Is it okay to say ‘I don’t know’ during job interviews?

Being humble and honest works in favour of the candidates, feel some experts

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Job interviews are always crucial. Even if one acquires monumental experience over the years, how alert, agile and confident candidates appear to be during these sessions goes a long way in ensuring their place in the system. Quite obviously, there are certain dos and don’ts to make sure one does not go horribly wrong there. Many experts believe honesty is the key, but what does one say when one has no idea of something that the interviewer has asked? Should one lie or just go with ‘I don’t know’?

 I think it’s rather a sign of maturity and wisdom to state with authenticity that one does not know the answer to a question.

Manu Wadhwa, CHRO, Sony Pictures Networks

Firstly, it is perfectly fine to respond with ‘I don’t know’ to a question one is not clear about. One can of course, take time to mull over the answer to a tricky question. No one is rushing one, so, it is up to the candidates to gather their thoughts and answer in the best possible manner. At times, asking a few counter questions helps. They give an idea about what the interviewer is expecting to hear. Alternatively, one could just say “The concept is a bit unclear to me. I will have to get back to you on that.” This way one does not have to lie. There’s no harm in being straightforward about not having knowledge about certain things. Experts believe the reason interviewers ask tough questions that stump the candidates is because they want to assess their thought process.

Manu Wadhwa, CHRO, Sony Pictures Networks, feels it reflects the candidate’s honesty. “I think it’s rather a sign of maturity and wisdom to state with authenticity that one does not know the answer to a question. Choose authenticity over showcasing shallow depth.” However, how important the question is for the role the candidate has applied for is also significant. “It depends on how critical the question / skill is. If it’s core to the role, then one cannot help it. If it’s a tertiary skill / ask of the role, then I would recommend the HR manager to weigh in the candidate’s attitude alongside skill,” Wadhwa advises.

At the end of the day, it is like marketing the best version of oneself. One can always be humble and admit that one does not know much about something at present, but wants to learn about it.  

Minakshi Arora, chief human resource officer, Trident Group India

The worst thing candidates can do is fake it. If they are unfamiliar with the topic of discussion, they should politely make it known that they lack information on the same. However, they should make sure to show enough zeal to learn about it and connect with them.

Minakshi Arora, chief human resource officer, Trident Group India, says, “If one says ‘this may be the answer but I am not the subject matter expert’, it would be considered more honest. In an interview, one is showcasing one’s skills, and therefore, it is absolutely fine to admit that one doesn’t know about something. The impact — positive or negative — happens when the frequency is increased or the body language is not great. At the end of the day, it is like marketing the best version of oneself. One can always be humble and admit that one wants to learn about it as one does not know much at present.”

Clearly, ‘I don’t know’ or ‘I am not sure about this’ is a harmless response at a job interview, unless it is a question pertinent to the job profile one is applying for.

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