How to handle an interview q for which you’re unprepared

May 23, 2010 at 10:40 pm Leave a comment

It happens sometimes: You research a company and a job and feel like you’re well-prepared for the interview, and then a question comes your way that you simply can’t answer. It could be something of a technical nature or could be a more general query that you just didn’t see coming. Should you figure that your candidacy for this job has effectively ended? Or might there be a way to salvage things?

Hiring experts say that you should always be ready for the unexpected in job interviews. That’s why it’s good to research as much as you can about a potential employer, and to become practiced at the skill of interviewing. That can help save you in situations like this. Though in some cases a tricky question can end your candidacy, here are some tips on trying to recover when asked a question for which you’re unprepared in an interview:

*Fake it — with style. There is a time-honored tradition among guests (especially politicians) on TV and radio talk shows: When asked something they know little about, they thank the interviewer for the question, and then go on to talk about something else entirely. This might work in a job interview setting. For instance, if the interviewer asks you how you would handle a certain workplace situation that you haven’t thought about, you might say, “That’s an interesting question, which I’d like to think more about. And that gets back to what I was saying about why I think I succeeded in my past job….blah, blah…” The risk in this approach is that the hiring manager doesn’t buy it and presses you on the point, but it might be worth a try.

*Be honest. Hiring managers are not necessarily trying to trip up candidates by asking certain questions. If you don’t know the answer — or haven’t really considered this question before — tell them that. They may appreciate your honesty and willingness to be human in an interview. (See May 19 post, “Acknowledging flaws can help your job search.”) Sometimes, if the question isn’t key, they’ll move on and you won’t be hurt by saying you really didn’t now the answer. And even if it is a question that’s important to the interviewer, you’re probably not going to impress them by giving an out-of-left-field answer anyway — that could probably make you look worse in this situation.

*Try to buy some time, and then use the time well. If you haven’t prepared for this question, you might be honest and tell the interviewer that, and say you’d like to get back to them about it. Then do so — either later in the interview when the answer comes to your mind, or even after the interview in your follow-up thank-you note. In either case, you’ll be showing that you take this process seriously and that you are someone who can be counted upon to do what they say — in this case, giving that question more thought.

*Avoid being unprepared. Though a job candidate obviously can’t be ready for every possible question a hiring manager can ask, you should be prepared for the standard ones (what makes you qualified for this job? why do you want to work here? what are your career goals? what are your strengths and weaknesses? why did you leave your last job?) and should arm yourself with knowledge about the company, this position and even the hiring manager and their interviewing style. The more prepared you are, the greater the likelihood that you won’t be tossed questions for which you’re not ready. Prepare your defense!

*Let’s call this the “Help a New Grad Land” challenge: We all know how tough it is out there for new graduates, so let’s lend a hand. In the next month or so, please find a new graduate (or an “old” one who is job hunting) and offer them contacts and coaching to help them land a decent job. We can do this for each other — and I promise you, the mentors will get a lot out of this as well! I’m happy to connect those hunting with those willing to help — so please let me know if you’re in either category and I’ll make the introductions. (You can contact me via the comments section on this blog, on Facebook or LinkedIn; or email me at Thanks in advance to all those who are willing to help, and please let me know of success stories that result!

*Vickie Elmer suggested a good list of books for graduates heading into the job market — or whatever else is next! — on this past weekend…Happy reading:

Article | 05/23/2010

Books for grads setting out on that next big adventure

*Here are some leads to pursue in this new work week:

*The Office of the Inspector General in the Justice Department (DOJ) has an opening in D.C. for a writer-editor:

Justice, Office of the Inspector General – Washington, DC
The Department of Justice is the Nation’s Top law enforcement agency and is ranked by the Partnership for Public Service as one of the Top 7 Best Places to Work… $89,033 – $115,742 a year

*Booz Allen Hamilton in McLean is looking for a strategic communications/intelligence consultant:

Strategic Communications/Intel Consultant Job
Booz Allen Hamilton – McLean, VA
change communications, outreach, communication… communications strategies for government clients -Experience with internal and external communications

*Those with significant cable TV experience might be interested in this opening — Discovery Communications in Silver Spring is looking for a director of integrated content strategy, innovation and execution:

Director, Integrated Content Strategy, Innovation and Execution
Discovery Communications, Inc. – Silver Spring, MD
opportunities. 3. Act as the main point of communication on all ad sales integration matters between the… written and verbal communication skills as well as…
From Discovery Communications, Inc.

*The Metropolitan Group in D.C. has an opening for a senior communication director:

Senior Communication Director
Metropolitan Group – Washington, DC
Full service strategic communication firm focused… framing, and message development. Multicultural communication and agency experience is preferred. Full…

*Those with a financial journalism background (especially in tax issues) might be interested in this opening — the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants (AICPA) in D.C. is seeking a manager of tax news and communications:

Tax News & Communications Manager
American Institute of Certified Public Accountants – Washington, DC
Tax News & Communications Manager Please respond via… communication of federal tax news and AICPA tax advocacy to AICPA members Reports To: Editor-in-Chief…
From CareerBuilder

*National Public Radio (NPR) in D.C. has an opening for a supervising senior editor for planning for “All Things Considered:”

Supervising Senior Editor, Planning, All Thin
National Public Radio (NPR) – Washington, DC
ORIGINAL JOB LISTING Supervising Senior Editor, Planning, All Things Considered Tracking Code… news producer or news editor, including work on…

*The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) has an opening at its Program Support Center in Bethesda for a supervisory communications manager:

Health & Human Services, Program Support Center – Bethesda, MD
matters related to communications with internal staff… effective communication between FOH leadership and all employees. Support effective communication and… $123,758 – $155,500 a year

*And last but not least today, in Alexandria, part of Reed Business Information, is looking for a content editor:
Content Editor

Location: Alexandria, Virginia

Reed Business Information (RBI) provides data services, information and marketing solutions to business professionals in the UK, US, Continental Europe and Australia.  It produces industry critical data services and lead generation tools and over 200 online community and job sites.  It publishes over 200 premier business magazines with market leading positions in many sectors.

Flightglobal incorporates a high-traffic web portal, which houses free-to-access content plus paid-for premium services – such as Air Transport Intelligence and ACAS, and the leading b2b magazines Flight International and Airline Business. The business employs more than 40 senior editorial staff in three main locations.  Job responsibilities include the following:

  • Manage daily content operations for the US office, including ensuring Flightglobal is updated on a regular basis, discussion forums are populated as needed, and existing content on the site is promoted
  • Conceive and produce web-only features using multi-media tools. Features should be developed both on your own and through coordination with other content team members, including supporting content team members at major events
  • Write news and editorial assignments as required, sometimes under tight deadline pressure.
  • Leverage social media tools to expand Flightglobal’s core audience, as well as better engage the existing audience
  • Familiarity with HTML code and other web formats are desired.

Benefits are as follows:

  • 2 weeks vacation
  • Medical Plans – If you choose family coverage for spouse and dependents, you will need Social Security numbers for all covered family members.
  • Qualified and Welfare Plans – You will need to provide us with names, addresses and Social Security numbers of all beneficiaries.

Please send a current CV with a covering letter outlining your suitability to this vacancy

Good luck on the hunt!



Entry filed under: Uncategorized.

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