Group interviewPracticing your answers for common interview questions can help you feel confident during a job interview, but what happens when you aren’t prepared for a question? When you get caught off guard during your next interview, consider these tips to help you remain calm and respond, even when you don’t know the answer.

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Stumped During an Interview? Try These Tips

Aug 15, 2019

Group interviewIn previous posts, we've discussed tips and strategies to prepare for a job interview. And while you can think about what to wear, prepare for expected questions and follow important interview etiquette, there still could be a question or subject that comes up during an interview that you just aren't prepared for. It happens.

That's why part of your preparation should be to think through what you can do to "expect the unexpected." How can you still make a good impression if you don’t have the experience the interviewer is asking about or you’re stumped by a question. Here are a few tips.

Take a moment to think

When you get caught off guard, you don't have to jump right into responding. Instead, take a moment to think. Let the interviewer know that you heard the question, but indicate that you need some time. Try, "That's a great question. I'll need a moment to think about my response." Interviewers will appreciate that you're taking the time to thoughtfully reply.

Ask a clarifying question

"Could you elaborate or clarify the question?" can be a simple and easy way to help you find out what type of response the interviewer is looking for. Or, if you think the interviewer may be looking to learn more about a specific skill, ask a question to help you decide how to respond.

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For example, if an interviewer asks you about your management style and you've never held a management position, you can clarify by asking if they're interested in learning more about how you interact with a team or what your approach to task management is. Even if you haven't managed a team previously, you can use the follow-up question to help decide which skills you'd like to highlight — whether it's your ability to work with a team or your organization skills.

Always be honest

You may be asked about your experience with software and technologies that you actually haven't used before. Don't pretend to have that experience.

If you know what the software or tool is used for, you can offer information about similar programs and things you have used. For example, you may not have used the exact email marketing system that the company uses, but you can talk about how you've used similar options.

If you've never heard of the software or technology, ask for more information. "I'm not familiar with that system. Could you tell me what it's used for?" Explain that you may have experience with similar tools. Your familiarity with similar technologies will help highlight the skills and experience you do have.

Avoid "I Don't Know"

Consider saying, "I'm not sure the best way to answer that question. I may need some extra time to consider." This typically signals to the interviewer that you're not trying to avoid the question but that they should move on to the next question. Keep that question in mind and try to revisit it while answering a different question.

If you don't revisit the question by the end of the interview, be sure to follow up later to let the interviewer know that you've thought more about the question and include your response.

Questions about disabilities

Under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), employers are not allowed to ask disability-related questions or require a medical examination during the application and interview process. If an interviewer does ask a question that you think violates this, you can consider responding, "This does not pertain to my ability to perform the job functions." Keep in mind that questions about your disability include whether you'll need reasonable accommodations to perform the job. The decision to disclose your disability and request an accommodation is your choice, and you do not have to make the request prior to receiving a job offer.

There are some questions that an employer is allowed to ask during an interview, including questions about:

  • Your ability to perform specific job functions. This can include an explanation of physical requirements of the job — such as standing for certain amounts of time, lifting a certain amount of weight, climbing ladders — and your ability to meet these requirements.
  • How you'd perform job functions. This can help them understand some of the soft and technical skills you have that would be an asset to the company.
  • Non-medical questions, including your education, training, and work experience.

Understanding what your legal rights are as well as strategies to help you answer questions you don't have answers for can help you "expect the unexpected."

Check out past blog posts to discover how to prepare for questions you can expect during a job interview: 

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