answer, the other ideas from the article are also wonderful.

It’s important to stay calm and show you are not flustered by a question even if it throws you off a bit.

This will show the hiring manager so much about who you are as a person–and also that you are a great candidate that they should consider.

If you have any questions, please leave them below in the comments section.

We’ll get back to you as soon as we can.

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