how to buy yourself some time in a job interview when being asked a tough question

5 Stalling Tactics for Tough Interview Questions

At some point in your life, you’ve probably stumbled on your words, especially in situations where you had an unexpected question or comment made to you. In social situations, you can usually devise something to say back or at least save face over time if you can’t come up with something off the top of your head.

However, having this happen in an interview can feel like the end of the world, yet even the most prepared and seasoned interviewee stumbles on questions and words from time to time. As it happens, this is oftentimes just part of the interview. The difference between success and failure is how you handle it. And that’s what makes stalling tactics for tough interview questions a necessary part of your interview repertoire.

Before you hit the panic button, learn some basic stalling tactics and how to use them effectively so that the interviewer doesn’t even notice. With this skill at your disposal, you can create the time needed to satisfactorily answer interview questions and look oh-so-good doing it.

1. Repeat the Question

Perhaps the most inconspicuous stalling tactic is just repeating the question. Once the interviewer asks the question, compose yourself for a moment and repeat the question aloud. Then, go into your answer.

Alternatively, you can repeat the question as part of the beginning of the answer. For example, if you’re asked something from the STAR interview method like, “how do you fix this problem in the IT world,” you could say, “to fix this problem in the IT world, I would…”. As you see, you’re giving yourself time to answer the question without allowing silence to overwhelm the situation.

2. Ask the Interviewer to Repeat the Question

If you need an additional moment to think about the answer, another effective stalling tactic in an interview is simply to ask the interviewer to repeat the question. Since you already know what the question is, you can use the opportunity of them repeating the question to formulate a well-constructed answer.

Keep in mind that you can probably only use this stalling tactic once per interview. While you should always pay attention during an interview, asking the interviewer to repeat the question can come off like you’re apathetic and disinterested in the interview—two things that can cost you a job if you’re not careful.

3. Take a Drink

Admittedly, taking a drink of water won’t give you a ton of time to think about an answer. But even an extra second or two to think about keywords from your preparation is vital. If you bring a bottle of water to the interview, you’re getting a nice break from questions. And if you take a slow drink, you can buy yourself some vital time to think about the answer to a specific question.

Hydrating during an interview is also important, and as long as you’re not chugging or guzzling water, it’s perfectly acceptable to drink water during an interview.

4. Deliver an Answer Preparation Statement

If you’re repeating the question or taking a drink after every question, you might feel the urge to switch it up for the sake of both yourself and the interviewer. That’s when a preparation statement is a suitable alternative.

Instead of being repetitive, you can compliment the question, make a follow-up phrase like “I was wondering when you would bring that up,” or say “I’m glad you asked.” Not only will this give you a bit of time, but it will also give you the image of being fully attentive and invested in the interview itself.

5. Ask for a Minute To Collect Your Thoughts

You might get only one shot at this, but you can certainly ask for a minute to collect your thoughts or to return to the question later. By asking for a few seconds—keep in mind that you don’t want to take more than about 15 to 20 seconds—you can gather the information and ideas you need to craft an effective answer to the interview question.

If you’re totally blindsided by a question that you didn’t prepare for, you can ask to come back to the question later. That said, you should note that coming up with an answer still isn’t going to be easy. You’re going to need to use every spare second to think about the answer to the question while you’re getting bombarded with new questions. Stay focused on the current question; returning to the question comes second.

You may not want to use this trick right at the beginning of the interview. In all likelihood, the questions will get more involved and complex as the interview goes on. Even if you have a tough question at the beginning, you may want to use a few of the other stalling tactics listed here before you ask for more time.

What Should You Do If You Answer a Question Poorly During an Interview?

Even if you studied the company, prepared for the interview, and used stalling tactics, there’s still a chance that you might flub a question during an interview. However, you shouldn’t let it sour the entire experience for you.

If you answer a question poorly during an interview, the best response is to clarify your answer in the post-interview thank you email. Aside from thanking the interviewer for their time, you should simply say that you didn’t fully understand the question or just wanted to add a bit more to the answer. Moreover, this will make your thank you stand out and leave a great final impression—the type that could even help you land the job, despite answering a question poorly during the interview.

Interview Preparation: The Only Surefire Way to Ace Your Interview

You should always have stalling tactics as the ace up your sleeve during a difficult interview question, but nothing serves you better than preparation. By learning common interview questions and how to answer effectively, you only have to use stalling as a last resort—although there’s nothing innately wrong with it. So research the company, consider common questions within your field, and practice, practice, practice. By doing so, you’re one step closer to landing the remote job you’ve always wanted.

Do you have your own stalling tactics for a tough interview? Connect with Virtual Vocations on FacebookTwitterLinkedInInstagram, and YouTube to share your thoughts. We’d love to hear from you!

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