Is it ok to say "I don't know" in an interview?

Is it OK to say "I don't know" in a job interview?

Why is it that some job interview questions are easy to answer, while others are so difficult you feel like your brain has frozen? More importantly, what should you do if you don’t know what to say? Let’s start with the don’ts:

How NOT to answer job interview questions:

1.     Don’t lie in your job interview

You might be worried about the consequences of not knowing the answer, but it is far worse to be dishonest. If it’s something you really should know, perhaps this is not the right role for you, and it is better to find out now. However, if it is a bit of a curly question, they could be more interested in how you answer - honesty is always the best policy.

2.     Don’t panic when you don't know how to answer

The more you panic, the more difficult the answer is likely to become. Take a deep breath and think about the question. If you do know the answer, you’re more likely to say the right thing or remember the correct detail if you are calm. 

3.     Don’t be under-prepared for frequently asked interview questions

Why do some people attend job interviews without any preparation? Getting a job can have a major impact on your entire life, so do your homework. There are some standard questions you should expect to be asked in almost all job interviews:

  • Why do you want to work here?
  • What makes you the best candidate for the role?
  • Where do you want to be in five years?
  • What do you know about the organisation?
  • What are your strengths and weaknesses?

Prepare sincere, thoughtful answers to these questions before your interview – it’s not a good look to answer “I don’t know” when your potential boss asks you why you want the job. Preparation and research are the keys to a good interview. And if there are any technical aspects to the role, brush up on your knowledge - don’t just assume because you can perform a task without thinking you will be able to explain that process when asked a question. 

How to answer job interview questions?

But is it possible to have a good job interview if one of your answers is “I don’t know”? Well, if the question relates to a critical part of the job, it may be tough. But some of these 'do's may be helpful:

  • Do ask if they would mind rephrasing the question as you’re not certain you understand.
  • Do try to get additional information by answering a question with your own question.
  • Do research the question after the interview and follow up by email with an answer – if you were totally stumped, it’s a great way to demonstrate a persistent interest in the job, and may impress some interviewers by showing you follow up and want to learn.

You might not have all the answers, but the way you respond to interview questions can tell a potential employer a lot about you – be honest, prepare thoroughly, and you’ll be more likely to impress. Will you definitely get the job? Deep breath – “I don’t know” - but I sure hope so!


CPA Career Mentor


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