How do I answer questions I haven't prepared for?
Interview questions can sometime catch you off-guard but this can be a good thing as it gives you a chance to show your ability to think and react quickly.
Whilst you can't know every question that you will be asked at interview, you can still prepare for the likelihood of unexpected questions by being thoroughly honest with yourself even before you go to the interview.
Firstly, make sure your CV or cover letter does not contain any inconsistencies that will trip you up later on. Check your CV with brutal honesty and if there are any issues that you simply hope will be skirted over – such as long employment gaps – address them before your interview.
Make sure you know what your motivations are. For example, why did you really want to leave your last job; are you really seeking a career move or just want more money? Not having a firm line on your reasons for wanted a job can make even simple questions extremely difficult to answer – especially in the pressure of an interview.
The more honest you are with yourself about the position you are applying for, the less likely it is that you will encounter a really tough question – or one that simply ‘sees through you'
If you really have no interview experience, conduct a mock interview between yourself and a friend. Answering questions, just like any other activity, requires practice. If you can practice answering simple questions, you have the confidence to answer the more difficult ones.
Staying calm is a prerequisite
Once at the interview, the key to dealing with unexpected questions is to remain as calm as you can. Nothing ruins an interview like inconsistent and confusing answers - and when we're nervous we tend to speed up our speech.
A few tips for being calm at interview:
- Don't be late – you'll be on the back foot before you've even started
- Take a moment - settle down beforehand and collect your thoughts
- Take deep breaths – in through the nose and out through the mouth
Breathing deeply before answering each question will not only calm you by sending oxygen to your brain, but it will also give you time to think about your answer
Get into the habit of collecting your thoughts before speaking, you will feel more confident about your answers and less likely to ramble.
Even if your interview is going great and you've answered some questions carefully and thoughtfully, the interviewer is always likely to throw in a question which seems hostile or out of the ordinary. What do you do now?
The first rule is you don't have to rush your answer. Resist the temptation to snap back a hasty answer it doesn't convince.
Don't feel threatened – it isn't personal. The question could have been put to you to see how you think on the spot as much as anything. This is not a cross-examination and there is no clock ticking
A good tip is to break down the question. Take it apart bit by bit. If you are not sure about the question then ask the interviewer to repeat it.
An unexpected question is a good chance to show your character and personality. In all cases honesty is the best policy – and if you have something positive to say don't be hamstrung by false modesty.
If you really are not sure how to answer a question or you don't understand it then inform the interviewer and ask for clarification. This is far better than waffling your way through with a poor incomprehensible answer.
You can't be expected to know every answer – it is how you conduct yourself that can impress an employer as much as anything. So be prepared, be honest and be yourself.