If An Expected Question Throws You, How You Can Recover and Get Back In the Game

This question came into our Ask A Coach feature. The writer told this story.

I really wanted this job. The pay range was awesome. The benefits outstanding. I walked in and gave the interviewer my best smile.

He asked, “So tell me what tells you that you’d be a good fit for our company?”

I didn’t know what to say. The question stumped me. I wanted to say that I was a great candidate for any job, to wow him with my list of skills and accomplishments. But even as I started into my answer, I saw his eyes glaze over.

I was prepared with answers for the interview questions I expected—what made me a great candidate; my past experiences; my strengths and weaknesses; my qualifications based on the stated job requirements.

What do I do when I’m caught off-guard by a question like this? I did my best, giving him information that related to his question. How could I have recovered?

That’s not good enough. You didn’t answer the question he asked. Instead, you answered the question you wanted him to ask. This strategy occasionally works for politicians, but not for applicants.

Here’s the truth. The interviewer threw a softball question. You needed have your answer ready. When you didn’t answer his question, you struck out. Game over.  

What you can do differently, next time

Despite how hungry many employers are to fill vacancies, they want new employees who want to work for their, not applicants who want “any” job for they’re qualified and that pays enough.

Here’s what you need to do before your next interview—in addition to thinking about who you are; what your experience and skills are, and what you want in a job, assess the potential job and employer. What tells you you’re right for their position and for them?

You can learn this by reviewing their website and setting up a Google alert for their company.

Recovering when you’re stumped in an interview or realize you gave an inadequate answer.

When you’re asked a question that stumps you, pause and take a breath. Because the question throws you off balance, you need to pull out of your immediate reaction and assess what you might say. This two-second pause won’t seem unrealistic. If you want to cover it, you can say, “That’s a great question. I haven’t been asked that before.”

If, several questions and answers later, you realize what you should have answered to an earlier question, you can ask, “Can we go back to that earlier? I left something important out of my answer.”  Most interviewers will nod and appreciate that you want to do a good job.

If you’re given that chance, please knock it out of the park with your answer.

(c) 2022 Lynne Curry

If you liked this article, you might like some of the other articles in our blog’s “Career” section such as “How to Nail Three Challenging Job Interview Questions” https://workplacecoachblog.com/2019/11/how-to-nail-three-challenging-job-interview-questions/ or in Solutions: 411: Workplace Answers 911: Revelations for Workplace Challenges and Firefights, https://amzn.to/3ueSeXX which has 65 of my best columns in a twenty year period.

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5 thoughts on “If An Expected Question Throws You, How You Can Recover and Get Back In the Game

  1. ““So, tell me what tells you that you’d be a good fit for our company?”

    Or “Why are you here this morning???”

    The question seems so basic that as the interviewer, I would immediately think that this person wouldn’t even be able to handle the “expected” events at work, let alone the “unexpected”…..

    1. Larry and Dan, thanks for great comments. A softball question and one the revealed the candidate’s focus, which is appropriate as long as he also focuses on the organization he hopes to join.

  2. Huzzah for another exceptionally appropriate question/problem and solution.

    This is one that I probably would not have been ‘prepared for’ and probably would have answered in the manner that you indicated – “what you wanted him to ask”.

    Sometimes that far right-field fence can be a real stretch for a curveball.

  3. These are good, practical tips on how to recover and how to prepare for the “softball” question of what makes you great for a given employer. At this point I feel fairly beaten down by the past interviews I had where the interviewer clearly did not read my resume or cover letter, did not believe my qualifications, and mostly seemed to be looking for reasons to reject my application. Yes, my attitude got bad. I even had an interview where I had carefully done my research on the employer and when I gave my answer about what I knew about their company, they seemed bothered that I knew so much about them. I’m glad I’m no longer on the market.

    1. Suz, thanks for speaking out for the “other side of the story.” It’s a shame when the interview process results in a good candidate feeling disrespected.

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