The Perfect Answer

By: Wendy Johnson, CPC | IT Recruiter

I love when I ask a question and somebody answers “I don’t know”.  I realize this might sound strange…but think about it.  How often do you ask a question only to get an answer that doesn’t make sense?  How about an answer that is incorrect?  Or maybe even an answer that you found out later was embellished or completely fabricated?  While my first preference would be to get an accurate and truthful answer, I always pause to appreciate the “I don’t know”.   Usually when I hear those three little words, I come to the conclusion that the person I’m speaking with is humble, confident, truthful, and deserves my respect. 

It takes a humble person to admit that they don’t know the answer to everything, especially things they should know the answer to.  I have interviewed candidates who claim to have extensive knowledge in a specific technology that is a requirement for the job I’m recruiting for.  They then proceed to an interview where they can’t answer basic questions pertaining to that same technology.  Ultimately, where does this get them?  They certainly won’t get the job offer, and they have also wasted their time, my time, and my client’s time.  Furthermore, I am no longer going to represent them for other jobs because I have now lost my trust and respect for them as a candidate.

There is a fine line between being humble and confident, but you have to be confident enough in your position and abilities to admit when you don’t know the answer.  If you don’t know the answer to a question, what is the worst that will happen?  Will you not get the offer? Will you get fired?  Will people lose respect for you?  In most cases, absolutely not!  Yet people continue to fabricate answers out of the fear that these things could occur.   Ironically enough, these fabrications can have the adverse effect, and could prevent you from getting an offer, or in extreme cases may cause you to get fired.  At the very least, you will most certainly lose the respect of others – mainly 95% of the population that is perceptive or intelligent enough to know you have no idea what you are talking about!

When I first became an IT Recruiter I was extremely intimidated.  I was a psychology major that could barely turn on my computer, and all of a sudden I found myself trying to converse with Software Engineers.  I thought I had to sound technical in order to gain respect from my candidates and clients, so even though I didn’t understand most of what I was recruiting for, I pretended to understand.  When I was asked questions, I would read off the job description or answer yes or no, even if I didn’t know the answer.

As I became more confident in my skills as a Recruiter, I came to a liberating realization:  I didn’t have to be an expert in their field; I have to be an expert in my field.  I started explaining to clients and candidates that I didn’t have a technical background, but that my expertise was in matching candidates with potential employers based on career goals and culture fit.  I often answered “I don’t know, but let me find that out for you”.  I quickly found that by being honest, I was gaining more trust and respect from clients, candidates, and even peers and employers.  Once I was able to admit that I didn’t know the answer, it gave me the opportunity to ask more questions.  And after 11 years of asking questions, I have actually come to learn a lot of what I had been pretending to know years ago.  Funny how that works…. sometimes now I even know what I am talking about.

If you want to talk to an IT Recruiter who is honest about what she does and does not know, please contact Wendy at or connect on Twitter. Like our blog? Like our facebook page.

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