What To Do If You're Stumped During An Interview

What to Do If You're Stumped During an Interview

When you don't know how to answer a question during an interview, the silence can seem excruciating. You might even wish the floor would open up and swallow you whole. Keep these tips in mind the next time you're strapped for an answer.

This post originally appeared on POPSUGAR Smart Living.

Calm Down

First of all, the most important thing to do is stay calm. If you start freaking out, your body will begin reacting physiologically. For example, your blood pressure will start rising, and your heart may race. Once you start a stress response, you won't be thinking clearly, and you may throw out answers without thinking. Take deep breaths and tell yourself that it's OK to not know the answer to the question. You'll just have to work through it; there's nothing you can do to change things, but you need to stay calm to find the right answer.

Don't Say "I Don't Know" Off the Bat

You should not tell the interviewer you don't know the answer without mulling it over. Then again, be careful not to make stuff up, because your interviewer can see right through that.

Ask Questions

Maybe it's the question you don't understand. Ask your interviewer to clarify what she said. Go deeper into the question to see if you can get more details that will help you figure it out.

Tell Your Interviewer What You Do Know

If you do have some knowledge of the question, then take the time to tell your interviewer what you do know of the situation. Saying everything out loud can start you on the process of figuring out the problem.

Tell Them How You Would Find the Answer

Even if you don't know what the answer is, you can tell theinterviewerthe steps you would take to figure out the problem. Interviewers ask you hard questions, because they want to see what your thought process is. Sometimes, the thought process may be more important than the actual answer. They want to see that you can take initiative and have the resources to come up with a solution on your own, instead of needing someone to hold your hand through problems. While you're trying to find the solution, you can admit to not knowing certain parts; this way, you come off as being honest, and the hiring manager will know you are not trying to fake it.

For example, if you need to calculate something and you're not good at maths, you can respond with "I can't do the calculations off the top of my head, but I think these calculations will give me the answer. And what I can do is use a calculator to find that answer." Showing a little honesty shows vulnerability and transparency. It also makes you more likable.

Know the Right Time to Come Clean

Although we mentioned not admitting to the interviewer that you don't know the answer, there is an exception to this rule. If the answer is something that you will only know through memorization, such a definition of the word, then it's probably best to admit that you don't know the answer, as it may be impossible to figure it out independently. Here's what you can tell the interviewer: "It's a good question, but I'm sorry, I don't have the answer off the top of my head. I will be sure to follow up with the answer after the interview."

Send a Follow-Up Email

The follow-up email for an interview could become your second chance. Try to talk about the answer you were stumped on, but be smooth when you're talking about it. And make sure you're only naming the mistakes your interviewer caught and not drawing attention to the ones she did not catch. Don't say something like "I'm sorry I did not know the answer to that question." Instead, tell her that after more time and thought, you managed to come up with a couple of solutions that could work for the problem.

What You Should Do If You're Stumped During an Interview [POPSUGAR Smart Living]

Emily Co is an editor at POPSUGAR.


    If this is the Public Service interview:
    The gist of the article is not to be flustered. It's good advice to ask about the question as you may not understand it, and it also gives you a little time. Asking questions will/may demonstrate how quickly you can understand a problem, that in itself is a good sign.

    "Tell the interviewer what you do know" is fine if you keep it brief. People who feel caught out often try to cover with guff. It does not work. In the PS interviewers must fill out a report and rate the answer, it is a grading system, what you lose on this question you may gain on another. Don't say nothing but don't waste too much time saying very little either.

    In my experience people spend much more time on the questions they know little about or have misunderstood. This problem is compounded by interviewers who must not only listen to wrong answers and fluff, but will give the interviewee the benefit of nervousness and re-frame a question if they think they have misunderstood.

    The PS grading system is meant to ensure fairness. In other environments I think it might be different where some skills are more important than others. Nevertheless, say your piece ask the questions then move on. Remember, if you don't get the job because you don't fit their criteria you are probably better off working somewhere else.

    The way I handle it is to say "That's a great question, I'm going to moment to think about that." It buys you a little bit of less awkward silence.

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