My friend, a recently downsized CFO from a smaller company (100 employees), was just asked a question in an interview about how he had implemented a very specific external reporting process.

This was not on his resume nor on the job description. So he was a bit thrown for a bit of a loop. How does one answer a question for which you have no experience?


pmoriarty's picture


I would answer that I had never done that before and emphasize how I would go about developing a process to implement the reporting.

TomW's picture

I agree with Paul.

I'd start off with "I've never done that before" and follow immediately with "Here's how I would handle it...."

bflynn's picture

Obviously you're going to answer the question. Let me suggest not emphasizing that you've never done it before. That is a pre-disclaimer against any flaws in your answer and not the tack you want to take in an interview.

The difficulty in the question comes from it being a hypothetical situation that is probably much clearer in the interview's mind than they convey. I suspect I would try to ask one or two questions to clarify the scope, then give an answer covering general project methodology, with specifics to this project as they come to mind.

I think part of the perceived value of the question is the spontaneous nature. If you've done projects like this many times, the answer will come off easily. If not, you will fumble a bit.


wendii's picture

HI *

Sounds to me like the interviewer hadn't done enough preparation and got two candidates confused. Not dwelling on their mistake would be a good start as it'll endear you to them!

IMHO, If it is something you just havn't had in your career (for example they ask about firing someone and you've never done it) saying, I havn't had to do that, is fine, as long as it's something you wouldn't necessarily have encountered. If I was interviewing an IT consultant and I asked, can you tell me about a time when you corrrupted the clients data and they say, that's never happened, I'd be ok with that. If I ask, can you tell me about a time when you've had a communication problem with a client and they say that's never happened, I wouldn't believe them.

I think the suggestions of 'I havn't yet encountered that situation, but I would hande it this way' are ok. Alternatively:

*I havn't encountered that yet but I have encounted this similar thing and here's how I handled it
*I havn't encounted that yet and here's why (we have processes to prevent it, I use a different software because I know that one causes that problem, I do O3s so I don't have issues with my staff etc)
*I havn't encountered that yet, but I think your asking about my ability to handle unexpected events, may I give a different example?


thaGUma's picture

bflynn, I disagree with not emphasizing that you haven't done/encountered this before - the interviewer needs to evaluate your answer.

If you lease any impression you have done something consider some outcomes:
1. You nail the question, you get the job and all is fine.
2. You nail the question, you get the job. You are found not to have done something the interviewer thought you had done.
3. You miss. Interviewer thinks you have done something badly rather than answered a hypothetical question badly. Dont forget you will be using PAST TENSE in your answer not future (conditional?).
4. You are vague. The interviewer probes. You dig a bigger hole or you admit you haven'f done it.... now you are a liar :shock: and the interviewer is finished.

If you answer correctly and honestly. The worst you will get is a minus point for lack of experience.


Mark's picture

Wait a damn minute.

Was he asked - folks, words here are so very very important - how he had done something in a way that led him to believe that the interviewer clearly thought he had done it?

As in: "Tell me about how you designed that graphical interface for that Iphone you have."

OR, was he asked a hypothetical?

As in: "Tell me how you WOULD design a gui for that Iphone."

If it's the former folks - [b]if he believes that they are asking him this because they believe he has done it[/b] - AND HE HAS NOT, it's simple:

"I actually haven't done that." And, if he's a clever fellow, he might jauntily add, "it appears that I wish I would have, but if you're thinking that I have, I haven't."

If it's a hypothetical, well, by all means grab the biggest bat you can find and swing for the bloody fences.

But do not substitute that latter answer if you believe you have been asked the former, NOR should you give the latter unless you're sure you've been ASKED the latter, NOR should you give the former unless you're sure you've been asked the former. If you are in doubt, clarify.

If one must wink in telling this story, one needs one's winking eye poked out.