Job Interview Tips: What to Do When You Don’t Know How To Answer a Question

Everyone is nervous in a job interview. Everyone is afraid to hear a question to which they would have no answer. To some of us, the fear of embarrassment can be so bad that we prefer not to go to an interview at all. This little post is for those who are trying to train themselves against having moments of uncomfortable silence in communication.

First of all, it is good to avoid awkward silence in every piece of communication, not only in a job interview. The same can be said about speeding up and starting your answer before your partner could finish asking the question. As a teenager, I struggled quite hard with shyness, and I remember reading somewhere that, during a one-on-one conversation, the most “comfortable” time of silence between two people’s words is the time which you would need to pronounce the phrase twenty two. Since then, I often say twenty two in my mind whenever I am about to answer a question. It also helps, by the way, to overcome nervousness when I have important conversations.

So, the rule number one in an important situation like a job interview is not to panic and take your time. No matter how tricky, unusual or complex question you just heard, take a one second long pause to fill your lungs with air and say some words of general meaning — just to fill the air and to gain another few seconds to think over your answer.

This is a simple technique, but it should be trained. Try it a number of times in less important conversations before you bring it to a job interview. Do it like this

Question___(‘twenty two’)___Your answer

Having a few phrases of general meaning at hand at all times is also a good thing: just saying something like “Oh, this is an interesting question. In fact, I never looked at the problem from this standpoint…”

Then, quite logically, you might want to start thinking aloud. Imagine that you are doing exactly the thing that the interviewer asked you about and try to describe how you would do it. This will gain you a couple more seconds, and this will be some kind of an answer — not just silence on our part.

The next great conversation technique is to redirect the topic to an area in which you are more professional. If you manage to overcome nervousness, you will be able to do it, no doubt. Even if your answer will be a little not to the point, it is still better than sitting in complete silence. In an interview, you might want to say something about being very excited about the position you are interviewing for and explain how your previous experiences could help you do this new job really well.

Having a so-called fail-safe answer at hand in an interview is also a good technique: the interviewer will certainly notice your trick, but they will see that you are capable of dealing with various situations, and it will certainly work in your favor. Say something like: “I’m not familiar with this concept yet, but I’m really excited about learning and growing more professional in (your topic), so I’ve been actively trying to learn more. When I become a part of a working team, I will certainly learn a lot faster, because I’ll be learning on particular examples in a particular professional environment.”


Above all, it is good to learn from every interview experience you have. Regardless of what question you hear, never forget to consider what the hiring manager is really expecting to learn from the question. You may not be able to answer the actual question, but if you’re able to show yourself as an experienced communicator and if you give the hiring managers the information they are trying to learn with their questions, you will certainly produce a good impression and your chances for success will become higher.

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librocubicularist | nonfiction | moonlights as the host of Silent Book Club Kota Kinabalu | writes on Scrivener

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