Learn How To Say, ‘I Don’t Know’ To Increase Your Chances | The 3 Magical Words For MBA Interviews

The MBA interview season is at its peak and most of you are quite well prepared for them. Yet, the truth is that we are all human beings and not Google. We can’t know everything. Not even about the things we have studied. Therefore, this article is dedicated to a really crucial, simple and often neglected art of how to say ‘I don’t know’ in an interview.

‘I don’t know’ could be the 3 golden words this season that can get you hooked up with an IIM or a B-School of your choice. Trust me on this. I am not even kidding.

In this really important article, I will teach you about how to tackle ‘I don’t know the answer to this’ kind of a situation which can significantly improve your chances in an interview. So, let’s first start with the basics and then try to understand how to say I don’t know in an interview.

Is it okay to say ‘I don’t know’ in an interview?

As it turns out, it is perfectly fine to say ‘I don’t know’ in an MBA interview. You might wonder how can it be okay to say I don’t know in an interview when the question is something that I should have, in fact, known?

It’s correct to think like that. Because, if the question is something that you think you should’ve known the answer to, then you definitely should’ve known the answer to it. But the bigger sin than not knowing is saying something that is outrageously wrong. Therefore, saying I don’t know in that interview can actually increase your chances of making it through.

How can it increase my chances, you must be wondering?

Read on.

What will the interviewer think if I say ‘I don’t know’ in an interview?

An Alia Bhatt staying shut is better than an Alia Bhatt giving a wrong answer to the simplest of the questions – like who is the President of India.

We all have seen Koffee with Karan and we all would know what I am talking about.

But let’s analyse what the three cases are when you may not know the answer to a question.

  • Type 1 – when it is straight from your CV or academics (e.g. explain the 15% sales growth you mentioned in your form)
  • Type 2 – when it is in the related areas of your CV and academics (e.g. what are the advancements expected in the field of Mechanical Engineering)
  • Type 3 – when it is a question beyond your CV – like General Knowledge and Puzzles etc.

Ensure that you don’t falter in bullet point number 1 mentioned above. But, here’s the thing – there could be many situations in type 2 and type 3 for which you might not know the answer. For e.g., One aspirant was asked if Tibet was a country or a city.

He replied that it was a city in China. Another aspirant was asked to draw the Radcliffe line on the Indian map. He didn’t know it and drew some random line over Jammu and Kashmir. Not many might know where the Radcliffe Line is. Even I didn’t, to be frank.

And the best way to get out of such situations is to say, ‘I don’t know’. Sure, there is a method to saying I don’t know which I have explained in the four strategies below.

Therefore, if the question is straight from your CV, about the work you have done or your projects, saying I don’t know will leave a bad impact. However, in type 2 and type 3 cases, saying I don’t know will actually save you from embarrassing situations.

How to say I don’t know in an interview?

I suggest four steps or strategies to go about how to say ‘I don’t know’ in an interview. There is not sequential order in this.

Strategy #1 – Don’t give up too soon

This is a problem that all of us have. Whenever posed with a question, we race towards answering it almost instantly. You would’ve noticed that even if we don’t know the answer to something, we would still start rambling a few words before we start really talking sense. Avoid that and be clear with the content of your communication.

Applying this to an I don’t know the situation, I would suggest that never even say ‘I don’t know’ immediately. Get into a habit of taking 5 seconds before you answer anything in an interview. Heck. If you don’t know the answer, take extra, 10 – 15 seconds in total maybe. But dig deep and think through if you have any idea about that term or regarding that question at all.

Strategy #2 – Ask Follow-up Questions for Clarification

What if you have thought for 10 odd seconds but are still not able to answer the question. Here’s another thing you can try after that.

I call this strategy as ‘Reduce the Scope’ Strategy.

Ask follow-up questions which you think can help you get to the answer. Not only will it take you closer to the answer, but it will also help you reduce the scope of the question.

Strategy #3 – Mention a Reason for Not Knowing the Answer

So, when you realize that it is the time to lay down your guard and all the strategies have failed, the best way how to say I don’t know in an interview is by also mentioning why you do not know the answer.

Any plausible explanation would do. It could be “I am sorry. I hate to admit but I didn’t really study that part of the subject well”. Or it could be as simple as admitting and seeking pardon for your ignorance.

Strategy #4 – Golden Tip – Share your perspective

This is simple. This is the last of the four strategies on the question of how to say I don’t know in an interview. It is the exact opposite of the ‘reduce the scope’ of the question strategy.

As per this, I suggest to you that if the question asked to you is really specific, but you only have a broad idea about that topic, then increase the scope of the question. Admit that you don’t know the specifics but offer them the broad idea that you have.

To conclude I would like to say that try to apply these four steps or strategies to go about how to say I don’t know during your mock interviews. So, that you will be well prepared in applying them before your final interviews. All the best!

This article was originally written by Darpan Saxena.

Darpan Saxena is an MBA student IIM Udaipur. He is a die-hard marketing enthusiast and loves to help budding marketers in understanding marketing in an easy and interactive manner marketing. He is doing this through his blog named Super Heuristics.” 

To know more about him: Darpan Saxena




Jeetesh Varshney

Jeetesh Varshney is currently a student of the PGP 2018-20 batch of IIM Udaipur and a member of the InsideIIM Student Team and representative of Placement Preparation Committee of IIMU. He has previously completed his Computer Engineering from Harcourt Butler Technological Institute, Kanpur and has work experience in software development. He is an avid reader and his favourite authors include JK Rowling, Christopher C Doyle, Amish. He loves travelling and exploring new places and cultures, and nothing makes him happier than good food and chocolates. He is someone who learned a lot from InsideIIM while preparing for his management entrance exams and now writing stories on InsideIIM to share his experiences for the benefit of the future aspirants.

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