What to do in a job interview when questions leave you unanswered

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Imagine this scenario: you are in the middle of a job interview, you are asked a question and you don’t know how to answer it. It happens.

Even if you have prepared for several hours, a question may unexpectedly arise that may perplex you.

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However, you don’t want to let this setback spoil your interview. Here’s how to deal with the tough questions and how to bounce back from the ones that make you the most sluggish:

Not having the experience they ask about

When preparing for an interview, there should be a series of stories from your past jobs that highlight different parts of your career and experiences.

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Interviewers will want to hear about how you handled problems, and how difficult situations were in your previous roles. However, if you don’t have that specific experience you’re asked about, this can be a downside.

This is where those stories you prepared come into play. Think of one that relates to the question, said Lia Garvin, author of “Unstuck.”

She suggested saying something like, “I haven’t been in this exact situation, but in a similar experience where this XYZ problem came up, here’s what I did.” Or: “This reminds me of a similar situation where we didn’t have a resource constraint, but we had a budget constraint. So, this is what I did.”

Another way to handle a question when you don’t have any experience directly related to what you’re being asked is to explain how you would handle it.

Sara Skirboll, vice president of communications at CareerBuilder, says, “Always make sure you highlight your skills and negotiation skills based on what you’ve done and what you plan to do in your new job.”

She suggested saying something throughout the interview like, “I have no experience in this situation. However, with my three years as a human resources manager, I can say that if I went through this, this is how I would handle it.”

No idea how many balloons can fit in the room

Sometimes interviewers ask questions that may be unconventional. But often the interviewer is paying more attention to your approach and how you would solve the problem.

“So it shows your problem-solving skills,” Skirboll said. It is about specifying what questions and information you would need, how you would gather that information and how you would work through your approach in order to arrive at the answer.

If you are challenged to solve a math problem: how many balloons would fill a room?, the interviewer is probably not expecting you to answer an exact number.

“Consulting companies like to ask these kinds of questions to test how logically the interviewee thinks, the way they would approach something totally new and outside their knowledge. There’s no getting around the issue,” said Marianne Ruggiero, founder and president of Optima Careers.

She said to talk about your approach out loud. “I would try to guess the dimensions of the room, the space to be filled and the average size of the balloons. I would put a few other people in the room with you and talk about it with them,” she said. “There is no right answer. Have fun and work with it. Probably whoever asked you the question has no idea what the answer will be.”

Is just trying to remember something

It’s okay to take a minute to think before answering a question.

“The interviewee might say, “That’s an excellent question. Let me think about that for a moment.” Look up and around to organize your thoughts.”

You can also buy some time if you repeat the question.

“Repeat the question to the human resources manager: ‘Let me get this straight: did you ask X?’” Skirboll said. ”

However, if you talk a lot but don’t actually answer the question, it draws attention to yourself.

“It’s perfectly acceptable for attention to be focused on you or for you to try to divert the focus of the question,” Ruggiero said. “This makes the human resources manager feel that if the interviewee makes a mistake, he is aware enough to admit that he made a mistake and that he will correct it. Wouldn’t you like to hire a person who will deal with mistakes like that?”

If you don’t remember anything, Garvin suggested returning to this topic at the end of the interview. “If you can’t answer the question, try: ‘I don’t remember anything at the moment, but I’d like to come back to this subject.’”

If asked to share something negative about yourself

Sometimes interviewers try to catch the interviewee off guard. So they are asked about something the person has dealt with: their biggest weakness, a challenge they found difficult to overcome, or the way they dealt with a coworker who was difficult to get along with.

“I like to approach this issue as an opportunity to share a story of overcoming,” said Garvin.

When sharing a story, be sure to emphasize what you learned from the situation. For example, Garvin said an example might be a project that has been delayed because it hasn’t informed the necessary stakeholders. He might say, “Since then, I have developed the XYZ process to prevent this from happening next time.”

Remember a better answer on the way home

The best answers may come to mind after we leave the interview. However, if you made a mistake or weren’t able to answer a question, make your thank you email a way to get back on this topic again.

A post-interview thank-you email should express gratitude for the person’s time, but may also include clues that follow up on the question for which you may want to provide more information.

Ruggiero suggested mentioning that, after further consideration, he wants to add something else to his candidacy and mention another story.

“You can mention something specific about your past. Say this relates to this comment that you didn’t have the opportunity to explain in the interview, as you had planned.”

Source: CNN Brasil

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