You might assume that planning ahead to think on your feet at a job interview is a contradiction.
However, for those job interview moments when your mind goes blank, there are some nifty techniques that will help your performance. After all, nerves can get the better of us. Or there may simply be a time when you don’t know the answer to a unique question.
Stick to What You Know
The worst thing you can do in a job interview? Answer with “I don’t know” — and then stop. Rather than answer with an unfinished “I don’t know,” bring the conversation back to something you have experienced or know; a related skill or strength, for example. If you really can’t think of a time when ‘x’ happened, then be honest and offer to tell them when ‘z’ happened instead. Along the way, make sure to say how ‘z’ is just as relevant to the role as ‘x’.
If you haven’t experienced something specific to the question or the lack the knowledge required to answer, say so. It’s far better to admit this isn’t yet an area of expertise and talk about how you’re addressing the issue than try to fudge it and look incompetent (or worse still, dishonest).
Create Thinking Time
Most of us talk too quickly when we’re nervous. So slow down, take a deep breath, regain your composure and an answer will come to you. Give yourself space to think by pausing, asking for the question to be repeated or seeking clarification – even taking a drink of water can give you a valuable moment to think.
Show and Tell
Turn being vulnerable into an advantage. If the interviewer throws you a curve-ball, try externalizing your thought process as you search for an answer. With a smile and the right tone, a “Wow, that is a really tough question” or “No one has ever asked that before… you surprised me.” can come across as endearing. And a bit of humor about going blank puts the elephant on the table and relaxes everybody.
Stay on Track
Learning to think on your feet is about maintaining your train of thought and not getting thrown off track as much as it is delivering the perfect answer. What’s important to say here? How does the answer end? When do you know you’re done? Are you rambling? When answering any question, it’s better to be on the front foot with energy and commitment, and end an answer appropriately rather than be on the back foot and end with confusion.
Remember, you are being assessed at a job interview as much for how you answer questions as for the answers’ content. It gives employers clues to your ability to deal with pressure, your confidence level and your character.
To fuel your confidence, no matter what gets thrown at you, plan ahead and be ready to think on your feet.
About the Author: David Shindler is the author of “Learning to Leap, a Guide to Being More Employable.” An experienced coach and people development expert, David specializes in developing and accelerating employability. He also runs the Employability Hub (a social learning community and resource center) and the Learning to Leap group on LinkedIn and Facebook fan page. Tweet David, or contact him via his website.