OK to Say: “I Don’t Know”


During a break at the recent Arthur Page Society conference, I talked with an agency head and corporate PR VP about the incredible talent coming out of college PR programs.  We agreed that entry-level hiring decisions are hard to make, so the “little things” become increasingly important. 

Actually, the “little things” are deal makers or breakers in job searches.  Brand name college PR degrees alone no longer guarantee serious job consideration.  Instead, our trio ranked PR-relevant extra-curricular activities first, followed by a strong portfolio featuring samples of writing and creative thinking.  Networking came in a close third.  The surprising fourth “little thing” was the ability to admit that you don’t know everything.

The off-the-cuff discussion didn’t jump to mind as a blog post until I read today’s Corner Office column in The New York Times.  In the column, Rachel Ashwell, founder of Shabby Chic, the home furnishing retailer, drives home our fourth point.  She’s not impressed with applicants who think they know everything.

Here’s Rachel’s response to the question, “What turns you off in interviews?”

“What turns you off in an interview?  One thing is a kind of arrogance, the ‘yeah-yeah’ people who think they know everything.  I’ve seen people who just think they know it all, and then it happens over and over again.  And that’s where I just think, ‘Oh no.’  Because that, to me, is a character quality.  It comes from a place of fear and wanting to please, or maybe thinking that you know everything.

“I think the words “I don’t know”’ — in a positive way — is a little phrase much avoided, and I don’t really know why.  I just turned 50 and there’s still plenty I don’t know and that’s something that I often tell my staff.  If you don’t know something, it’s just so much better to say so.  Guessing can cause all kinds of problems.  But the point is not to be passive either, and to take responsibility and go find out what it is.”

One thought on “OK to Say: “I Don’t Know”

  1. During my interview for my internship last summer, my interviewer was concerned that I didn’t have enough experience with HTML, since one of the intern’s responsibilities was to update the organization’s website. I admitted my lack of experience, but told her, \If I have any issues or questions, I’ll just Google it. There are tons of HTML tutorials and FAQs online.\ She laughed and admitted that’s how she’d learned HTML, too – by \Googling\it. You can’t know everything – but you can use your resources to find someone who does.

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