Stumped in an Interview? Show Your Thought Process

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Posted by The Editors on November 15, 2011
Stumped in an Interview? Show Your Thought Process

One thing I hear time and time again when talking to recruiters is the importance of how candidates react when they don’t know the answer to an interview question.

Almost all recruiters say they care more about your thought process than about the actual answer. In other words: Recruiters want to see that you can maintain your poise in an uncertain situation, show you have an intelligent and logical way of thinking, and articulate an educated guess.

This may seem like common sense, but when you’re in an interview, it’s easy to get flustered, clam up, or—even worse—end up answering, “I don’t know.”

Since much of an interview consists of questions about your background and experience, the times you’d most likely be stumped for an answer are during behavioral or case interview questions. In the past, behavioral and case questions were usually confined to management consulting or investment banking interviews, but they are making their way into other sectors.

As we covered in our blog post about behavioral interviews, most behavior-based questions will begin with a prompt like, “Can you tell me about a time when you . . .” or “Could you give me an example of a situation when you . . .” Case interview questions, on the other hand, present you with a situation, problem, or challenge and ask you to resolve it: for example, “How many gas stations are there in Dallas?”

Even if you’re tempted to say, “I don’t know,” try your hardest to remain calm and form an answer. Sometimes it helps to repeat the question so you can buy yourself some time and process the question fully. Then take a deep breath, try to answer the best you can while reasoning aloud, and remember—it’s your thought process that counts.

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