No matter how prepared or practiced you are, it’s just a reality that even the best of us get caught off guard in an interview. This can make it seem like you’re not as polished as you could be. Good news: it can be easily fixed!
When you get caught off guard in an interview, your mind might blank. You could start rambling because you don’t know what to say. The key to making sure you don’t do either of these is to buy time for yourself so that you have a few extra seconds to gather your thoughts and impress with your answer.
To help you out, I’ve compiled my four key strategies to help you cope with getting caught off guard in an interview:
This means making your interviewer feel good about what they’ve been asking. It also gets you a few extra seconds to come up with a great answer. For example, you could say:
- ‘That’s a good question’ ‘
- That’s very important to consider. Let me take a moment to think that through.’
- ‘I’m glad you asked this question’.
All of these will get you an extra second or two without making you look like you were caught off guard. If you still don’t have a polished answer after this stage, move on to the next technique.
This is all about asking that your interviewer repeat or rephrase the question. Remember: this is okay to do, especially if you really don’t understand what’s being asked. It might interrupt the flow of the interview, but getting the information you need to know is always the best route to take. A good way to do it is to simply ask:
- Can you repeat the question so I can make sure I understand?
You can follow up the clarification phase with the rephrasing technique, where you rephrase the question and ask if that’s what your interviewer intended to ask. This can help you get clearer on what the interviewer is really looking for and how you can best respond. I recommend following the form:
- ‘Just so I’m clear, you’re asking X, Y, and Z.”
Lastly, before you launch into an answer, write out your key messages. This may seem like strange advice at first. I always recommend that candidates bring a notepad and pen to their interview so that they can look engaged. The secondary motivation for this is so that they can briefly outline their answers to help them stay on track during tough questions. There’s nothing wrong with doing this, and remember, a well thought out and organized answer is miles better than rambling, even if you do have to take a few seconds to write it out first. Here’s what you do:
- Briefly outline 3-5 key points of your message on paper and go through them methodically and clearly
- Do this quickly and ensure that you don’t take too much time
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