How to Deal with Unanswerable Interview Questions

In my last blog post, I shared five tough questions you might hear at your next job interview. We went over some solid strategies for answering these questions and I hope you’re now feeling a bit more prepared to take on your next big interview.

But even with the right strategies, ample practice and proper preparation, it’s entirely possible you may run into some questions that stump you. Don’t worry!

Here are some tips for how to deal with unexpected job interview questions that you don’t know how to answer.

Never say “I don’t know”! 

It’s never OK to say “I don’t know” and try to move onto the next question, so don’t be afraid to ask the interviewer for a minute or two to think about your answer. Needing some time to think doesn’t show you’re unprepared. It can actually provide you with an opportunity to show you’re taking the time to think, not just blurting out whatever comes to your mind or going over prepared answers in a robotic way. Your potential employer wants employees who have the ability to reason and problem solve, so this can show you’re a thoughtful professional.

Maintain your composure and stay calm

Job interviews can be intimidating and it’s perfectly natural to be nervous. It’s easy to get thrown off when you’re not sure how to respond to a question, but don’t worry – take few deep breaths, and (if it helps) start making some notes to outline your answer. Remember to also think about your posture! Here’s a great TED Talk by social psychologist Amy Cuddy about how body language can affect how others see you. You want to make sure you come off as confident and composed.

Tell the interviewer what you do know and explain how you would find the answer

Interviewers want to know how you approach problem solving, including in situations when the answer isn’t immediately obvious. Explain your first step, and elaborate on how you would get to the finish line of the problem.

Here’s an important secret about job interviews: the “wrong” answer isn’t always wrong! Your answer may not be 100 percent correct, but showing you have the ability to process a problem and come up with a solution is a highly marketable skill that employers are looking for.

Make sure to follow-up

It’s not uncommon to finish a job interview and think, “I could have said this” or “I could have said that.”

The good news is, the opportunity isn’t lost! When you send your thank-you email, make sure to address the question again. Use your thank-you email as an opportunity to follow-up and address anything you may have missed, and/or solutions that you believe would help the organization. There’s nothing wrong with continuing the conversation after the interview. In fact, it’s yet another opportunity to show your professional abilities in communication and problem solving.

The TRSM Business Career Hub offers lots of resources for job seekers. Visit their website to learn more.