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What To Do In an Interview If You Don't Know the Answer?

Interviews are all about questions and answers. The interviewer asks you various questions based on your education, experience, skills, and abilities.

An interview can be scary. It can even make you anxious. One of the major reasons that give you anxiety during an interview is not being able to answer a question.


Everest college's National study in 2013 found that 92% of U.S. adults fear something about job interviews, the reasons being nervousness, being overqualified, and tough interview questions. 15% fear being stumped by the employer's questions.


Sometimes the interviewer may ask you a tricky or unexpected question. You might get stuck in such a situation. But you need not panic.

You might blurt out answers like 'no idea' or 'I don't know or something of that sort. And such responses might create a bad impression on the interviewer.

Sometimes you might make up an answer or come up with something that you don't know. Here too, you might get caught if the interviewer asks you to elaborate in detail. And the result might be undesirable.

An unexpected question can decrease your confidence and increase your anxiety. However, this is the time where you need to take a pause, think out of the box and tactfully handle the situation.

To help you with this here are a few things to do and no-to-do in an interview if you don't know the answer.

With the help of the following tips, you can get through this bitter situation easily.

Here are a few things that you can do and that you can avoid during an interview if you don't know an answer:

What to Do:

What to do in an interview if you don't know the answer?

1. Pause:

Take a pause. Relax. Calm down your nerves. Ask the interviewer for a few seconds/ minutes of time.

Sip on some water if you need to. Take a deep breath. Gather all your thoughts.

To get some more time to answer you can ask the interviewer to repeat the question. Think out of the box. Try to come up with some relevant answers.

Think of an example or an experience. Since the interviewer wants you to answer carefully, do not rush.

Try to understand the question. Focus on the keywords mentioned in the question. This might give you an idea for framing a thoughtful, relevant answer.

Most importantly, don't panic. A few seconds of pause can help you to relax your mind and focus on the questions asked.

What to do in an interview if you don't know the answer?

2. Ask a follow-up question:

Sometimes you may not be able to think of an answer.

Sometimes, you cannot figure out the answer because you misunderstand the question.

Or you fail to understand what has been asked. In such a case, you can ask the interviewer a follow-up question. This will help you to understand the question better and think of an answer to it.

You can cross-check if you and the interviewer are talking about the same thing by asking a follow-up question. Also, this buys you some time to figure out the answer.

The interviewer might explain a few things regarding the question in order to make you understand. Take advantage of this information to frame your answer.

This way, you show your problem-solving and critical thinking abilities. Your skills, positive approach, and persistence alone might impress the employer even if your fail to give a perfect answer.

What to do in an interview if you don't know the answer?

3. Use the power of the pen:

When the interviewer asks you a question, write down the question.

Focus on the key phrases, technical terms, or keywords used in the question. Use these to organize your answer.

Tell the interviewer your reason behind noting down the question to avoid embarrassment.

4. Be honest:

If you don’t have an answer, it’s okay to admit it. This way, you show the interviewer that you are honest, and the interviewer will also know that you are not lying or trying to give fake and irrelevant answers.

Make sure you ask clarification questions. Don't just sit quietly. Try and get more information on the topic from the interviewer to see if you get something to answer.

If you are not being able to answer even after collecting extra information, say that you are not being able to figure out the answer or don't have enough knowledge about the topic.

What Not to Do:

1. Make something up:

Don't try to make something up as an answer. Avoid giving vague answers. The interviewer will surely catch you if you try to lie.

This will lead to utter embarrassments and you might appear as a dishonest person to the interviewer. Make sure you don’t blurt out anything irrelevant. It is better, to be honest than to be embarrased.

What to do in an interview if you don't know the answer?

2. Fear silence:

You don't get extra points in an interview for answering quickly.

Taking a pause is absolutely fine. Don't fear silence.

In fact, when you take a pause before answering, it shows that you are carefully considering all the points that need attention in order to answer.

It shows that you are being careful of all the aspects of a problem which is a good thing.

If you realize that you have been thinking for a long time, and there's silence in the room for quite a few minutes, then try and share your thought process with the interviewer.

A correct thought process too will earn credits even if you couldn't figure out the answer. Remember, the interviewer needs to know your approach towards problems, challenges, and difficult situations and not perfect solutions.

What to do in an interview if you don't know the answer?

3. Use filler words:

Using filler words such as um, uh, er, ah, like, you know, okay, right, well, or really, make you appear less knowledgable and polished.

Additionally, it might sound childish and show a lack of confidence.

To avoid this, speak slowly and steadily so that you can formulate your answer. Be precise and concise. Make use of keywords or technical terms and avoid jargon.

Now that you know what things to do and what not to do if you get stuck in an interview for not having an answer, you can start working on your weak points.

An interview is aced on the basis of various factors such as your personality, your approach and outlook, education and experience.

Question-answer session in an interview simply act as a medium for the interviewer to know more about you. You get a job because you fulfill the employer's requirements and have appropriate skills and knowledge.

Your performance in an interview matters, but not just in terms of giving all the answers, correct and perfect.

So don't stress if you don't know the answer to a question. Be honest. Be yourself and you can still get the job!


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