These days, it’s becoming a real challenge to hold on to your job. What with eager young job applicants nipping at your heels with lower salary and benefit expectations, you’ve got to "pull out all the stops" to keep your post. Employers, too, are now looking for ways to catch you off guard with unannounced visits to your cubicle or office—for “status checks.”
In fact, many bosses like to surprise their employees at their desk or in their cubicle with the dreaded surprise inquiry. Face it, there have been times in your career as an administrator or administrative assistant when you may not have known the answer.
Being caught off guard makes the surprise question that much more unnerving. Because you’re normally on the ball, and generally know what’s going on around you. You have you finger on the pulse of your company’s business. Not to worry. For if you don’t know the answer to one of these surprise “gotcha” questions, there are ways to adroitly save your reputation as the “go-to” person. Then next time you’re put in the hot seat, there are some proven techniques that you can use to answer your boss without looking like the company dunce. Some suggestions:
“Here's what I know.” Instead of getting flustered and saying you don’t know the answer to your boss’s question, segue with what you do know about the situation.
“Here's what I don't know.” Provide some background information and segue into what you don’t know. Stress that you don’t have the exact information on hand and that you will immediately take steps to provide your boss with the answer. Put the ball back into your boss’s court by asking him or her if they would like the answer by email or a personal presentation in their office.
“I admit, I should know.” This is a tough one. If you really should know the answer, but don’t have it immediately available, tell your boss that you should know and that you’ll follow up immediately.
Anticipate the Question. This means “keeping your ear to the ground” and preparing for the question before it’s asked. While you can’t anticipate the exact inquiry, you can prepare for the topic generally—if you know what’s bugging the department or your boss. This takes some homework and some reading between the lines when it comes to emails and other inter-office communications. If the boss then asks the question, you can at least have a general answer and promise to quickly address the specifics in short order.
The point is to be prepared and not lose your cool, for the gotcha question is often intended not so much to elicit a specific answer, but to see how you handle pressure.