Whether you feel prepared or not, job interviews can be unpredictable. There are many opinions about interview dos and don’ts, but who really ever prepares for questions like, “If you were an animal, which would you be?” Yes, recruiters have been known to ask such unusual questions during interviews.

So, what do you do when you’re unsure of the right answer or don’t even know what to say? You finesse it, and here’s how you do that, according to Wande*, a recruiter in Lagos.

Project confidence, even if you don’t feel it

Look the recruiter in the eye, and don’t let any anxiety show. They can’t beat you. Build confidence — and let it show in your voice — even before the interview starts. It will save you from feeling like you’ve hit a block the moment you’re asked an unexpected question. From personal experience, I always conclude that confident people know what they’re saying until they say something that proves otherwise.

Reword and repeat the question

You’ve been asked something, you don’t know the answer, so you need to buy time. Imagine you’re asked, “How many apples fall from the tree yearly?” You can respond with something like, “That’s an interesting question. So that I understand exactly what you’re asking, do you mean both red and green apples?” More often than not, the recruiter will explain the question again with more detail which means more time for you to find an answer.

Remember the question’s purpose

Whether they’re asking you what animal you’d like to be or what superpower you’d like, the general purpose of any interview question is to confirm you fit the role requirements. You can’t be interviewing for a job that involves handling money, and you say the animal you’d like to be is a snake — an animal known to be sneaky and dishonest. As how?

Admit you don’t know, but don’t leave it at that

It’s alright to admit you don’t know the answer to a question because the worst thing you can do is lie. But instead of saying, “I don’t know”, try something like, “I’m so glad you asked this. I’ve always wanted to know more about XYZ, which is why I’ve tried looking up [insert any vaguely similar concept]”. This presents you as someone who isn’t scared of not knowing but is also in tune with their professional growth.

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Use personal examples

You can also redirect the topic to a similar professional situation where you weren’t sure of the right approach to take, but you were able to identify the best resources needed to get the job done. The idea is to show you’re a collaborator who knows how to work through challenges. No one knows everything, and unless the recruiter is a bad belle, they know it too. 

For the love of God, don’t ramble

Keep your answers brief and to the point. Rambling will show your nerves, and remember you’re acting like you know what you’re doing. Recruiters don’t want to hear long stories. Not with about 3,000 more interviews in one workday. No one is paid enough for that.

Redirect attention to your qualifications

In cases where you have absolutely no idea, admit it but don’t just go, “I have no idea.” Instead, go, “I’m not very familiar with this concept, but I’m up to date with XYZ, and I think it also ties into ABC”. 

Remember, the recruiter is often under pressure too

Don’t think you’re the only one on the hot seat. The recruiter is also under pressure to deliver. Unless they’re your village people personified, they want to hire the best for the role and get it over with. 

*Names have been changed for the sake of anonymity.

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