Situational Interview Questions

Situational interview questions are meant to gauge how you can handle specific scenarios. Follow our tips to answer these questions effectively.

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Situational Interview Questions

Interviews can be daunting, to say the least. It’s hard to answer questions about yourself at the best of times, much less when you’re in the middle of a job search and you have to explain your thought process during stressful situations. Situational interview questions are some of the most common interview questions because they allow a recruiter to see how you act in different situations. If you want to ace these questions, here’s what you need to know.

What Are Situational Interview Questions?

Situational interview questions boil down to, “Tell me how you handled a specific past situation in a way that shows me why you’re the perfect person for the job.” Essentially, they’re questions that ask you about situations. Here are a few examples of common situational interview questions:

  • Tell me about a time you worked with a difficult client.
  • Give me an example of a time you had a tight deadline.
  • Have you ever disliked your work environment?
  • How do you deal with stressful situations at work?
  • How did you achieve your biggest professional accomplishment?
  • Talk about a situation where you had to work to improve customer satisfaction.

There are an endless number of situational interview questions, but they’re all about understanding how you handle yourself in a variety of work scenarios.

Tips for Responding to Situational Interview Questions

In a job interview, you’re going to get some situational interview questions. That means you need to prepare to respond to these interview questions.

Sample answers for situational interview questions aren’t as effective because every situation is different. However, the STAR method will help significantly in creating answers. With the STAR method, you talk about the Situation, the Task you were facing, the Action you took to fix it, and the Result, showcasing a positive outcome. Not only is it an effective method of handling situational interview questions, but it’s also a good method to approach most questions an interviewer may ask.

It’s also a good idea to rely on soft skills or the intangible abilities that speak to how you work with others and approach tough situations. A good answer for a situational interview question typically relies on interpersonal skills rather than how well you knew a new system or a specific technical skill.

You should also go over past experiences a bit before an interview so you’re ready to talk about them when one of these interview questions comes up. If you haven’t thought about your past team members in a while, you might not be prepared when an interviewer asks you about a specific situation you actually experienced. Responding effectively to these questions involves coming up with past situations that show that not only can you handle problems in a theoretical sense, but have actually done so in real life.

Important Skills for Situational Interview Questions

The biggest and most important skills for answering situational interview questions are all soft skills. Companies are looking for job seekers with great soft skills because hard skills can be taught if necessary, but it’s much harder to teach soft skills. Here are some you’ll want to highlight:

  • Problem-solving skills
  • Communication skills
  • Decision-making skills
  • Prioritizing
  • Teamwork
  • Adaptability
  • Interpersonal skills
  • Stress management
  • Time management

Because situational questions are some of the most common job interview questions, it’s a good idea to go over these types of skills and pick out five or six that you really want to emphasize in your job interview. Then tie these skills with past experiences in preparing your answers, giving you a great jumping-off point.

FAQ: Situational Interviews

Q: How is a situational interview different from a traditional interview?

There’s no such thing as a “situational interview.” Instead, there are “situational interview questions,” which have to do with specific situations you might be in as part of your job. The questions and answers that you interact with in any interview will often be very similar to each other. The process of making a good impression in any interview will be the same: You’re trying to prove to the hiring manager that you’re the right person for this job.

Q: What is the difference between situational interview questions and behavioral interview questions?

Behavioral interview questions are typically hypothetical, while situational interview questions are usually asking you to talk about a specific situation in the past. If a hiring manager is trying to figure out how you generally behave or how you see yourself, they may ask something like, “What would you do if you had a problem with a coworker?” The way you react to hypothetical situations will tell them how you act as a person. However, if they’re trying to figure out what you do in specific scenarios, they may ask something like, “How have you previously managed a frustrating coworker?” This tells them what you actually do when faced with a problem.

Q: What do I do if I’ve never had a situation like this?

In general, situational questions are very broad, and hiring managers are usually asking questions they expect every job seeker will have an answer to. If you’re approached with a situation you’ve truly never experienced, be honest. State that you’ve never had a situation like that, then give an answer that speaks to how you would see yourself reacting if you did. You can use a similar situation you’ve been in or you can walk through your process for handling a theoretical situation. Your ability to work through a problem on the fly can leave just as good an impression as telling a story about a time when you actually worked through the problem.

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