Q: If I get asked a difficult question, and I can’t think of the answer on the spot, or if I never knew it in the first place, how should I approach answering it? (DC, email).
A: The initial temptation might be to bluff your answer. And many candidates have bravely gone down this route only to regret it within minutes when their lack of knowledge is exposed. So, avoid at all costs the temptation to bluff, writes Patricia Maloney, Career Coach, Sli Nua Careers.
Additionally, some people who are stuck on a topic try to talk themselves into an answer – a bit like getting the car started by pushing it down the hill and hoping that the battery will fire. This should also be avoided as it looks like you’re thinking out loud and, ultimately, could be interpreted as another form of bluffing.
If you don’t know something, you have to admit that. The question then is whether if what you’ve admitted is a fatal shortcoming.
If you’re an English teacher who has never heard of Wordsworth, you’re in deep water. If, however, when put on the spot you can’t remember the last two lines of Tintern Abbey (in the unlikely event of such a question coming up in interview), you needn’t panic.
If it is something technical about your work or the company to which you are applying, there is no harm in saying: “I don’t actually know this right now, but I would certainly check it out fully before taking on the task”.
Nobody knows everything: and even when you know things, you still have to double check from time to time.
Reassure them about your capacity and willingness to learn quickly and previous examples of where you have picked up something in a new job or role.
Hopefully, this will give them enough comfort to see you as somebody they can hire – but if you bluff it, and you get caught, it’s very difficult to see way back, in my opinion.
Patricia Maloney is a Career Coach with Sli Nua Careers in Galway.
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