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What to Do If you Get Stuck on a Question During a Job Interview

What to Do If you Get Stuck on a Question During a Job Interview

Nothing can seem more frightening than not knowing how to answer a question in an interview. No matter how well you prepare for an interview, sometimes curveball questions land in our laps. 

Getting stuck on an interview question is more common than you think. Since we can’t control the questions a potential employer chooses to answer, part of our interview preparation should include making a plan of action for questions you’re not sure how to answer.

In this post we’ll share four things you can do if you get stuck on a question during an interview.



Ask for Clarification

Sometimes an interviewer will ask a question that isn’t clear. You may not be sure of the purpose, reason or information they want to obtain. This could be from a poorly worded question or simple miscommunication.  The best approach to this situation is to ask for clarification. 

If you're not sure of exactly what information the interviewer wants, ask them to explain. Try asking: "I want to give a meaningful answer to your question. Could you explain in more detail?



Buy More Time to Think

There are times when you may simply need more time to think. In a behavioral interview you may need more time to think of an example that is a good response to the question asked. Or maybe it's a complex question and you want to gather your thoughts before presenting your response. 

Whatever the situation, if you need more time to think, ask for it. Here are two effective strategies to use when you need more time to think about your answer to an interview question.

Strategy #1 


Restate the question. Try framing your restatement of the question like this:


Are you looking for examples of how I _______________ or blank _________?


Example: Are you looking for examples of how I’ve supervised teams remotely or in person.


Strategy #2

Ask to answer the question later in the interview. By coming back to this question at a later time during the interview, you’ll have the opportunity to think about it more. You may also be able to get a better understanding of what the interviewer is looking to learn from this question by the other questions they ask in the interview. 


To ask the interviewer to come back to this question try saying something like:


"That's a tough question. May I have more time to think about it and answer later?



Answer It Later

If delaying your answer for the end of the interview isn’t enough time to provide a quality response, here’s your next move. Answer it later, as in after the interview. This may shock you, but you don’t have to answer every interview question on demand. If you’re too stressed or can’t think of a solid answer, provide your answer after the interview. 

If you're unable to think of an answer, ask to provide an answer after the interview. Take some time in a less pressure setting to consider or research. Then give your answer as part of your interview follow up. 

To ask to answer an interview question later, say something like:

"That's a great question. May I follow up with you after the interview so I can think about it further?

Then follow up with the interviewer by email with your well thought out answer later.



Don’t Make It Up

Even those of us who are the best at interviews may get questions that they have no idea how to answer. If you find yourself without an answer even after asking a clarifying question, there is no shame in simply saying that you don’t have an answer.

It’s ok to not have an answer to every interview question. It is better to say that you don’t know than to make up an answer that could not make sense or not be the best representation of your skill. When you honestly don’t know the answer to a question you’re asked during an interview say so. 

You can say something like: 

"I'm not sure. But I will continue to think about this after the interview."



Even the best and most prepared candidates can get stuck on an interview question. Interviews are highly stressful and require you to think quickly on your feet. You may not be prepared or be able to think of an effective answer to a question for a variety of reasons. That’s why being prepared for a situation where you’re stuck on an interview question is important. By tucking these ideas into your interview preparation toolkit, you're able to bounce back quickly from those situations and calmly continue with the interview.




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