How to Answer Questions When You Don't Know the Answer


We’ve all been there. Were asked an interview question that we don't quite know the answer to. Sure we could make a guess, but is it worth it? Are they going to call me out or will they be impressed that I was courageous enough to give it a shot? Spoiler, it’s the first one. We all get those questions, sometimes they’re technical in nature or more industry specific. “What do you see as this industry's biggest challenges in the next 12 months?” Sure, the global pandemic is a safe answer here, but they’re probably looking to hear more about your interest, preparation, and knowledge on the industry that you’re applying to.


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So how DO we answer a question that we’re not quite sure of. Well there’s two good approaches that I’m going to go over to make sure you’re not blindsided if this happens to you.

The first is probably the one you’re expecting, “I don’t have a good answer for you at this time, but directly following this meeting I’ll look into it and get back to you with a response.” We've all heard this one, and it’s really probably the safest approach. Although we may feel discouraged that we couldn't answer a question right away, letting the interviewer know that we’ll get back to them with an answer lets them know that we’re being honest and not the kind of person to make things up. We also give ourselves a great opportunity to follow up with the interviewer and show them that we’re the kind of person to follow through with the things that we say. These are the kinds of golden opportunities we look for in interviews because how we act in an interview gives them a glimpse into how we’d act if we are hired into this new job position.


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The second approach is to give a related answer that still displays our knowledge and experience, even if it’s not exactly what they asked. For example, if you were asked to discuss a time when you’ve provided excellent customer service, and you’ve never been in a customer facing role, you might feel like you’re up the creek without a paddle. While you might not have direct experience providing excellent customer service, you have likely been in a position where you’ve witnessed or received excellent customer service.

When explaining your story, you can point out the key components that led to you feeling it was such a good experience. The one on one focus, the patience, the relatability of the service provider. Anything that shows that you understand what good customer service truly is and that you could provide it if given the opportunity. This type of response is great when you’ve had a related experience, but might not be a good fit if they’re asking a technical question you don't know the answer to. In that instance you might want to stick to something like “I don't know but I will figure it out and get back to you” or “I’m not sure exactly, however I would figure out the answer by doing ABC”.


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We all eventually get an interview question that we’re not sure the answer, but if you take a second and respond thoughtfully, you can still manage to impress the interviewer and get back to the interview relatively unscathed. Handling difficult situations well is just as valuable a skill as anything you’ll share with the interviewer, so when a question comes up that you’re unsure of, don't panic, it’s an opportunity to show the interviewer that you can handle these types of situations.


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