How to Answer an Interview Question When You Can’t (Plus Tips)
During an interview, you might be asked a question to which you don’t know the answer. This can happen when the position is very technical and has a lot of ideas and words, or when it’s hard to come up with a response. When going on job interviews, it can be helpful to know what to do when you don’t know the answer to a question. In this article, we talk about what to do when you don’t know the answer to an interview question, look at some examples of answers to this kind of question, and give you tips on how to do well in an interview.
How to handle a question you can’t answer at an interview
During an interview, you might not know how to answer a question or need more time to think of a good one. You can do some of the following if you don’t know the answer to an interview question:
1. Always look like you mean business.
Make sure you look professional as the first step to acting well in this situation. When you don’t know the answer to an interview question, you might feel nervous or unsure, but it’s important to stay calm and think of the best way to answer the hiring manager. Take deep breaths, smile, and look the interviewer in the eyes to keep a professional look.
2. Ask them to explain the question in more detail.
If you don’t know how to answer an interview question, it might be because the hiring manager didn’t give you enough information or didn’t make it clear what kind of answer they want. If something like this happens, you might want to ask questions to find out more. For instance, you could answer by asking them your own question about the answer they want.
The interviewer asked, “Tell me about yourself.”
Candidate: “I want to say a lot. Would you like to know more about my interests, where I went to school, or where I’ve worked?”
3. Tell what you know about the topic.
The employer might ask you a question about current events or a technical process, and you might not know much about it. To answer, be honest about how much you want to learn more and talk about what you already know. For example, if the hiring manager asks you about the five most important ideas in geography, you may only know about three of them.
Interviewer: “Can you briefly explain geography’s three main ideas and why they are important?”
Candidate: “As a geography intern, I can’t wait to learn more about the field’s basics and how they affect it. Right now, I understand the three themes of location, place, and regions, which have to do with position, people, and things that connect them. It’s important to understand geographical themes because they help define and learn about places and guide the study of geography.”
4. Tell us how we can find the answer.
If you don’t have enough information to come up with an answer, you can say that you don’t know and explain how you might find out. This can be a good way to deal with the fact that you don’t know enough because it shows the hiring manager that you want to learn and grow. For example, the hiring manager of an online news and journalism website might ask the candidate if they know why utility hole covers are round.
The interviewer asked, “Can you tell me why utility hole covers are round?”
Candidate: “I’m not sure that there is only one reason for anything. I’d guess that utility hole covers are round so they don’t fall down the entrance tunnel, but to find out for sure, I’d talk to utility workers to find out what the shape of the cover means to them.”
How to answer an interview question when you don’t know the answer
You can look at these answers to help you prepare for an interview where you don’t know the answer:
Interviewer: “What do you think about the way regulations are working in this field right now?”
Candidate: “I’d love to give a clear, well-thought-out answer to this question. Can we talk about it again before the interview is over?”
The interviewer asked, “How do you handle discipline as a manager in this field?”
Candidate: “Are you asking me to tell you about a time when I did a good job of disciplining a team member?”
Interviewer: “What is a binary search algorithm, and how would you use it in Java? If you were using C++, how would you do it?”
Candidate: “I don’t know much about binary search algorithms, but if I get an internship with this company, I plan to learn more about coding and get more experience so I can answer questions like this in interviews after I graduate and move up in my career.”
What to say when you don’t know the answer to an interview question
You can try these things if you don’t know the answer to an interview question:
- Mock interviews are a good way to get ready for these kinds of situations. To get better at interviews, you can practice with friends, family, or at a career center. You might want to include hard or vague questions in your practice interviews so that you are better prepared for the real thing.
- When you answer, try to be honest. Don’t act like you know the answer or try to steer the hiring manager in a different direction. Instead, just tell the truth about what you know. By being honest, you can show the hiring team what’s good about you and talk about how you learn and find answers.
- When you answer, act like you’re sure of yourself. You can look professional and stay calm in these situations by sitting up straight, smiling, and making good eye contact with the hiring specialist. When you answer, this can also make you look smarter and more trustworthy.
- You can give yourself time to think by asking the question again. If you need more time to think of a response, you can ask the interviewer to repeat the question to make sure you heard them right. This can show that you are thorough and give you more time to answer.