What to say when you feel stuck or don’t know the answer to a job interview question. Use these 5 simple strategies to sound calm, confident, and in control when you speak (and avoid long, awkward pauses).
- Buy yourself some time
- Use clarifying questions to get time to think
- Why thinking out loud is helpful
- Focus on what you do know (instead of what you don’t know)
- Use follow-up emails to your advantage
Hey, it's Annemarie with Speak Confident English. This is exactly where you want to be every week to get the confidence you want for your life and work in English. This week I'm answering a question from someone in my community about job interviews in English and how to avoid those awkward long pauses if you feel stuck or you don't know what you want to say in the interview. I love this question from Larisa in my Speak Confident English Facebook community because it's something that happens to native and non native speakers. You might forget the words that you want to use in the moment and feel stuck or maybe you don't know how to answer the question.It might be a question you've never thought about before or maybe they're asking about something you just don't know and you have two options. Number one, you could have one of those. Mmm Hmm. I uh, um Hmm. You could use one of those awkward silences with all those funny sounds and words. And how do you think those awkward silences look? Yes, they definitely look like you're nervous and that you're not prepared. The other option is to know how to handle those situations successfully so that you look like you are in control, you're thinking clearly and you're able to communicate exactly the way that you want. That is what I'm going to help you do in today's Confident English lesson. I'm going to give you five ways to answer a job interview question. When you're feeling stuck or you don't know the answer and I'll give you some examples as well. All right. Strategy number one when you're feeling stuck in a job interview is to buy yourself some time to buy time is an English idiom. That means that you want to delay one thing so that you have time to do something or achieve something else. In this case, you want to delay answering the questions so that you have time to think and get all of your thoughts organized so you can communicate clearly. This is a strategy native speakers use all the time and as a result we have many different things that you can say. Here is exactly what you should do first after the question, take a short pause. I mentioned this tip recently in my lesson on seven tips for successful phone interview in English. Taking a short pause allows you to have a moment to breathe and calm down, evaluate the questions so that you're sure to understand it correctly and get all of your thoughts together so that you can communicate your answer clearly. Then after your pause, use one of the following phrases to buy yourself just a little bit of time. As you're saying these words, your mind should be quickly thinking about what it is that you want to say. That's a great question. Let me think about it for a moment. I would say that number two. Wow, that's a really good question and I've honestly never thought about it before. Let me take just a moment to think. I guess I would say that number three, that's a complex question. Let me collect my thoughts just for a moment so I can make sure to answer clearly. I would start with number four. Oh, let me think back for a moment on my experience. I definitely remember a time when and finally, number five is best used when you truly don't know the answer and you'd need more time to think, but you want to be careful about using it. You could buy yourself some time by saying, that's a question I really need to think about. Can I take some time with it and can we come back to it later in the interview? This is perfectly appropriate to use in a job interview, but be very careful if you use a phrase like this, you definitely want to remember to come back to it in the interview. Don't pretend that you can ignore it. Your interviewer will not forget that you avoided the question and they will wait for you to bring it up again in the interview. So if you need that extra time to think, it's definitely okay to ask for it. Just remember to come back to the question when you're ready. Strategy number two is to clarify the question. This is another way for you to buy yourself a little time. When you're clarifying, you're asking the interview to explain or define the question further to make sure that you understand it correctly. Here are three things that you can say to do that. Number one, I'm not sure I understand that question fully. Could you explain what you mean by number two? I'm sorry. I'm not sure what you meant by that. Could you repeat the question please? And number three I want to make sure I understand the question correctly. You're asking if, and then rephrase the question in the way that you understand it. Strategy number three is one of my favorites and it might surprise you. This strategy is to think out loud. This is something I love to teach my students how to do in my Confident Job Interviews course because interviewers want to see how you think and work. That's one of the reasons they ask difficult questions. They know that you're feeling nervous and they know that you won't be able to answer every question perfectly. That's okay. They want to see how you respond to those difficult questions. And how do you think through the process to get to the final answer? Thinking out loud is a great way to demonstrate your process of evaluation and solving a problem. So how can you best think out loud in an interview question? Let's imagine that an interviewer asks you about your process for dealing with unhappy customers or your process for on-boarding a new employee. Maybe you don't have a process yet, so instead you could imagine what you would do in that situation in the new position and you can start your answer with something like in this position, if I were dealing with an unhappy customer, I would start with and then continue through the steps or the process you would go through as you do that. Be sure to use signposting language or transition words like firstly, secondly, and then after that and finally, this will help your answer to flow smoothly. If you're one of my students in Fluency School or Confident Job Interviews, you know how much I love signposting and how important it is for clear communication. All right, strategy number four for how to answer job interview questions. When you're feeling stuck or don't know, the answer is to focus on what you do know. This is perfect when the interviewer asks you about a specific definition concept or some job requirement in the job description, instead of simply saying, I don't know or I'm not sure you want to think about something that is similar that you are familiar with and use that in your answer. For example, if an interviewer asks you about a specific software program that you will need to use in this job, but you've never used this program before. Instead of saying, I don't know or I've never used that before, can you think about a software program that's similar and use that in your answer and now strategy number five for how to answer when you don't know the question is to follow up. In my Confident Job Interviews course, I talk about the importance of following up and sending a thank you email after the interview and what it should say. This email is also an opportunity where you can highlight anything that you didn't answer the way you wanted in the interview. I recommend limiting this to just one topic, but if there was a job interview question that you didn't know how to answer or you weren't happy about your answer, you could say something like, I appreciated your question about and after having more time to think about it, I'd love to give you a more in depth answer. And with that you have five simple ways to respond to a job interview question when you don't know the answer or you start to feel stuck. And now I want to hear from you. In your experience with job interviews in English, what is a technique or a lesson that you've learned about how to respond when getting stuck or forgetting the words that you want to use? You might have a strategy that is perfect for someone else in our Confident English community. So I would love for you to share it here. And if you've enjoyed this lesson, I would love to know. You can tell me in three simple ways. Number one, give this lesson a thumbs up on YouTube and subscribe to this channel so you never miss one of my Confident English lessons. Number two, you can share it with friends and colleagues on Facebook. And number three, if you know someone who has a job interview in English coming soon, you can email this lesson to them directly. Have a wonderful week. Thank you so much for joining me and I'll see you next time for your Confident English lesson.