Pre-interview jitters can feel a lot like stage fright: you might be nervous or afraid of stammering as you strive to dazzle the audience (the interviewer) with your confidence and prowess.
Rehearsal can help you achieve a standout performance, but even then, you'll probably come across at least one question that stumps you. "About 80% of interview questions are usually predictable, but there's always going to be that one odd ball question," career coach Emily Liou tells CNBC Make It.
Companies "aren't looking for a flawless interviewer either," she adds. "It's okay to stutter or draw a blank! The most important traits an interviewer is evaluating for are your communication skills and connection to the job."
Next time you're stuck on a difficult interview question, use these strategies from Liou and recruiting expert Jeff Hyman to craft a smart answer and impress any hiring manager:
Start with a short stall
Hyman has interviewed more than 30,000 people throughout his 25-year career as a recruiter – and he says there is one "cliché" phrase he hears from stumped job candidates that you should avoid: "That's a great question!"
It's a reflexive response that a lot of candidates will use to buy themselves a few seconds, but it can come across as vague or insincere, Hyman says. Instead, preface your pause with a different response, such as "That's a really thoughtful question, I've never been asked that before."
"It's a small compliment to the interviewer, and it indicates that you care about providing an insightful answer, so you need a second to think through your response," Hyman notes.
Try not to pause for longer than 30-60 seconds, however, to avoid any lingering, awkward silence.
Focus on problem-solving
Even after thinking through your answer for a minute, you still might not have a full response – in that case, Liou recommends explaining how you would find the answer or approach the problem.
"Interviewers are trying to picture you in the role they're hiring for," Liou says. "So if you don't know something right off the bat at work, how do you compose yourself? How are you resourceful?"
Tell the hiring manager who you would contact within the organization for a second opinion or assistance, as well as any additional resources you would turn to, whether it's a manual or professional organization. Use clear, simple language and keep the explanation short.
If the question is more behavioral — asking about a time you were challenged, for example, or what your biggest weaknesses are — be honest, and make sure you mention either how you've helped your team through your actions or how you've learned a new skill to improve how you approach work.
But, ultimately, "It's not always about getting the 'right' answer," Liou adds. "Sometimes it comes down not to what you say, but how you say it."
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