Responding To Questions Effectively When You Don’t Know The Answer

Preparing For Tough Questions

The average job advert attracts 118 applicants, so gaining an interview shows you’ve made a good impression. Tough questions are a natural part of the interviewing process, but you can confidently enter the interview room by preparing yourself for them. Understanding why interviewers ask awkward questions can help you answer them.

  • Learn more about your personality traits.
  • See how you analyse situations to find logical solutions.
  • See how you perform under pressure.
  • Understand your experience levels and comfort with situations.
  • See your body language when not using rehearsed answers.
Responding to questions effectively will avoid uncomfortable feelings like this woman is having
Biting your nails, eyes desperately darting around the room, sweating… All signs you can’t answer unexpected questions effectively. Don’t let lack of preparation give you away.

How Not To Answer A Difficult Question

It’s almost impossible to anticipate every question interviewers might ask and prepare answers accordingly. Although, you can expect at least one awkward question during a 45–60 minute meeting. If you get caught out and don’t know the answer, you may find yourself panicking. However, reminding yourself of what NOT to do in this situation can be beneficial.

  • Do not umm and err your way to an incoherent answer.
  • Avoid the temptation to answer a completely unrelated question.
  • Do not just ignore the question.
  • Avoid trying to shoehorn intellectual words into an incomprehensible answer.
  • Do not shrug or start looking around the room.

Tough Questions And Their Answers

Being asked a question that you don’t know the answer to is almost guaranteed in any interview situation. Nonetheless, preparing a response to the most common interview questions will put you in a far stronger position to respond to a curveball.

What Are Your Greatest Weaknesses?

Nobody wants to admit that they lack a particular skill that may count against them. On the other hand, a lack of self-awareness or the suggestion that you don’t have any weaknesses is unlikely to go down well either.

Why Are You Leaving Your Current Job?

Employers know that around one in four people wants to change jobs. It’s no big surprise that salary expectations and toxic relationships are the main reasons. Still, you will want to give a more diplomatic answer.

Abstract Questions

It doesn’t matter whether it’s “what animal are you?” or “how many X would it take to do Y?”. the key here is to give a coherent response and explain your answers. Don’t let your lack of preparation catch you out.

Woman shrugging her hands at a seemingly ridiculous interview question
Many interviewers like to throw curveball questions into their interviews to test a potential employee's ability to keep their cool in stressful situations.

Why Do You Want To Work Here?

Again, a simple answer like “you pay above the national average salary” or “I want more annual leave” won’t quite cut it. Even if it’s true, you should use this question as a chance to show that you’ve done your research and given careful consideration to the role.

Why Should We Hire You?

Your CV, cover letter, and application impressed the prospective employer. However, this question could leave you stumped. While it’s OK to repeat some of the items you’ve already explained, you’ll want to expand on them too.

Woman standing out among her work colleagues
Get specific. A potential employer wants to know what you did, not what the rest of your team did. Always answer these questions in terms of ‘I’ rather than ‘we’.

A Few Final Thoughts on How to Respond Effectively When You Don’t Know the Answer to a Question

Complex questions can feel unsettling and ruin your interview if you answer them awkwardly. However, the good news is that they do not have to define your career future. Retaining your composure while responding to questions effectively should see you through.



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Rachael. Adria Solutions

Rachael. Adria Solutions

Hi there! I’m Rachael, Marketing Manager at Adria Solutions Ltd. Read more about me here: