Mission Admission is a series of MBA admission tips; a new one is posted each Tuesday.

When it comes to interviews, many worry that there may be a single challenging question that leaves them awkwardly silent and that such a moment will be the symbolic end to their respective candidacies. Well, we are not suggesting that you underestimate the impact of such an experience, and you should definitely do your best to prepare, but, sometimes even a well-prepared candidate can be stumped. So, we offer a few tips on how to handle this kind of situation:

  • Don't launch into a story: Your instinct may be to just start speaking, hoping that you will find the right story as you progress. This is a very high-risk strategy because, if it goes wrong, it can compound the problem. Instead, you might consider a pensive pause and take a moment to search for the story internally. You might even say, That is a good question. I am going to have to think about it for a moment, before answering.
  • Take a glass of water: Many interviewers will offer you a glass of water at the beginning. Take the water and use it throughout the interview as a buffer to buy time or allow yourself to slow down. If you get stumped, the water can offer a brief opportunity to pause naturally, alleviating any awkwardness before you begin.
  • Maintain your poise: If you absolutely cannot answer a question, you should not get overly apologetic or grovel. Simply acknowledge the fact that you are having trouble with the question and politely ask if you might come back to it at the end. This is not a best-case scenario, but it is certainly far better than rambling and apologizing.
  • Forget about it: If you cannot answer a question, accept it and move on. If you spend the rest of the interview thinking about that moment, you will be distracted and struggle with the questions that continue to come to you. If you confidently move on and make the best of the rest of the interview, you should be able to overcome a single awkward moment.