What happens when you’re asked a question during an interview and you have no idea how to answer? Do you try to fake it? Do you say, “I have no idea what you’re talking about”? Neither of those responses will help. So, what should you do? Here are some thoughts:
Ask for clarification – Make sure you understand the question being asked. Many times, what you hear and what is being asked are two different things. A misinterpretation of one word can change the whole nature of the question. You don’t want to answer a question that is not being asked. That could be a fatal error. Another reason to ask for the question again is to give you a few more minutes to collect your thoughts and the approach you plan to use.
You come up short – Seldom will your experiences completely match the experiences a hiring manager is looking for in a candidate. Make sure the key elements of the question are covered. Example: “Did you ever install a new computer program?”. If you have experienced a major update but not installed an entire system, emphasize that fact. In other words, make sure you come close to answering the question even if your answer is only 75% of the answer. Sometimes two or three separate experiences can make up a more complete answer. Provide all the information you can to either broaden or deepen your answer.
Seek some credibility – Let’s say none of your experiences match the question being asked. Then mentally separate out the primary skills that are needed to match the skills from a parallel project that may be similar to the skills being sought after. When your answer resonates with the hiring manager you will have succeeded in gaining credibility. Very few hiring managers expect a candidate to have all of the required experiences directly related to the open position. Having 50% direct and 50% indirect experiences or skills are usually enough to remain a qualified candidate and move to the next level of the interviewing process.
What about the problem-solving question? – “You just landed on Mars. What do you do?” These kinds of questions are not looking for scientific real-life answers, but rather the interviewer wants to understand how you think. Answers like, “Check your life insurance”, doesn’t help your candidacy. Consider sound, reasonable answers that show steps you would take to solve the issue. Example: First address survival concerns (food, water, oxygen), then safety issues (security, shelter, communications), then longer-term worries (planning your return trip). How you sort out priorities is the key to success.
Can you go back? – After you make a very weak answer to a question, can you go back later on? Yes, when the answer Is critical to the experience or skills required. Sometimes you remember a significant piece of information that can affect your candidacy. Make your statement short but authoritative. If you answered a question about your favorite color and you said green instead of yellow, it’s not worth the effort or time.
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