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What Happens When You Cannot Answer a Question In An Interview?

Alan Writer

Although we do our best to try to prepare for every interview we have, and we take the time to practice for and anticipate questions that may come up during the interview, sometimes we just cannot answer. That doesn't mean the interview is over, and you're not going to get the position. It just means you need to be aware of what to do next.

When you cannot answer because you simply don’t know

This is especially true with technical-related positions. We increasingly find ourselves having to do interviews, assessments, assignments, tests and so on to prove our variety of skill sets. After all, we put them on our resume, which should be completely accurate. Yet there are times when you simply just don't know the answer to the question. It could be a programming-related question or a question designed to get you to think critically.

Regardless, how you handle it is what's important. In an interview, you always want to be able to show your integrity. That means you want to be upfront and honest that you're unable to accurately answer the question. This will convey the best impression to the interviewer.

What you can then do, is offer to try on the question. Since you've already been upfront about the fact that it is beyond your scope, you don't have to fear giving the wrong answer. However, it can still help to showcase your ability to think under pressure and to come at the question from a different perspective. Regardless of what you do, don't try to be dishonest and act as if the answer you gave is the correct answer.

When you know the answer but simply freeze

This often happens as well during interviews. You have several simultaneous thoughts going through your brain, as well as trying to remember all the points for the interview itself. If you simply cannot come up with the answer at that moment, simply pause, take a deep breath, and again be upfront and honest about it.

If you're able to recall the answer later on in the interview, you can simply ask the interviewer if you can approach that question again. More than likely, they will want to hear your response and not have any concerns about it when it comes to whether you proceed or not with the interview.

In the end

Make sure to prepare yourself mentally ahead of time so that there will be questions that you may not know immediately. Remember that every single interview that you do is a form of practice, and maybe you notice the same question getting you stuck. Perhaps it's too technical, or maybe you also haven't practised answering that question enough.

Regardless don’t let it demotivate you through the rest of the interview. You will want to bounce back up and not let it affect you poorly. Simply make a note of it, move on and assess it later on after the interview is over.

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