Andy Lester

Technology, careers, life and being happy

How to say “I don’t know” effectively

| 1 Comment

In a job interview, it’s crucial you don’t pretend to know things that you don’t, but you
don’t have to just say “no, I don’t know about that.” Here are three
responses that are better than “no”, in order of preference.

  1. Discuss something you’ve done similar. “I haven’t used LDAP, but
    back in 2006, when I was at Yoyodyne, I set up and administered
    Active Directory for a 2,500-person company.

  2. Show that you’re at least familiar with the name. “No, I haven’t.
    Are you doing some sort of enterprise-wide directory integration?”
    You’re showing that you have some understanding of how it’s used,
    and getting more information and it may turn out that you have a
    different, similar experience, and can turn this into Answer #1
    above.

  3. Ask what it is, and how it’s used. “I’m sorry, no, I haven’t even
    heard the term. What is LDAP, and how are you using it?” You’ll
    show interest in learning more, and may find out that it’s similar
    to something you’ve done before, and can upgrade your answer to
    Answer #2 above.

Please don’t use the clichéd answer “No, I don’t, but I’m a
quick learner!” It’s good to try to turn a negative into a positive, but
“I’m a quick learner” is meaningless because anyone can say it. Use one of
the three above.

Finally, don’t think of it as a pass/fail quiz and worry that you’re
doomed for not knowing. I once asked a candidate, out of the blue, if he
knew anything about LDAP, because I had been thinking about it as
something my department might use. I thought he was going to have a heart
attack as he stammered out his “Uh, uh, no, but, uh, I can learn pretty
quick!” I reassured him it wasn’t something we were using, but I was just
curious. Chances are if you’ve been called in for an interview, you’ve
already the core basic knowledge that truly is pass/fail.

One Comment

  1. Great stuff! I’ve linked to you from my web dev class blog. This exactly the kind of thing that newbies need to know to get past those first interviews!

Leave a Reply

Required fields are marked *.