Situational Interview Questions and Answers

Situational interviews are designed to provide hiring managers and prospective employers insight into a candidate's ability to perform well in a variety of environments and situations.

Anyone can list their skills and abilities on a resume, but demonstrating how well you can actually get the job done, solve complex problems, and resolve conflicts is what situational interviews are all about.

The most challenging aspect of situational interviews is that there are a never ending number of situations and scenarios an interviewer can come up with. Knowing what questions you're likely to be asked, and how to answer them, is the key to success.

What Employers Want to Know
What you need to remember is that there are only two basic things employers want to discover about you. First are you a good fit for their culture. And second, how well do you respond to problems and manage change.

They also want to know how well you're able to get along with others and work on teams. Are you good at resolving conflicts and dealing with difficult people? Are you a leader or a follower? Do you have the ability to influence your co-workers in a positive way to engender cooperation and increase productivity? Are you flexible and able to adapt to new or unexpected situation?

Situation questions are often asked to evaluate how well you with handle stress. Can you turn crticism into something positive, or does it just make you depressed and less productive? Can you maintain your cool while dealing with demanding co-corkers or clients?

Hiring managers are eager to verify that you can perform job responsibilities as well as your resume perports. Situational interviews are useful for testing a job candidates technical abilities, job knowledge, organizational and management skills, and salesmanship. They also help hiring managers test your problem solving abilities.



Answering Situational Questions
A effective answer to situational interview questions must explain the following:

  • Specific steps taken to resolve problems (Why was this the selected course of action?)
  • Project objectives
  • What was eventually accomplished?
  • What was learned from experience?

It's not always necessary to provide specific examples, but it's recommended. If you cannot provide past examples, develop a theoretical example and describe specifically what you would do to solve the problem.

Potential employers are curious to see if job candidates can think analytically and assess and address complex problems, even ones they haven't dealt with previously.

Top 10 Situational Interview Questions
1. Describe the work environment where you perform your best work. This is a common question asked by hiring managers who work as part of a company's human resource department. This can be a great question, if you give the right answer -- but it could also be a deal breaker. It's important that you know the environment of the company, or department you're applying too, before you answer this question. Make sure to perform your due diligence about the company, it's culture and the working environment it provides, before you arrive for the interview.

2. Please provide an example of an improvement you made at your previous job that made a real difference. Give a good answer to this question and you'll stand out from the competition. Give a bad answer and you'll like end up at the bottom of the list of job candidates. You want your answer to leave a lasting impression, so structure it in a storyboard fashion. Describe the probem you faced, the steps you took to resolve it, and the results of your efforts.

3. What is the biggest challenge you've faced, and how did you solve it? When answering this question, you want to share a work related challenge. This is a great question because it gives you the opportunity to demonstrate your skills and show the interviewer what you bring to the table. Suggestions for challenges you've faced include your previous employer losing or wasting money, inefficiently using time, or being impacted by a factor outside your control. If you are early in your career, and haven't faced any work-related challenges worth mentioning, you can use a personal challenge.

4. Describe a time when you had to defend an unpopular decision you made. As you might guess, this question is designed to test your ability to stand firm and defend a decision when it's unpopular with other employees, or even superiors. This question allows the interviewers to see that you can demonstrate leadership and good judgement when the situation warrants it -- notwithstanding opposing pressure.

5. Describe a recent situation where you dealt with an upset coworker or customer. Dealing with discontentment in the work place and upset customers is a regular occurance. Hiring managers and employers want to know that you're able to resolve concerns of customers and work well with others -- if they aren't that easy to work with.

6. Tell me about your most difficult boss and how you were able to deal with them. This one of those situational questions that's a bit more difficult to answer. There are several reasons an interviewer may be asking this questions, one of which may be that you're going to have a difficult boss to work for. However you respond, you want to stay positive. You want to show you can work with demanding people, you can stand up for yourself, that you're a problem solver and that you can get results -- even in a difficult situation.

7. What would you do if you were working on an important project and all of the sudden the priorities were changed? When faced with this question, interviewees often assume the interviewer is trying to gauge how flexible they can be. In some instances, this may be true. However, the interviewer may just easily be trying to determine if you're the type of person who will put their foot down about it. Like all situational interview questions, the interviewer is trying to determine if you can think under pressure, how you analyze a situation, and how you're likely to interact with others.

8. Please describe for me a time when your work was criticized by your boss or other co-workers. No one is always perfect, and the interviewer knows this. The interviewer wants to see if you can admit that you've made mistakes, but more importantly how you dealt with the situation and learned from it. You want to share with the interviewer an example criticism that had a measurable positive outcome. Make sure to turn the negative criticism into a positive experience.

9. Share with me a time you went the extra mile to resolve a problem or accomplish something. Employers want employees who contribute to the success of the company, and don't just show up to collect a pay check. This question is designed to see if you'll be a contributing team member, can adapt to changing situations and to ensure that you're flexible. You don't need to share something overly spectacular, but you do want to show that you're the type of person who will go above and beyond the call of duty.

10. Provide me an example of a meaningful goal you set and how you achieved it. Situational interview questions relating to goal setting provide an interviewer insight into your character, motivation and dedication. When asking this question, the interviewer wants to find out if you set goals, what are your priorities, how you go about accomplishing a task, and how you measure success. We recommend starting out by sharing a work related goal. However, sharing a personal goal gives an interviewer a deeper look into your character and values.

Example Situational Interview Questions and Answers
Below you'll find some of the most common situational interview questions and answers a hiring manager or interviewer is likely to ask. Familiarize yourself with each question and answer to improve your chances of performing well in situational interviews.

Team members you've been assigned to lead during a new project object to your vision and ideas for implementation. What specifically would you do to address their objections?

Answer: I usually ask for feedback about my ideas and take into account everyone's opinions prior to beginning a new project. When possible, I organize meetings with group members to discuss my plans and explain how the company will benefit after the project is successfully completed. Likewise, I make it clear to team members that policy changes can be made if they are dissatisfied after beginning a new project.

You're responsible for an important project near completion but receive another important project that must be completed immediately. How do you multi-task and prioritize?

Answer: Before beginning the new project, I determine what must be completed and estimate how long it will take and what resources are needed to successfully complete the project. If I'm confident it cannot be completed by the deadline, I would request that a superior be assigned the project, while recommending another co-worker to take responsibility for any current projects the superior is working on.

When a subordinate is performing below average, what specific steps do you take to correct the problem?

Answer: I begin by identifying what factors have contributed to the poor performance. I then figure whether the cause of the poor performance is work related or personal. When the problem is related to the individual's private life, I determine whether it's possible, or appropriate, for me to recommend solutions.

Additionally, when dealing with a subordinate's personal problems, I attempt to evaluate how much of his or her poor performance is due to the problem. I then try to help the subordinate understand the importance of remaining productive while handling the problem, and encourage the individual to do what is necessary to resolve the issue.

You're responsible for ensuring a large amount of work be finished before the end of the new year. A subordinate decides to use sick hours to take an entire week of work off. What would you do to address the problem?

Answer: I start by finding out how much vacation time the worker used during the year. If the individual has used few vacation hours, I do not report the situation to my superiors, but will encourage the individual to remain at work during the week and consider using their vacation time during a less critical time for the company. If the individual has lied about being sick in the past to take time off work, I would refer the situation to the human resources department.

What would you do if you realized a project you completed just before deadline did not meet all of the project specifications?

Answer: First, I would not expect that this would ever happen as I always review all project specs, time requirements, and deadlines prior to starting any new assignment to ensure my work is done on time, within budget, and that it meets all project specifications. If it ever were to occur, I would bring the issue to the attention of my superiors and ask for a realistic extension to make sure the project met all specifications. I would review my project planning process to see what went wrong, why the project was not done on time according to specs and take steps to make sure it never happened again.

Suppose you don't see eye to eye with your supervisor on how to deal with a problem? How would you handle the situation?

Answer: I would first try and put myself in my supervisor's shoes and view the problems from his or her perspective. If I was still struggling to see eye to eye with my supervisor's assessment and/or solution to the problem, I would analyze the problem and come up with a few other ways to address the problem. In private, I would then discuss the problem with my supervisor and suggest how I think it should be addressed.

If hired, what steps would you take to make important job related decisions?

Answer: 1. First, I would determine if the decision is one that would benefit the company.
2. I would then assess if and how the decision would fit within the scope of the company's core values.
3. I would assess how a decision might negatively impact the company.

What would you do if you knew your boss was absolutely wrong about an important work related issue?

Answer: It would depend on a number of factors, including the personality of my boss, how critical the issue is, and the overall situation.

If my boss did not like having his authority brought into question or challenged, or was prone to anger, I would probably never tell him he's wrong. I would simply be polite, try to understand his perspectve and what he is wanting to get accomplished, handle the situation the way I know it needs to be handled, and then provide my boss with the results he desired.

If my boss was a little more open to outside suggestion, or constructive criticism, I would first validate his opinion/view by sincerely considering his perspective and letting him know I understand why he might feel the way he does. I would then suggest that there might be a better, more efficient, or more effective way to accomplish what he wants.



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