We’ve all been there at one point or another. Whether it’s a promotion board, an elementary school spelling bee, or maybe on a nightmare date, sometimes we’re pitched a question that has no easy answer.
With good jobs in high demand, a stumper of an interview question can have high stakes. How you respond in that moment can mean the difference between a future career you love and sending out another round of résumés.
If that sounds like a lot of pressure, then there is some good news: Learning how to handle tough job interview questions with grace and quick wits can turn a potential disaster into a great opportunity.
Here are a couple of tips to help you recover when an interviewer hits you with difficult job interview questions.
Keep Calm and Remember Your Training
The hiring manager pulled out the big guns and you have no idea what to say. The first thing to do is relax. It’s fine to sweat a little, but it’s going to be important to keep a cool head and avoid business no-no’s like vomiting on yourself or sprinting out of the building like a maniac. Those are the kinds of things that make a late-interview comeback significantly more difficult.
But who do I think I’m talking to here? You are a veteran. You’ve been through worse than this. Sometimes remembering your military skills and experiences is enough to help you keep composure while you figure out what the heck you are going to say. Just make sure you don’t actually try to literally use your military training in the interview. This can lead to extreme confusion if you were a Farsi linguist, and have your interviewer running for the exits if you were EOD.
Ask for a Moment
You’ve righted the ship and you’re ready to say something, right? Not so fast. It really might not be a bad thing to ask for an extra moment. As long as you’re not staring off into the distance for 10 minutes looking for the perfect words, asking for time likely won’t harm your chances. In most cases a good answer is better than a quick answer. This is not “Family Feud” and you don’t get extra points for buzzing in first. A calm, collected, “May I have a moment to consider that?” can give you the aura of a thoughtful, considerate applicant, even if you are completely stumped on the inside.
It’s About How You Answer
Obviously, if you tell an IT manager that your coding specialty is “the Konami code,” it’s not going to help your cause no matter how confidently you say it. But how you handle adversity in an interview is often a reflection of how you’ll handle it on the job. Confidence and consideration are in many cases at least as important to employers as having facts memorized. In many cases, there really isn’t a “right” answer anyway, though there certainly are plenty of wrong ones. Hopefully you took the previous bit of advice to heart and took the extra time to decide against answering “hopefully not in prison” when asked where you see yourself in five years.
Ask Your Own Questions
Don’t go overboard, but you can get some great insight into an employer’s expectations by asking questions of your own. If you’re interviewing for a management position and are asked how you’d deal with a productive but tardy employee, perhaps you might want to know how the company feels about the matter. If the corporate culture is laid back and results-oriented, a rapid fire answer of “fire the loser with extreme prejudice” might not go over quite so well. A well-placed question can be just the thing to help guide your response, and maybe even give you another couple of seconds to think it over.
Be Ready to Lose Gracefully
Sometimes, you are going to whiff. It happens to us all. Don’t let it ruin the entire interview by trying to make something up. It’s usually better to say “I’m sorry ma’am, I don’t really know” than it is to look like a fool by trying to string together all the buzzwords you saw on the company website. There’s a bunch of ways to potentially get the question “wrong” and still come out smelling like roses. The key is to keep calm, think on your feet, and show the interviewer the kind of person they’d want to hire, which is frequently more important than giving them the answer they want to hear.
What if they ask you the mother of all interview questions: What is your desired salary? Click the link below and master the most difficult job interview question you could ever be asked!
To be ultra prepared and nail the interview, read this: 10 Impressive Questions to Ask in an Interview
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