Sometimes an interviewer asks you a question you didn’t expect. There’s no need to panic – you know the answer. All you need to do is give yourself some time to remember the answer and formulate the beginning of your answer. Here are some tactics that definitely work.

  • Pause before answering if you are unsure of the answer
  • Say “that’s a great question”
  • Repeat the question back to them “so you’re wondering if I _____________” and wait for them to nod or say yes
  • Use the question as the beginning of your answer. For example, if the person asks “tell me about a time you had to organize a project in a short time frame,” you say “An example of when I organized a project that had a short time frame is…”

All of these buy you time, giving your brain a chance to quickly come up with an answer. Plus each of these tactics has some added benefit:

  • Saying “great question” flatters them and people like that subliminally even if they think they are cynical about it.
  • Repeating the question mirrors them back to themselves, makes them feel smart, AND makes them feel like you were really listening to them.
  • Repeating the question or using it in your answer focuses YOU and your brain on the question and helps you come up with an appropriate answer.

If you’re not sure you’ve adequately answered the question, STOP TALKING. Take a pause after you have answered the question – in two to five sentences max – to see if the interviewer has a followup question. I call it “the pause that refreshes.”

I also suggest saying “I hope I’ve answered your question” or “Have I answered your question?” The interviewer will either say yes or no. If s/he says “no,” they will then clarify what they wanted you to tell them.

Finally: Remember to breathe.