It's pretty common for interviewers to ask you to share about specific experiences or skills related to the job you're interviewing for, but if you haven't been in the exact situation or used the tool they mention, you can get tripped up. Here's what to say so that you can come across as a good candidate even if you don't have an answer that matches their specific question.
Image from davefayram.
The experts at the Career Tools podcast (around 16:00) lay out an example reply you can use to redirect the conversation to the related skills and experience you do have.
Interviewer: "In this department we sometimes have to make policy decisions which aren't popular with other departments. Please describe a decision you made that wasn't popular and how you handled implementing it."
Response: "I'm sorry, I've never been in that particular situation. However, I did have to deal with some customer refunds and sometimes we had to enforce the policy when the customer wanted a refund and couldn't have it. Would you like to hear about that?"
Of course, this is an example, so you should customise this to fit your interview. Here's the general formula your response should follow:
- Acknowledge you can't answer their specific question. You want to make it clear that you know your answer isn't exactly what they're looking for, otherwise you could risk coming across as difficult to communicate with or having poor listening skills.
- Lay out a related skill or experience. In one to two sentences describe what you can talk about and how it is similar to what they asked about. You want to make the connection for them so they see you're qualified.
- Ask if they'd like to hear about the skill or experience you do have to share. If they decide the example you mentioned doesn't get at what they want to know, you don't want to waste time talking about it. Be prepared for them to say no.
You could spend a lot of time trying to prepare for every possible job interview question (and there are a lot). Most job interviews, however, really boil down to just five things employers want to know about you.
If the interviewer doesn't want to hear about your related example, have a smooth transition ready so you can move on. Something like, "In that case, I'd like to tell you about..." may work. In the end, your goal is to use the interview time effectively to showcase your skills and expertise, so focus on redirecting to answers you know highlight you as a candidate rather than getting sidetracked by not being able to address a specific question.