Questions you don’t know

Sometimes you get a tricky question that you don’t know the answer to. I have a process to answer these questions.

  1. Walk them through my thinking process. When I get asked a question that I don’t know the answer, I walk them through my thinking process.
    • Question: For example, an interviewer asked me “How many cup of coffee are being sold today in Singapore?”
    • Answer: “Let me walk you through my thinking process. And let me say upfront that I don’t have the accurate statistics on top of my head. So we will make some assumptions. The statistics are easy to look up online. The point here is for you to understand how I would solve a problem. We know that Singapore has around 5.5 million people. Assume that 80% is at the coffee drinking age between 15-75 years of age. So we are down to 3.5Million people. Assume further that 1/3 of these people will drink 1 cup of coffee per day. So we are down to 1.2 Million people. Assume that 1/3 of these people will buy coffee outside and the rest will drink at home or at work, then we have 380,000 cup of coffee per day being sold in Singapore.” I would actually bring out my calculator on my Iphone to do the math. If there is a white board in the room, I would get up and draw out my assumptions on the board. Or I would draw out my assumptions on a piece of paper. The point of drawing it out on a board or on paper is to make it easier for the interviewer to follow. And by doing so, I end up looking energetic and dymanic. By the way, if you want to see the correct way of answering this question, read here.
  2.  Steer them toward something I do know in a different situation. When an interviewer asked a questions that I don’t completely know the answer but know the answer in a different situation, I would steer them toward this answer.
    • Question: “Why is it difficult to build a subway in China?”
    • Answer: “I have not lived in China. But based on my experience of living in Vietnam, it is difficult to build a subway because the land rights are not clear. As such, it is difficult to move many people out of their houses to clear the roads. I suspect the same is true for China as they are both Communist countries.”
  3. Be honest and tell them about my other skills.  When an interview asked a question that I completely don’t know the answer, I will be honest and tell them that I don’t know the answer but I have other skills to make up for it.
    • Question: “Do you have sales experience?” I was asked this question when I was interviewing for Gartner covering the Vietnamese market and had zero sales experience.
    • Answer: “I don’t have sales experience. I do have two other skills that will make up for it. First, I have experience in doing consultant work. In being a consultant, I have to deal directly with clients, ask questions to understand their needs, come up with solutions, and provide a service. I believe that these experiences are transferrable and will make me successful as as sales person. The second skill I have is that I understand the Vietnamese market and understand how Vietnamese choose to buy product.”