Over the years, I have had numerous candidates ask me a question that places way too much stress on them prior to their promotional interview: "What happens if I don't know the answer?"
Tell the truth! The raters do not expect you to have an answer for every question; they are attempting to determine your breadth of knowledge. If you try to fake the answer, the raters will know and will mark you down accordingly on your final score.
One time when I was taking an oral board exam, the rating panel asked me for the definition of "MBO." I gave them a blank stare and, in my mind, I immediately thought that I had "blown" this competition because I had no idea what those initials meant. I looked at each rater and told them, "Gentlemen, I don't have a clue what MBO stands for; but I can assure you that when I leave this room today, I will look it up for my own edification." What I eventually found out was that MBO stands for "Management by Objectives," which was a new buzzword used by Tom Peters in his Search for Excellence book. Thankfully, I was chosen for the position, and when I spoke with the raters after the process was completed to determine how I could improve myself for the next promotional opportunity, they basically told me certain areas of my presentation that could be tweaked--but what really hit home was their assessment of my MBO answer. Each rater told me they were impressed with my honesty in explaining my lack of knowledge in this area. They mentioned that many of the candidates tried to "bluff" their way around the answer, which really hurt them in the final ratings. So, basically what I'm saying is that if you don't know the answer to the question, tell the raters the truth and explain that you will find the answer as soon as the process is over. Hopefully, there will only be one question where you will have to explain yourself in this manner; but whatever happens, do not let this incident throw you off-balance. Maintain your focus on the next question that the panel will be asking. Remember, you can't un-ring a bell--what happened has happened, so let it go and move on to the next question. It's not the end of the world, and you still have time to impress the raters with your other answers. Remain positive--look what happened to me!
How Do I Answer the Questions?
The best way you know how. Give the answer you believe is correct. If the answer needs an explanation, give it but keep it concise; remember, you are on a time schedule, and the raters may cut you off. So, don't ramble! Practice being concise; give a lot of information in a short period of time. This way you won't become flustered during your presentation. Remember to talk to the raters in your own style; don't sound like you're writing a police report. Police reports are very matter-of-fact, and they only report the facts relating to the incident. If you are given a hypothetical situation, think about your answer and tell the raters exactly what you would do to successfully handle the incident or whatever it may be. The raters may try to push you on your answer to see if you really believe in what you're answering. If you feel confident that you are correct, don't be swayed to change your opinion. When you answer these questions, put some feeling in your answers: show the board that you are emotional, have genuine feelings, and have a passion for this position.
When you answer questions, don't use words with which you are not familiar. Many candidates I've interviewed seemed to get their words from the Readers' Digest "Word Power" column and didn't have a clue how to use them properly or know what they even meant. They were trying to impress the panel of raters but in the long run, they really hurt their chances of scoring well. You don't have to be an English major, but on the other hand, you don't want to sound like a dolt, either (just thought I would throw that in to see if you were paying attention).