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How to Answer Unexpected Job Interview Questions

Updated on May 6, 2017
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I'm a business communications coach who teaches writing, speaking, and leadership skills to adults in the midst of a career change.

Even if you don't know the answer to an interview question, you can still give an coherent reply.

What's the point in dressing to impress for a job interview if you answer questions in a haphazard fashion? Check out these strategies for organizing your answers during the interview.

All eyes are on you during a job interview.

Learn how to compose thoughtful answers to tough interview questions.
Learn how to compose thoughtful answers to tough interview questions.

One of the reasons many people are anxious about answering questions during a job interview is the fear that their answer will be disorganized and jumbled. They may be able to come up with lots of different answers to the questions. They may have lots of ideas they want to bring up during the interview. They may be eager to impress the interviewer by showcasing the breadth of their knowledge on the key issues. Indeed, coming up with things to include in an answer to a question during a job interview may not be your biggest challenge--quickly organizing your thoughts into a logical, coherent reply is.

Let’s look at several different ways to organize your response to questions during your next interview. They’re based on some good old-fashioned essay writing techniques that you learned in high school.

1. Express an opinion. What’s great about expressing an opinion is that you don’t need to have a bunch of facts and figures memorized in order to give your answer. Everyone is capable of forming an opinion, and when they feel strongly enough about that opinion, they are usually quite comfortable talking about it. But the important thing to remember about expressing an opinion is to follow it up with a supporting statement. For example, if the interviewer asks you, “What do you think of that new cafe that just opened up on 15th Street?” don’t just say, “I like that place!” Offer a reason for why you liked the campaign (i.e.; the service is friendly, the food is fresh and tasty, etc.) Not only will expressing an opinion and offering a back up statement make it easier to answer the question, offering your thoughts can invite the other person to offer their thoughts and opinions too. This not only helps to create a multi-dimensional conversation during your job interview, it can help take the focus off of you for a moment or two, reducing the sense that you’re alone in the spotlight.

If you need to provide a longer answer, offer more than a few statements to back up your answer. If you are asked a question that requires you to agree or disagree with a statement, try to state your position clearly at the outset and then come up with reasons to justify your response.

2. Address cause and effect. Start by summarizing the situation or problem that the interviewer is asking you to address. This will not only give you a few moment s to collect your thoughts, it will give you a chance to confirm with the interviewer that you understand the challenge at hand. Then, after you have stated the situation, discuss the possible causes of the problem, identify the consequence that will likely result of the problem is not resolved and then use the consequences as a springboard to presenting how you would solve such a problem for your prospective employer should you be hired.

3. Discuss the past, present, and future. Organize your answer in the style of a timeline. For example, if the interviewer asks you a question related your work experience, you could start by providing an example of your skills in action in the past, then talk about how what you learned from that experience is benefitting you now, in the present. Then talk about how you believe that past experience will make you and asset to your interviewer’s future should they hire you!

You can't work your answers out on a whiteboard in the middle of a job interview. But you can create a mental whiteboard in your head to help you stay focused.
You can't work your answers out on a whiteboard in the middle of a job interview. But you can create a mental whiteboard in your head to help you stay focused.

Be sincere; be brief; be seated.

— Franklin D. Roosevelt

Reminders:

Pause before answering and restate the question. Pausing after the question is a smart interview technique because it prevents you from accidentally interrupting the interviewer. When you are nervous and eager to show the interviewer how much you know, it’s easy to want to jump right in and start talking. But what if you are being asked a two part question and the interviewer hasn’t finished speaking? Uh oh! You’ve just committed and interviewing faux-pas!

Be honest and sincere. During a job interview, you might feel like you have to have all the answers---that not knowing and answer to a question will count against you. But what’s worse that not knowing an answer? Taking a guess and getting it completely wrong!

Don’t overdo it. When you are nervous during a job interview, be succinct. Talking too much is as much a problem as talking too little because you run the risk of repeating yourself, adding too many new points or even contradicting yourself. As you probably know, people who talk too much are difficult to deal with. Don’t be one of those folks who rambles on and on during an interview.

You need more than a strong power pose to ace your job interview.

By following some basic techniques for speaking off the cuff, no one will know if an interview question has caught you off guard.
By following some basic techniques for speaking off the cuff, no one will know if an interview question has caught you off guard.

Sources:

  • Images: Pixabay.com
  • Quote: Brainyquotes.com
  • Content: Toastmasters International

© 2016 Sally Hayes

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