9 TIPS ON ANSWERING INTERVIEW QUESTIONS YOU DON’T KNOW THE ANSWER TO
Imagine this. You’ve landed a competitive interview slot for your dream job at a fantastic company. You’ve memorized the company’s “About Us” page and mission statements. You’ve read recent articles about the company in the news. You’ve checked LinkedIn to learn a bit more about your prospective employer. You’ve practiced interview questions with your Connections of New York recruiter. You’ve stalked current employees on social media to get an idea of the company dress code. You chose your interview garb, and it is perfection.
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On the day of the interview, you are breezing through your interviewer’s toughest questions as if you’d been on the job for years. Then you get this curveball. “How many Big Macs does McDonald’s sell each year in the U.S.?”
No, this was not a drill. You are inter
viewing at Facebook, and according to Glassdoor.com, this is a question that the social company’s hiring managers actually asked candidates to answer last year.
How do you respond?
Prepare to be stumped.
If you are reading this after your interview, then this tip might have come too late to save your most recent job prospect. Still, you should (and can) prepare for the next time. No one is perfect. However, practicing the tips that follow and preparing yourself for a mental curveball, will help you to be less flustered when you do not know an answer.
Even though you may not know the answer to a tough question, the way you respond to stress will speak volumes to your interviewer. Outwardly showing your distress could suggest that you do not possess the maturity to handle the key responsibilities of the role you want. Additionally, you probably know more than you think you do. Employees who are asked to self-evaluate, can often identify the areas that they excel in and where their weaknesses are quite accurately. Relax and read on for the next tip.
Redirect the conversation to something that you do know about.
Sometimes you cannot avoid saying, “I don’t know.” If that is the case, you should always try to redirect the conversation so that you are talking about something you know and/or are passionate about. If you don’t know how many burgers McDonald’s sells a year, but know how much the company spends in advertising, you could say something like, “I don’t know the exact number of Big Macs that McDonald’s sells. However, I do know that McDonald’s is responsible for one sixth of all restaurant advertising in the United States. I’m sure that they are selling millions, if not billions of burgers.”
Ask questions that might help you with the answer.
If an employer asks you to describe how you might use a software that you’ve never used before, try to ask questions that will allow you to redirect the conversation toward a relevant software that you do know about. For example, if a tech lead asks you about your experience running MySQL queries, but you have none, ask, “What does your company use MySQL for?” If you understand that it is used in data storage and recall, and you have experience with Python, you may be able to offer a response like, “I am familiar with similar technologies, but have never used them. I am proficient in working with and manipulating large sums of data via Python code.” Then ensure your prospective employer that you would be willing to do what it took to get up to speed.
Know when to admit that you don’t know.
Answering interview questions you don’t know the answer to is can be stressful, and may cause some people to try to bluff their knowledge. However, you are better off being honest than trying to lie. Still, you should assure the hiring manager that you are resourceful and willing to find the answer.
Show them your thought process.
It is OK to not know the answer to an interview question. When the hiring managers at Cisco ask, “What kind of tree would you be?” they are not looking for you to have a degree in botany. Instead, ask your questions. Let them know about your attributes, like vitality, strength and daily exposure to internal networks, that would make for a sturdy tree and good employee. Then perhaps ask them to answer the same question.
Send a follow up email.
We lied. It is not too late for you to recover from an interview in which the interviewer stumped you. You can still look up the answer to the question, and email it to your prospective boss. By doing so, you will show your future team that you are resourceful and persistent when it comes to solving problems.
Do not get defensive.
When faced with uncertainty, your instinct may be to defend yourself. This would be a good time to stop, and work on that. Rather than seeing a person who is unsure of an answer, your hiring manager is likely to see someone who is rude and impatient. Be confident in the fact that you were called into your interview because someone felt that you were worth the time. Follow the tips above, and do the best you can.
Look for cues from your prospective manager.
He or she will likely respond physically if your answer is way off base. When she does, you can try to run through these steps once more and try to adjust your answer.
Hopefully these tips will help you the next time you have trouble answering interview questions you don’t know the answer to. But share your experience so far with us. What have you done when you did not know the answer to an interview question? Did your approach work for you?