Art of the Graceful Exit

Learning Goals

  • Develop a strategy to responding to interview questions when you don’t know the answer.
  • Identify the personal qualities you want to convey when answering interview questions.

Warm Up

Think about or imagine an interview where you were asked a question you did not know the answer to. How did you feel? How did you answer? What impressions do you think the interviewer had of you based on how you answered?

Purpose of an Interview

What is the job of the interviewer?

Of course they are asking you some knowledge-based questions to see what you know and what you don’t know, but more importantly, they are trying to figure out what it would be like working with you.

What type of person are you? What are you like working with teams? How much direction, supervision, and assistance will you need?

When answering interview questions, you are providing the interviewer with lots of insight and information about the personal qualities you will bring to their team.

Take a minute and jot down the personal qualities you would like the interviewer to walk away knowing about you.


  • curious
  • enthusiastic
  • humble
  • hard-working
  • growth mindset
  • good problem-solver

Keep these qualities in mind as you start to formulate your answers to questions you don’t know the answer to. Even if we can’t give them the correct technical answer, we can still leave them with more knowledge about who we are as a developer, a teammate, and a human.

Some Example Responses

Here are some ideas to help you respond to an interview question when you aren’t exactly sure of the answer.

Clarifying Questions

Interview question: “Can you give me some examples of how you might optimize an application?” Response: “By optimizing an application, do you mean making it faster? Could memoization or caching be an example of this?”

What qualities is the interviewee displaying when they ask questions like this?


Response: “I’m not familiar with that concept, but it reminds me of ____ . Could I talk a bit about that instead?”

What qualities is this interviewee displaying?

Instructors Demonstrate Graceful (and Graceless) Interview Answers

As the instructors demonstrate an interview response that is clearly not ideal, reflect on these questions:

  1. What does this answer tell you about the interviewee? What qualities does it convey?
  2. What might it be like working with this person?
  3. What could the interviewee do to improve their answer?
  4. What skills could you demonstrate through your answer?

Now as the instructors demonstrate a more acceptable response, consider the same questions above.

Breakout Rooms

Take turns being the interviewer and the interviewee.

As the interviewee, even if you do know the answer, pretend you do not so you can practice a graceful exit.

After the interviewee answers, the rest of the group can give kind and actionable feedback, again referring to the questions above about what additional information the answer tells you about the candidate.

Questions to ask a FE student

  1. Can you tell me about the benefits of MVC Architecture?
  2. How would you explain MVC architecture in terms of a React application?
  3. What are the benefits of a relational database and what are some alternatives?
  4. What is an interface?

Questions to ask a BE student

  1. What are some ways you can show that your web application is accessible?
  2. How does JavaScript handle multiple requests given that it’s a single-threaded language?
  3. What are the advantages of REST over other http protocols?
  4. What is an interface?


In a notebook, write down your reflections to these questions:

  1. What are your biggest takeaways from this lesson?
  2. What qualities about yourself are you wanting to convey in an interview and how can you accomplish this?
  3. How will you gracefully exit an interview question where you do not know the answer?

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