Stumped for an Answer to an Interview Question? Follow These 4 Steps

By Chelsea Babin

Sometimes you’ll get asked a question in an interview that completely stumps you. If you haven’t been in the exact situation they’re asking about, it may be difficult to come up with an authentic, honest, flattering answer. Follow these 4 steps if you want to properly handle this tricky situation.

1. Acknowledge your lack of specific answer: Make it clear that you haven’t been in that situation straight away. Acknowledging the fact that you don’t have a specific, precise answer to their question will make sure they don’t think you misheard them when you go into an answer that is similar, but not exactly what they were looking for.

2. Offer up a related skill or experience: If you’re asked to tell a story about an experience you had leading a team or organizing a project from start to deadline and you don’t have experience doing those things but you have similar experience or a relevant skill that would come in handy in those situations, try pivoting the discussion to talk about those. It’s much better to hypothesize how you’d handle a situation based on the skills you do have or the experience you have that’s similar rather than simply saying, “I’ve never done that before.”

3. Ask if they’d like you to elaborate on similar topics: While you’re offering a similar answer, you aren’t able to answer the question they asked specifically. That’s why you should always stop before you answer too thoroughly and ask if they’d like to you elaborate on that similar topic or not. Be prepared for them to say no.

4. Ask if you can think about it and come back to your answer later: If they aren’t interested in your relevant experience and/or you can’t think of something off the top of your head, ask if you can think about this question and come back to your answer later in the interview. This tactic is only effective if you plan on giving a thorough, thought-through answer and doesn’t work if you’re only trying to stall and deflect.

Answering a question you don’t know the answer to isn’t impossible, but it can be challenging. If you’re stumped for an answer to an interview question, follow these 4 steps to handle it with eloquence and professionalism.