Interviewing

How To Answer Situational Interview Questions

June 10, 2021

An interview is a major part of the hiring process. During an interview, it is common that the hiring manager asks some situational interview questions. Situational interview questions help the hiring managers gauge how you might react in a hypothetical situation. The hiring managers are looking to see how well you can handle a problem that may occur on the job. Thus, it is important that you can be specific and demonstrate your problem-solving ability in your answer. In this article, we discuss how you can tackle situational interview questions by looking at some sample questions and answers.

What are situational interview questions?

Situational interview questions are interview questions that are used to judge how well a candidate can handle real-life scenarios that may happen on the job. The scenarios may be work-related, such as how you can handle a difficult client. The hiring managers may also ask questions relating to work culture and colleagues too, such as how you would react under stress from work.

A situational interview is often referred to as a behavioural interview. The main difference between the two is that a situational interview usually refers to the future, and the questions usually start with "what would you do if...". Meanwhile, a behavioural interview usually asks about the past. However, the two terms are now usually used interchangeably.

How to prepare for a situational interview question?

While preparing yourself for a situational interview, there is no better way than practising answering related questions. Try talking to yourself in the mirror or record yourself practising, so you can learn to use an appropriate tone and facial expression. While answering, you can also use the STAR method to create a concise yet thorough and thoughtful answer.

The STAR method stands for Situation, Task, Action, and Result. When using this method, you need to first explain the overall situation, identify the challenges that you have faced, describe the actions that you have taken to solve the problems, and state the outcome of the situation along with your learning points. Here's an easy breakdown:

Situation

You must first explain the whole situation briefly. Give the background information as to why and how the obstacle could have occurred.

Example: "I**n my previous job, I had a disagreement with a colleague while working on a project together. During the project, the warehouse was late to deliver products to the main office. Due to this, our timeline was pushed back, and the presentation was about to be postponed."

Task

Here, you need to identify the issue that you faced or your role in the situation.

Example: "K**nowing the worst-case scenario, I insisted that we had to report this to our supervisor as soon as possible before the matter got worse. Rather, my colleague chose to hold back and only tell our supervisor nearer to the deadline when there was little hope left to complete it on time."

Action

Next, describe the actions that you have taken to tackle the task or to perform your role successfully.

Example: "A**fter going back and forth, we tried to realign our schedule and timeline and that is when my colleague realised that there is no way that we can finish the project within the deadline."

Result

Lastly, share the result of the issue: how the situation turned out and what have you learned from the experience. Be specific here, ensuring the hiring manager knows that you were able to handle the task well, or at least have had a great learning experience.

Example: "**Upon the realisation, we immediately reported this to our supervisor and other colleagues who were working with us on the project. Lucky for us, the deadline was still two weeks away, so we still had time to make other arrangements. With the help of other departments, although we could not fulfil our initial plan, we could still go ahead with a part of the initial plan. This incident was a learning experience for me. I realised that it is better that we handle tasks as early as possible so that we can have more time to reroute our plans, rather than waiting till the last minute."

Related: How to Succeed in A Virtual Interview

Situational interview questions and how to answer them

Here are some potential situational interview questions you may be asked and how you can respond to them:

1. What would you do if you made a mistake that no one noticed?

This question is addressed to assess a candidate's integrity and honesty. While asking this question, the hiring manager wants to know if your values and ethics align with the company's. While answering, keep in mind that there is a hidden agenda behind the question: would you address and admit to your mistake despite the risks or ignore it for the time being to avoid confrontation?

Example: “I always think that it is better to be honest in all situations as long as you learn from your mistakes. When I was interning as a lab assistant in a food laboratory, I made a mistake while preparing food samples. I was quite new and there were many formulas to formulate a drink, which had me confused, and I ended up using the incorrect formula for sugar percentage. I realised it quite late when almost all the samples have been prepared. However, I told my supervisor as soon as I discovered this, and she assured me that everything was fine as long as the formula that I used was the same across every sample. From this experience, I became more meticulous and careful while doing my job, and have never made any similar mistakes until the end of my internship."

2. What would you do if you were asked to perform a task you've never done before?

Hiring managers ask this question to know how you can tackle an obstacle by using your problem-solving skills. When you are new to a position, you may be given tasks that you have never encountered before, and the hiring manager wants to know how you learn to do something new, how well you can develop a new skill, and how independent you are.

Example: “In my last role as an illustrator, my supervisor tasked me to lead a project for all the creatives that our client needed for a marketing campaign. This was quite a big campaign and I had never led a team on my own. I explained to my supervisor that I did not have the experience to lead such a big project, but I am willing to do my best if I can get guidance from the more experienced employees. I met with several managers who have worked on similar projects before and learned how to manage such a project. Eventually, my team was able to complete all tasks satisfactorily. Ever since then, I have been assigned larger projects and have learned a lot from all the experiences."

3. What would you do if an angry and dissatisfied customer confronted you?

This question may be asked by hiring managers to know if you have good communication skills and are able to resolve conflicts. In addressing such questions, you need to share how you can be empathetic and address unexpected challenges calmly.

Example: “When I worked as a social media manager, I received a message from a customer who was angry that her order hasn't arrived. I listened to the customer's concerns and tried to understand her irritation. I had to be polite when talking to customers and used phrases like, ‘I completely understand your frustration.' Then, I quickly checked the status of her order and realised that there was a delay at the courier service company, which was beyond our company's control. I coordinated with the courier company and communicated that with the customer. I offered to deliver her order using another courier service if she needed the items very urgently. Not only was she appreciative of my help, but she also publicly thanked us on her social media.”

Related: Common Interview Questions and Answers

Tips to prepare for situational interview questions

Here are some ways on how to prepare for hypothetical interview questions:

  • Prepare in advance. Read through sample questions on the internet and try to prepare answers for the questions, especially those that are related to your industry. Read through the job requirements, so you might get some clues as to what the hiring manager would ask.
  • Practise. You can talk to yourself in front of the mirror to try managing your tone and facial expression. If you're able to get hold of a friend or family member to listen to your answers, they may be able to give you feedback and their opinions.
  • Use the STAR method. Answer the situational questions using the STAR method, and think about how your answer can benefit the company.
  • Focus your preparation. Prepare for technical situational interview questions depending on the position you are applying for and the industry you are in.

Also read: Job Interview Tips

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