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Have you ever found yourself speechless in an interview? Not only were you stuck, you were probably upset about being stuck. And that made you even more stuck. It’s a vicious cycle!

This happens to just about everyone at some point. Despite how it feels, it’s not the end of the world.

Here’s how to put the brakes on the vicious cycle and get your interview back on track.

If you blank in an interview while answering a question:

Look intelligent while you buy some time. Put a thoughtful expression on your face, and perhaps nod or say “hmm.” There’s nothing wrong with taking a moment to think.
Take a slow, deep breath.
If you’ve been given a glass of water, sip a little.
If you remember the question, repeat it.
If you don’t remember the question, ask the interviewer to repeat it.

You may be tempted to “fake it” by rambling around the subject. I don’t recommend that, as it’s likely to generate a mediocre answer, not to mention seeming phony. Think about it: would you rather hire someone who honestly admits they don’t have answer, or someone who tries to BS their way through? Honesty is wiser and more likable.

If you blank out when asked a question you’d normally have no trouble with:

Say something like “Would you mind if we come back to that question later? I’m drawing a blank right now, probably because I’m so excited about this interview.”

By the time they ask again, the answer may have come to you. Or they may forget to ask, in which case you’re off the hook for now. You may be able to briefly answer the question in your thank-you email. (By the way, this is one reason why it’s smart to take notes immediately after an interview. That’s the time when you’re most likely to remember exactly what the question was.)

If you just don’t know the answer:

Admit you don’t know, using the “sandwich technique” to surround the negative (your lack of knowledge) with positives.

For example, if asked how you would perform Task A with Software B, which you’ve never used, you might say something like this:

(Positive:) I’ve been doing Task A for the past three years, although I’ve used Software C instead. (Negative:) Although I haven’t used Software B… (Positive:) …I’d love to learn it. It only took me two weeks to master Software C through webinars and videos, and I’m sure I’d quickly pick up B the same way.

My posts How to Answer Impossible Interview Questions and Impossible Interview Questions, Part 2: Sensitive and Negative Issues offer more tips for situations like this.

Now that you know what to do if you go blank in an interview, would you like to know how to prevent this problem before it ever occurs? Read my post, How Not to Go Blank in an Interview.