Every company wants to make sure that they hire employees who are able to manage the responsibilities of their position. Recruiters and hiring managers want to know more about how you act in certain situations. They assess this by asking you, among others, situational interview questions. Situational questions, also sometimes called scenario-based interview questions, are hypothetical interview questions. These questions are commonly used during job interviews.
Situational questions require you to describe how you would respond to a hypothetical situation in the future. Interviewers use these questions to predict and assess your future job performance.
By asking you the right scenario-based questions, the interviewers try to determine how well you fit the company culture and how likely you are to succeed in the position. Basically, these types of interview questions are an efficient way to assess whether or not you’re a good fit for the company and team. The way you respond to situational interview questions reveals a lot about your skills, abilities, work ethic, character, and personality.
By using these questions, interviewers can get a better understanding of how you approach situations and how you about dealing with them.
Situational & Scenario-based Questions Discussed in This Article
Situational interview questions are similar in nature to behavioral interview questions. Behavioral interview questions also require you to discuss work performances that the interviewers use to gauge your future job success. The difference between them is that behavioral questions regard how you handled situations in the past, while scenario-based questions require you to discuss hypothetical questions. These questions often start with ‘how would you handle a situation in which..?‘
In this article, we discuss what scenario-based questions are, but also why interviewers use these questions. We also discuss how to answer these questions and what employers look for in candidates.
Read more about frequently asked job interview questions here and check our job interview preparation checklist as well.
What Are Situational & Scenario-based Interview Questions?
As discussed earlier, situational interview questions are similar to behavioral interview questions. These types of questions require more from you than just a simple ‘yes‘ or ‘no.’ While behavioral interview questions require you to reflect on past work experiences, situational questions require you to explain how you would approach and handle work-related scenarios.
Situational questions require you to provide an in-depth answer about a theoretical situation that you could face in the job that you’re applying for. For interviewers, this is a perfect way to assess whether or not you possess the right skills, abilities, and experience to handle the situation.
Situational questions require more from you than just a simple ‘yes‘ or ‘no’ in your answer. In your answers, you need to go in-depth into how you would go about handling a situation in a professional work environment. For interviewers, this is a perfect way to analyze and gauge your thought process. Furthermore, it allows them to draw a conclusion on how you solve problems, how you handle challenges, and in which work environments you thrive.
In general, situational questions have several things in common. They are standardized in nature, which helps interviewers to use the same evaluation criteria for every candidate. The most important aspect of standardization is that it prevents bias by leveling the playing field for everybody who applied for the job. Also, this type of interview question requires you to demonstrate the skills and traits needed for the job.
Furthermore, situational interview questions are not only suitable to assess technical skills, but they are also perfect for hiring managers to assess soft skills such as communication, leadership, growth potential, and cultural fit.
Situational interview questions usually start with:
- How would you handle a situation in which..
- When you..
- What would you do..
Examples of situational questions are:
- How would you advise your team and respond to a situation in which a competitor launched a new product?
- When you work on several projects with tight deadlines, how do you make sure you stay on track?
- What would you do if you saw a key metric drop month over month?
As you can see, situational interview questions require you to provide the interviewer with more than just a ‘yes’ or ‘no.’ The interviewer wants to hear you explain how you would approach the situation and solve it. Therefore, it’s important to realize that you can use these questions to your advantage because it allows you to talk very positively about yourself and showcase the skills that make you the perfect fit for the job.
However, to be successful in answering situational questions, you need to do some preparation. Just like behavioral interview questions and performance-based questions, your answers need to be strong and related to the job you’re interviewing for.
The importance of preparing for situational interview questions
Your interview preparation should ensure that you are able to explain how you would deal with situations that you are likely to encounter on the job. This means that you should be able to provide a step by step explanation on the spot when you’re being asked about how you would solve a certain situation.
Situational questions give the interviewer the ability to zoom in on your thought process and critical thinking abilities. The interviewer can focus on the details of the approach that you provide in your answers. This is the reason that you need to ensure that you provide the interviewer with which actions you would take and what result you would try to get in that specific situation.
Often, candidates are not really prepared to give a strong answer on the spot about how they would go about handling a situation. This is also why a strong preparation prior to your interview is important. The reason for this is that when the interviewer asks you about what actions you would take to solve a situation, it’s actually a great opportunity to demonstrate your suitability for the job. Situational questions allow you to explain how you can use your skills and abilities to add value to your potential future employer.
Why Interviewers Use Situational & Scenario-based Interview Questions
As explained, situational interview questions require candidates to explain how they would react and address work-related scenarios. Contrary to behavioral interview questions that regard past work experiences, situational questions are hypothetical situations.
Interviewers ask situational and scenario-based questions in every industry and company you can think of. The main goal for interviewers is to assess your suitability for the job. Situational job interview questions help them do just that. The benefit of situational questions is that it’s an effective way to assess how well you will do with the organization and position.
Below we discuss a couple of skills that interviewers can assess through the usage of situational interview questions.
1. Communication Skills
Clear communication is essential in any position. The interviewer wants to get an understanding of your interpersonal skills and how well you are able to work together with others. Usually, through situational questions, the interviewers want to get an insight into how you handle conflicts in the workplace. Another example is how you manage difficult relationships with managers, colleagues, and clients.
Examples of situational questions about communication skills:
- How would you explain a complex idea to a client who was already frustrated?
- How would you approach a situation in which you had to persuade someone to see things your way at work?
- What would you do if you found out that you misunderstood an important communication on the job?
- How would you approach a situation in which you would have to relay bad news to a client or coworker?
Example question and answer: ‘How do you communicate when you need to handle a solve a conflict?’
‘From my experience, solving and managing conflicts is about showing empathy and understanding of the perspectives of other people. This is the first step I take in resolving almost any conflict situation at work.
Actively listening to what others have to say and reading their body language is essential as well. Whenever I encounter a conflict, I try to get an understanding of the situation from other people’s points of view as well. This makes it easier for me to come up with efficient and effective solutions, and consult with them as to what of these solutions meet their needs in that particular situation.’
What interviewers look for in your answer:
Interviewers look for you to demonstrate that you possess listening skills, empathy, and friendliness. Furthermore, they want to see what your nonverbal communication is, how confident you are in your communication, and how you establish a relationship that’s based on mutual respect.
Note: Even though situational questions are hypothetical by definition, you can always refer to example situations from your work experience in which you have used your communication skills to your advantage. Including results you got based on your communication skills gives your answer more weight.
2. Critical Thinking Skills
Critical thinking skills regard the fact if you can understand the links between ideas and if you are able to determine the importance and relevance of arguments. Furthermore, if you can identify inconsistencies and errors in reasoning. In other words, critical thinkings regard your ability to analyze information objectively and make a reasoned judgment.
The main goal of assessing critical thinking skills for interviewers is to get an idea of how a candidate can evaluate a situation using logical thinking to offer the best solution.
Examples of situational questions about critical thinking skills:
- What would you do if you had an upcoming deadline, but you do not yet have all the information you need to deliver the project on time?
- What would you do if a customer or superior tries to push a project through that could go at the expense of other projects with already confirmed deadlines?
- How do you respond if an order has not been delivered to a customer on time, and they’re furious about it? They want to cancel their order and threaten to close their account with your company. How would you repair the damage to keep the customer?
Example question and answer: ‘What would you when a client contacts you about a complaint?’
‘I’m a strong believer in the motto that the customer is always right. For me, this slogan means that client satisfaction is always the highest priority. Through my experience working with different types of clients, I’ve learned not to take their comments or complaints personally.
There are a couple of steps that I take to diffuse the situation and work towards a solution. I start by listening thoroughly to understand the customer’s pain point. Listening to a client’s whole story and staying judgment-free is essential to efficiently find an agreeable solution. During the whole conversation, I stay present and calm. To make sure I understand everything clearly, I paraphrase and repeat back what I’ve heard the customer say. This way, I make sure I get an accurate understanding of their complaint.
Once their complaint is fully clear, I start working towards a plan of action. Depending on the specific complaint, I always try to take immediate action to give the customer a sense of satisfaction. I always make sure that I handle their complaint in a polite, efficient, and diplomatic way.
If there’s a protocol or company policy in place, I act accordingly and try to offer a client two or three possible solutions to evoke their feeling of control over the outcome. If there is no policy or the policy solutions don’t apply, I make sure I discuss the case with a superior and ensure the client that they will hear from me that same day. This usually helps diffuse the situation and lets them know I’m working on finding a solution as soon as possible.’
What interviewers look for in your answer:
It’s important that you show that you have a process when you’re required to use your critical thinking ability. The interviewer is interested in how you react when something goes wrong or when a client has a complaint. Also, they want to see if you take responsibility for situations without asking somebody else to solve them for you.
Furthermore, they are interested in whether or not you understand who your clients are, what their needs are, and how the products or services of your organization meet that specific need. They want to know more about your approach to solving an issue with a client. Creativity, and thinking outside the box to suggest a solution is valued by employers. Your goal is to demonstrate that you have a plan and that you can handle customer complaints effectively.
Note: Even though situational questions are hypothetical in nature, you can always refer to example situations from your work experience in which you have used your critical thinking skills to come to solve an issue. Including results you got based on your critical-thinking skills gives your answer more weight. Sharing a personal experience will help you convince the interviewer, especially when it comes to customer service complaints.
3. Decision-making Skills
Strong decision-making skills are valued in any company as decisions need to be made on a daily basis. However, different employers look for different kinds of decision-making skills.
The company culture and type of leadership and management together determine the process of making decisions in any company. For example, in some companies, a consensus-based approach is preferred, while others may require management to make the major decisions within the organization.
Most companies use a mix of both, and how an employee participates in the decision-making process depends on the position in which they’re in and the overall strategic structure of the company.
Examples of situational questions about decision-making skills:
- Could you tell me how you would deal with a demanding client who keeps changing the requirements of a project that you’re working on?
- How would you handle a situation in which you had a conflict with a coworker?
- How do you make important decisions? What elements do you take into account?
Example question and answer: ‘What is usually your strategy regarding making important decisions?’
‘For me personally, it all starts with gathering the right information and analyzing the amount of time I have to make a decision. These two elements are the most important factors I consider to substantiate my decision.
Sometimes it’s decisions need to be made under time pressure even if all the required information can’t be gathered. In these cases, I weigh information versus time. Next, I analyze the possible outcomes and which result I will most likely get from a decision. Furthermore, I always take into account what’s the best choice for my team, colleagues, and organization in general with the facts available at that time.’
What interviewers look for in your answer:
It’s important that you show that you have a systematic approach to making important decisions. Your goal is to demonstrate that you have a process you follow in order to come to a sound decision.
Interviewers look for you to demonstrate that you take responsibility and if you’re consistent – which means that you check your facts before you act. Furthermore, interviewers want to assess whether or not you can keep your emotions out of your decision-making process in order to make a sound decision.
Note: Even though situational questions are hypothetical in nature, you can always refer to example situations from your work experience in which you have used your decision-making process to come to a sound decision. Including results you got based on your decision-making skills gives your answer more weight.
4. Problem-solving Skills
When interviewers bring up problem-solving skills, they often refer to your ability to handle challenging or unexpected situations in the workplace. This goes for complex business challenges in general as well. Employers want to hire a candidate who can assess both situations in a calm manner and identify possible solutions.
The ability to solve problems is an important factor in making the right decisions. Problem-solving skills can be described as the ability to identify, test, and measure challenging and unusual situations. For employers, people with problem-solving skills are essential since they are beneficial to their company. Problems are inevitable in every industry and business sector, and employees are bound to encounter them during their day-to-day responsibilities.
Essential problem-solving competencies are, for example, taking initiative when you encounter a problem, creativity, resourcefulness, analytical thinking skills, determination, and being results-orientated.
Examples of situational questions about problem-solving skills:
- How would you deal with a situation in which you face a problem you cannot solve. What would you do?
- If you face an urgent problem, how do you react?
- How do you come up with a new approach to solve a problem?
- How do you cope when you face a challenging situation you’ve never previously experienced?
Example answer to situational questions about problem-solving skills: ‘If you face a complex problem at work, what steps do you take to identify and resolve it?’
‘Usually, when I face a complex problem, I start by doing research and analysis. Being able to identify the cause of the issue and understanding it fully is essential, especially when time is a factor. Depending on the complexity of the issue, I might ask team members for a brainstorming session and consulting more experienced coworkers.
Based on the outcome, I start analyzing the situation. My analytical skills and experience help me develop effective and efficient solutions. Furthermore, through analyzing a problem thoroughly, I make a distinction between effective and ineffective solutions.
Next, a decision needs to be made to solve the problem. As stated, depending on the complexity, these decisions can be made fast. However, sometimes problems take some time to craft a solution or require someone with more knowledge or experience to have a look at it too. I’m a firm believer in teamwork when it comes to making efficient and effective solutions.’
What interviewers look for in your answer:
Interviewers want to hear from you how you go about solving problems. Therefore, make sure that you can explain your thought process when you encounter a problem. Furthermore, be specific about the actions you take. As you can see in the example answer, this is not that difficult, but you need to prepare an answer in advance.
Also, especially when discussing your problem-solving skills, it’s a smart idea to bring up an example that truly demonstrates you using the skills that are relevant for the job. Tell the interviewer about a time you overcame an obstacle during an important project. Use a strong example that will make you look at your best. Learn more about using examples to demonstrate your skills here.
Note: Even though situational questions are hypothetical by definition, you can always refer to example situations from your work experience in which you have used your problem-solving process to come to resolve an issue. Including results you got based on your decision-making skills gives your answer more weight.
5. Organizational and Prioritization Skills
Employers look for candidates who possess strong organizational and prioritization skills. Organizational and prioritization skills are essential to any company. These skills help organizations function and remain productive.
Organizational and prioritization skills refer to your ability to stay focused on different tasks and use your time effectively and efficiently to prioritize your work to accomplish the desired outcome. Strong organizational and prioritization skills are important for employers for several reasons. The most important one is that these skills turn you into an effective and efficient employee.
Examples of organizational and prioritization skills are
- Collaborating and teamwork
- Creative thinking
- Time management
- Leading and managing teams
- Meeting deadlines
- Conflict management
- Critical thinking
Examples of situational questions about organizational and prioritization skills:
- Describe how you prioritize the tasks for a full project?
- How do you organize and plan a project? What steps do you usually take?
- How would you accommodate last-minute changes that have to incorporate in a project that you’re working on?
- Describe how you prioritize tasks you need to fulfill each day.
- What would you do if you’re working on a project that is not progressing because of inefficient planning?
Example answer to situational questions about organizational and prioritization skills: ‘How do you organize and plan your work? What steps do you usually take?’
‘For me, organizing and prioritizing became a habit that turned into a daily workday routine. It all starts with taking basic steps to make sure I stay on track on the projects that I’m working on to ensure that I meet set deadlines.
First, when I create an organizational plan, I identify the goals that I need to meet. I list the tasks needed to reach my goals and note how long each will take to accomplish while separating short and long-term targets. Once I determined my goals, I create a to-do list. I use this list to establish how each of the described tasks can be completed. Larger tasks are split into smaller tasks so that I can take on daily.
Next, I prioritize each task on my to-do list. I analyze the most important tasks with upcoming deadlines and put them on top of the list. Once I did this, I put the tasks into a time schedule, so I know exactly when to complete each one. This helps me get a clear overview of what needs to be done, which I can communicate with my colleagues and team members so that they are up to date as well.
At the end of the day, I make sure I clean my desk and work area so that I can start fresh again in the morning. I organize the documents and items on my desk on importance so that I can immediately start where I left off the day before.’
What interviewers look for in your answer:
Interviewers are interested in how you go about organizing and prioritizing. They want to know if you’re an organized person and if you have effective systems in place that help you get your work done.
It’s a smart idea to bring up an example that truly demonstrates you using the skills required for the position. Tell the interviewer about a time you successfully organized an important project. Use a strong example that will make you look at your best. Learn more about using examples to demonstrate your skills here.
Note: Even though situational questions are hypothetical in nature, you can always refer to example situations from your work experience in which you have used your organizational and prioritization skills to successfully plan your tasks. Including results you got based on your skills gives your answer more weight.
6. Leadership & Management Skills
People with the right leadership and management skills are needed in every organization. Employers are interested in your work experience, but also in your leadership style and how you approach situations in which you need to take leadership action. For more junior positions, interviewers try to assess your leadership potential by analyzing how you would handle certain situations.
Examples of situational questions about leadership & management skills:
- How would you go about getting cohesion among a team that disagrees?
- What would you do if you are unsure about how to achieve the goals of the team?
- Describe how you would go about delivering bad news to your team.
- Say you encounter conflict within your team. How would you go about solving it?
Example answer to situational questions about leadership & management skills: ‘How would you go about delegating tasks to subordinates?’
‘I’ve successfully led teams and projects that had strict deadlines. For instance, in my previous job as a sales manager, I managed a team that worked on interdepartmental projects with different timelines.
The key to effective leadership for me is maintaining open and clear communication lines, delegating tasks, and keeping track of each project independently. By coaching and mentoring my team members, I try to help them develop themselves as professionals. This way, they can gradually take on more responsibilities, which is important when you’re working on multiple projects with different deadlines.
I prioritize my time in advance to make sure that I’m able to keep up with each project. Communication plays a major role in this. I believe in clear communication within teams, and everybody should update each other during weekly standup meetings. These meetings allow me to adjust accordingly when needed. This way, I ensure that my team stays on track.’
What interviewers look for in your answer:
Interviewers want to hear from you how you lead and manage. Your answer should uncover specific details of your leadership behavior and potential. Therefore, ensure that you can explain your approach to leading and managing projects and teams.
When discussing your leadership and management skills, it is a good idea to substantiate your answer with an example that truly demonstrates you using the skills that are relevant for the job. Explain to the interviewer about a time you, for example, successfully led and managed a project.
Note: Even though situational questions are hypothetical by definition, you can always refer to example situations from your work experience in which you successfully used your leadership and management skills. Including results you got based on your skills gives your answer more weight.
Advantages of Situational & Scenario-based Interview questions
Situational interview questions can be considered tricky. These types of hypothetical questions force you to think about how you would handle a situation or challenge that is associated with the position you’re interviewer for.
If you’re an experienced interviewee, you might have come across situational or scenario-based questions before and have go-to answers ready for common job interview questions. However, these types of questions can still catch you off guard and require you to critically think about situations that you might encounter if you’re hired. Therefore, make sure you prepare so that you can use any situational questions asked to your advantage by providing a strong answer. Your research on the position and company should give you an idea of what kind of interview questions you can expect.
Asking situational and scenario-based questions give the interviewer an idea of how most likely you will handle the specifics of the position. Furthermore, they get an insight into your personality and your values.
Red Flags When Answering Situational & Scenario-based Interview questions
Below we discuss red flags for interviewers when assessing your answers to situational and scenario-based interview questions.
There are always people who think that they do not need to prepare or cannot prepare for situational or scenario-based interview questions. Both are misunderstandings and don’t think that there is no point in trying to prepare for hypothetical situations. If you decide to do so, you will probably be caught off guard and resort to an answer that no quite answers the question in a way the interviewer is looking for.
Therefore, make sure you prepare answers to situational questions you can expect based on your research. By thoroughly researching the company and position, you get an idea of the company culture and specific job requirements. Based on what you find, you can make an educated guess on the topics that will be discussed and questions you can expect.
Not relating your answers to the position
If you fail to tailor your responses to the position and organization where you’re applying for a job, this is considered a red flag. The interviewer is, of course, trying to assess whether or not you fit the job and company. Therefore, perform your research prior to your interview to find out what skills and abilities you think are valued by the company. This way, you can tailor your answers accordingly.
Research the job description to uncover all specific skills required for the position. Also, analyze the website of the company and read into its mission statement, products, services, and clients. Furthermore, check all social channels of the company and LinkedIn page to get the latest news and updates.
Tips to Answer Situational & Scenario-based Interview Questions
Below we discuss a couple of tips you can use when you’re preparing for your interview.
- Do your research. Make sure you understand the job requirements. It’s important that you understand the key skills needed to perform the job.
- When the interviewer asks you a situational or scenario-based question, make sure you answer in a way that impresses them. This means directly answering the question. When the interviewer asks you how you would handle a situation, explain to them how you would. Give a step by step description of how you would tackle an issue or how you would address a situation.
- If you want to use an example situation in which you have successfully used your effective systems, you can do so after describing your approach. Give the interviewer an answer in the form of a ‘success story.’ Walk them through a situation and how you used the skills you described. Furthermore, talk about your actions and the success you had by following them.
- Structure your story logically. Use the STAR interview technique to do this. STAR is an acronym that stands for a situation (S), your task (T) in that situation, the actions (A) you took, and what results (R) you got from your actions.
- Make sure that you highlight your achievements in your answers. Focus on demonstrating that you’re the right person for the job.
- Demonstrate the skills, abilities, and experience needed for the job you’re interviewing for and that the interviewer wants to see from you. In other words, match your qualifications to the job and skills, as mentioned in the job description.
- Give serious answers that demonstrate your dedication and focus on your goals.
STAR Interview Technique to Successfully Clarify Work Situations
It’s important that you prepare answer examples from your work experience as well to help you substantiate your answers. Examples of times, you successfully used the required skills for the job help you give your answers more weight.
By using the STAR method, you can give the interviewer an answer that includes exactly what he or she is looking for. Also, it allows you to convey a concise answer that includes the skills that make you the right candidate to hire. Below, you find a breakdown of theSTAR acronym in steps.
Start your story by explaining the situation that you faced. The start of your answer ‘story’ should answer questions such as:
- What was the situation?
- Who was involved?
- Why did the situation happen at that time?
It’s important to provide context around the situation or challenge. Furthermore, make sure to provide relevant details.
Next, explain your specific role in the task ahead. Include important details, such as specific responsibilities. Focus on giving the interviewer an understanding of your task. This part of your answer should answer questions such as:
- Why were you involved in that specific situation?
- What’s the background story?
After you describe your task, it’s time to specifically discuss the actions you took to resolve the situation. Give the interviewer a step by step description of the actions you took. This part of your answer should answer questions such as:
- What steps did you take to resolve the situation you were in?
- Why did you choose to complete your tasks this way?
Finish your answer by discussing the results you got from your actions. Detail the outcomes of your actions and ensure to highlight your strengths. Also, make sure to take credit for your behavior that led to the result. Focus on positive results and positive learning experiences. This part of your answer ‘story’ should answer questions such as:
- What exactly happened?
- What did you accomplish?
- How did you feel about the results you got?
- What did you learn from the situation?
- How did this particular situation influence who you are as a professional today?