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How to Smartly Handle Interview Questions You Don’t Know How to Answer

Interview questions come in different forms. Some are expected while others can completely throw you off balance. Learn how to take on unexpected interview questions with more confidence.

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Interview questions come in different forms. Some are expected while others can completely throw you off balance. Learn how to take on unexpected interview questions with more confidence.

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Everything seems to be going well as you interview for a new job role, you are familiar with, or perhaps exceedingly in the interview questions you are being asked by the hiring manager - you prepared well. And then all of a sudden she asks you a question that you don’t know the answer to. This can be a dicey situation to be in.

On one hand, you don’t want to ramble or give an out-of-point answer. On the other hand, you also don’t want to simply say you have no idea what the answer is. That could potentially limit your chances of landing the job. What do you do? 

This article discusses how you can respond to this kind of interview question with a fair amount of confidence. First, we will look at the things you should not do or say in a job interview and then we move on to what you can do to salvage the situation.


How not to respond to job interview questions you don’t know answers to

Make up a lie

If you make the mistake of telling a lie in a job interview, that might make matters worse for you. An experienced hiring manager can easily spot a liar. You may be asked a simple follow-up question that reveals you have no knowledge of what you said in the first place. 

If you make up technical skills you don’t possess, you'll most likely show your flaws by providing an incomplete or wrong response. Even if you luckily land the job, you'll be found out fairly fast.

Changing the subject to something loosely related

Though you may be uncomfortable with the question, it’s important that you resist the urge to provide a response that is loosely related to the question that was asked. That would give the interviewer the impression that you are being evasive or you simply don’t listen. This can harm your chances of getting the job.

Bluntly say you don’t know the answer

While it's always good to be truthful, you don't want to convey the idea that your work experience is limited or that you haven't prepared adequately. You can tackle the question using one of the strategies stated below.


How you should respond to job interview questions you don’t know the answers to

Now that we have gotten the things you should not do out of the way, let us look at some of the best ways to tackle interview questions that you don’t know the answers to. Before we get into that, it is important to realize that many interview questions are not aimed at getting specific answers.

Oftentimes interview questions are asked in order to, among other things, find out how you think, how you make decisions, your ability to analyze situations and solve problems, and your ability to communicate effectively. Now let’s talk about how to respond.

Take a few moments to come up with an answer

Take a deep breath and request a moment to gather your thoughts. Usually, interviewers would appreciate it if you take the time to craft a thoughtful response rather than racing through a canned response. Think about your work history for an answer — even a minimal experience could be useful. Take into account non-work scenarios as well, such as professional groups, or volunteer work.

Follow up with a clarifying question

You can do this if you are asked a scenario-based question about your current job role but can only remember a similar situation in a different role in the past. Simply ask the interviewer if you can talk about your past experience. More often than not, they would be interested to hear it. Remember, it’s likely your thought process or problem-solving skills that the interviewer is really after.

Organize your thoughts through writing

If the interview question you are being asked requires a fairly detailed response, you could utilize the power of writing to organize your thoughts. In order to avoid awkwardness, you can ask for permission to do this. 

A smart way to organize your thoughts in writing is to employ the STAR method. Make some quick notes that help you to clearly describe the situation, the task that was to be accomplished, the actions you took and how you came to choose those sets of actions, and then the outcome that resulted from taking those sets of actions. 

Even if the scenario that comes to mind is one in which the outcome was less than you desired, you can still score points by explaining to them where you fell short and what you would do in retrospect.

Be clear about your curiosity and eagerness to learn

Not all interview questions are going to be scenario-based. You might be asked a question that requires you to define or explain a concept or process you are not familiar with. In this case, you can admit that you are not very familiar with the subject but make it clear how you plan to acquire this knowledge in the near future. You could explain how you quickly came up to speed with similar concepts in the past out of sheer curiosity.



It is important for you to learn from interview questions. Especially the ones you could not answer well so that even if you don't get the job, you could perform better at an interview for a similar role.

Remember to think about what the hiring manager is truly trying to discover from a question, no matter what it is. Although you may not be able to satisfactorily answer the question, you would do well if you can determine what the hiring manager is looking to learn by asking a particular question and responding to any concerns they might have.

You may also like: Are you prepared for these 8 unique interview questions?

Written by

Muna Egu

Muna Egu is a content marketer and conversion copywriter with a knack for helping B2B, SaaS, Fintech and B2C brands attract traffic and generate leads. He is deeply passionate about using the power of high-quality content and copywriting to light hearts on fire for brands.

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