Have you ever gotten halfway through a lengthy interview answer, only to realize you’ve utterly lost track of the question? As an interview coach, I know you’re not the only one. Interview anxiety can easily cause such lapses.
Forgetting the interview question is not likely to happen with a simple inquiry like “Why are you interested in this job?” But longer and more complex ones, especially behavioral questions, can send you down a winding path into a jungle of confusion.
To prevent this, repeat the interviewer’s question before answering it. To keep from sounding like a parrot, don’t repeat the whole question, just part of it. Here’s how it might sound:
Interviewer: “What would you do if someone on your team was not pulling their weight?”
You: “Someone not pulling their weight? Hmm. First, I’d sit down with them privately…(etc.)”
Interviewer: “Tell me about a time you needed to work with someone whose personality was pretty much the opposite of yours.”
You: “Working with someone whose personality was the opposite… Well, I like to work in a very organized way, and two years ago I was on a project with someone whose work style was more seat-of-the-pants. I realized what I needed to do was…(etc.)”
Sometimes interviewers ask questions with multiple components. Notice the three parts of this one:
“Tell me about a time when you reorganized or downsized a team. How did you approach this? How did the employees react?”
Before answering, jot down a few key phrases on a notepad: “Reorg/downsized – my approach – empl’s reaction.” Then answer, checking your notes if necessary.
Sometimes interviewees forget the question because they’re so stressed they’ve forgotten just about everything at the moment. If this has ever happened to you, read my post How Not to Go Blank in an Interview.
As a last resort, if you realize you’ve forgotten the question, simply ask the interviewer to repeat it. Forgetting what question you’re answering in an interview isn’t the end of the world. It’s much better to honestly admit you’ve lost track, than to try and BS your way through!