As a part of any interview, you’ll be asked to answer questions about the details of your experience, accomplishments and suitability for whatever position you are seeking consideration, along with evidence with which to validate claims as stated on your resume or CV. Although, no matter how well you might prepare, inevitably there will be a circumstance during which you won’t have an answer or at that moment lack the proper information to back up your claim. How you handle this kind of situation is very instructive to the interviewer, who might later become your boss. Incidentally, this same situation when turned around can also be useful to you as an applicant, when considering the suitability of a person interviewing you, as your future employer or boss; they too have an obligation to be forthcoming and provide you with the information you need to make a decision.
Obviously the worst things you can do, at any time you are caught off-guard without a good answer, is to conjure up or fabricate something to bridge an awkward moment; in other words, don’t cage yourself with a fib or a lie you may utter during a moment of discomfort and momentary stress. Once shackled to an untruth, it becomes hard to break free from something you’ve yourself stated or misstated. No one says all the right things all of the time. Regardless of how clever you may or may not be, you can never be expected to have all the answers. If you misspoke or made a mistake, if after the interview you find your fingers and toes curled regretting or wishing you’d said something different, or thought of something additional you wish you’d said instead, don’t beat yourself up. It’s okay, your interview follow-up Thank You note / letter is the perfect vehicle for this. I’ve written about the wisdom and alternate purpose of what a Thank You letter can mean to you and it can be found in the archives of this blog.
But returning to our subject, what do you do if you don’t have an answer to an interview question asked of you, what can you do or say? For the answer to this predicament, I harken back to when I earned my stripes (pun intended) in the U.S. military when I was a young paratrooper in the early 1980’s. As part of the Army’s leadership training for developing NCOs (Non-Commissioned Officers) we were taught that when you have the occasion of being unable to answer a direct question and lack an informed and legitimate answer, you can address the questioner directly. Without equivocation, appropriately declare, “I am sorry but I don’t have the answer…” or, “…information with me, but I will get the information to you within 24 hours.” Make a note of it and move on – and then, follow through and do it. This is an honest and decisive way to answer something with which you may otherwise stumble or appear as being indecisive. Grace under pressure is a hallmark of a leader or a potential leader as well as someone seeking to be viewed as dependable, especially when you are under the spotlight and critical eyes are upon you. And what could be more demonstrative of just such a situation as an interview, when your performance is under scrutiny and is a part of the hiring process. In this tight employment market, don’t be foolish to think integrity and character have no place in the equation, especially in a close contest between applicants. If you don’t have an answer when questioned, you can at least be earnest by not avoiding what others might do if they find themselves in the same predicament. Remember that one key factor in rising above the herd of others seeking the same job is to be different, in a positive way. And you don’t have to make grand gestures to stand apart. What I am suggesting is most effective when used sparingly and only when you must; it does not remove your obligation to be prepared and at your best when it is your moment to make an impact in your own self-interest.
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