Avoid These 9 Mistakes When Answering Interview Questions


No matter where you are in your career, knowing how to answer questions effectively is crucial. This is especially true with a potential recession on the horizon.

In the business world, dialogue involving questions and answers has replaced speeches and presentations as the preferred format for sharing ideas. Executives are frequently interviewed on stage, job applicants are faced with a battery of questions designed to trip them up, and most formal meetings involve question-and-answer exchanges.

If you’re looking to master the art of Q+A, be sure to avoid these nine common mistakes:


The most common problem is rushing to respond before your brain knows about it. It’s tempting to want to fill the silence with something…anything.

But if you speak before you collect your thoughts, you’ll need to use more filler words like “yes, well,” or “let me think,” or “uh” or “ah.” These phrases can make you nervous and undermine everything you say next. Omit them and give yourself time to think first.

In fact, silence shows your audience that you take the issue seriously and know it deserves serious thought. Your answer will be better if you pause to think. You will look and sound more confident.


How often do we hear speakers say “That’s a good question! This is often a delaying tactic – an effort to buy time while thinking. Sometimes it can be a sincere answer to a particularly thoughtful question.

The problem is that if you say, “That’s a good question,” you are raising yourself above the questioner. If you’re an executive, you’ll look condescending to the employee who asked the question. If you’re a job seeker, you’ll come across as arrogant (or flattering) praising the hiring manager. Your job is to answer the question, not evaluate it. Instead of commenting on the quality of the question, pause, think (silently), then respond.


It’s tempting to ask the questioner a question if that person wasn’t clear or if you want to know more about what’s behind the question.

But if the questioner hasn’t been entirely clear, they’re unlikely to be more effective at advancing their thinking if you give them another chance. And probing the reason for their request is not your role.

So answer without going into detail. Just say, “I understand you’re asking me…” Then answer it. This approach will position you as confident and collected.


When someone asks you for an answer, don’t present your answer as a guess or speculation, using words like “my best guess is” or “I think it would be within the range of…”.

For example, suppose you are in a job interview and the recruiter asks you, “What are your salary expectations?” and you haven’t thought about it. Don’t blurt out an unprepared response. Don’t say, “Well, my best guess would be a significant raise from my current salary of $65,000.”

Instead, say, “I wish I had time to think about the answer to that question now that you’ve given me a better idea of ​​the job. I’ll get back to you with a number. Always say you’ll come back with the answer and be sure to follow through.


Sometimes speakers will formulate a question with negative points about you or your business. For example, your boss might say, “Why didn’t I get your sales figures from last month?” Never answer “You didn’t get my sales figures for last month because…”

Repeating a negative gives it power. Instead, just say, “I thought we submitted on a fortnightly basis.” Or if an interviewer says “Can you explain the gaps in your resume?” Do not answer: “I can explain the shortcomings of my CV. Just say, “I’d love to.” Reframe the conversation by rising above the negative with a positive.


Yet another challenge arises when answering a question that contains an error. While you can’t leave the error uncorrected, especially if it makes you look bad, don’t clash with the person asking the question.

For example, suppose your boss asks you, “Why hasn’t anyone in your department contacted Techco about their product issues?” Don’t say, “You are misinformed. Instead, answer “Abdel had a great discussion with them, and I’ll send you his report on how the problem was resolved.”

Politely state the facts to your audience.


From time to time, you will be asked questions offline that may discourage you. In particular, in a professional situation, do not feel obliged to answer questions that affect your personal life.

For example, if you’re in a job interview and the hiring manager asks you, “Are you planning to start a family?” you can skip that one. It’s illegal. Instead, you can simply say “that remains to be seen” or “I’d rather stick to the work questions.”

Don’t feel obligated to answer questions about your age, country of origin, disabilities, sexual orientation, marital status, family, race, color, ethnicity, or religion. These are prohibited for any interviewer.


Sometimes it may seem like your interlocutor is giving a speech rather than asking a question. The speaker may get carried away and go on too long. The worst thing you can do is interrupt him. Instead, listen patiently.

No one wants to feel like you’re tired of listening to them. The best CFOs, for example, patiently listen to analysts who interview them. This listening allows them to learn about market concerns and respond in a more thoughtful way.

Another type of interruption to avoid is injecting yourself into the conversation when the interviewer has simply paused to think. If you break in with an answer before she’s finished, you’ll look anxious. Make sure this person is done speaking before injecting your voice and opinions.


Answering questions can make you tense, especially in high-stakes situations where you or your business are being evaluated, and the questioner is exploring uncomfortable territory. But the secret to looking good isn’t to squirm, cross your arms in a defensive pose, or hem and haw. And don’t say, “Wow, you got me there!” Instead, enjoy the exchange. Have fun, smile and thank your interlocutor at the end of the discussion.

For more information on the art of Q+A, check out my book Impromptu: Leading in the Moment.


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