Three words an interviewer needs to hear

interviewerYou sat in the reception for an agonising fifteen minutes waiting to be interrogated, you trussed yourself up like turkey to impress and the first question your interviewer asks is, ‘How many cows are there in Canada?’ Your first impression is stare blankly at the interviewer, then you’re into the dilemma of plucking a random figure out of the air and risking looking stupid, or doing what must surely be the verbal equivalent of turning up in a bikini and flip flops by saying, ‘I don’t know’. Is there ever a reason to say ‘I don’t know’ in an interview? The resounding answer to that questions is – yes, there is!

The Science

Alan Scoboria, an associate psychology professor at the University of Windsor in Ontario, Canada did research into this very question where candidates were encouraged to answer, ‘I don’t know’ in potential employment interview, even when they felt under pressure to provide an answer that would be a wild guess. The results firmly indicated that those who honestly answered the question that they didn’t have an answer were more successful than those who guessed.

It would appear that by admitting you don’t know the answer and saying so buys you time to think of a reason. “What we remember depends on how we’re asked and the situation we’re asked,” Scoboria says. “It’s O.K. to take a couple of seconds and try to cue yourself for additional information because the context might be narrowing what you remember.” No one can deny the pressure an interview can put you under so those few extra seconds may be all you need to put the information into context and come up with the right answer. It shows how well you work under pressure and how you can strategise. Both are very valuable skills.

The Practice

Does this give you the green card to use it on every question and still land a job? No. Those three little words are acceptable ONLY when you can back it up with reason. Saying, ‘I don’t know’ to the interviewer then awkwardly staring at each other in silence is not the kind of strategy to use to get a job.

“A hiring manager is unlikely to do so, so you’ll have to take the ball yourself and build on your initial response,” Scoboria says. “Elaborate on why you can’t answer the question right away and how you’ll figure it out. That’s a demonstration of strategy for answering the question.” If you can explain why you don’t know but how you’ll change that, it’s says far more about you as a candidate than guessing.

The Strategy

So how can you give the right answer to the question, ‘How many cows in Canada?’ The simple answer is – you can’t. It’s a brain teaser. Do they really expect as a part of your marketing major you studied the bovine population of first world countries? No, they don’t. Questions like that are used to test your strategy when experiencing an unexpected problem. Which do you think impresses them most; an unquantified stab in the dark or an honest ‘I don’t know – but I’ll find out’? The answer gives the interviewer a good insight into how you would tackle a complex surprise event to your working day and that’s the kind of eventuality they need to know.

Heidi Golledge who runs the website CareerBliss had an interesting event when recruiting for her own company. “Saying ‘I don’t know’ at the right time could give you an edge and show off a rare trait. Each time we interviewed for an executive in our company, we raised a complex business question we had been grappling with for years,” she says. “Every candidate provided an answer except for one, who said, “I don’t know.”

“Then, [he] proceeded to explain that he would need more time and data to formulate the best answer and come up with a strategic plan. This was refreshing,” Golledge says. “If we spent a year on the topic, how was any candidate to know the answer within the time allotted in an interview?” The payoff for his honesty under pressure when his instincts must have been screaming ‘Answer this!’? That candidate was offered the job.

As you prepare for any interview consider the option that you can use those three little words appropriately to impress your interviewer. Formulate reasons for using it and how to present them in their best light. Will it secure you the job? There’s only one answer to that – “I don’t know…”.

This guest post was courtesy of Free Resume Builder