5 Smart Situational Interview Questions to Ask

As a hiring manager, you likely have a variety of common interview questions you ask during your meetings with candidates. Mixing things up with unique situational interview questions can help you learn more about how a candidate thinks and whether they will fit in with your company’s culture. When candidates answer these job interview questions, they show recruiters how they will deal with different obstacles and achieve their objectives at work.

What Are Situational Interview Questions?

A situational interview question presents a job seeker with a hypothetical scenario to give you an idea of how they would respond if it happened. By asking these theoretical questions, you can learn about the applicant’s problem-solving abilities and communication skills, while also seeing how well they can think on their feet.

While you can’t see how candidates respond in the real world unless you hire them, situational questions help you see how team members would handle similar scenarios. They let you get a picture of the applicant’s thought process, personal strengths, and ability to succeed in a new role.

The Difference Between Behavioral and Situational Interview Questions

Two people ask situational interview questions to woman

While there are many different types of interview questions you can use in a job interview, experts generally group them in five categories. You can ask behavioral interview questions, experience-related questions, non-directive questions, nonsense questions, and situational questions. Two of the most popular categories are behavioral and situational interview questions.

While behavioral questions look at what a candidate has already accomplished, situational questions reveal how an employee might respond in a real-life situation today. The applicant’s answer can tell you a lot about who they are and how they will work in a team environment.

Situational questions are ideal as they help you see how your applicants think and respond in real life. Common interview questions are easy to memorize and prepare for. By creating customized situations, you force the applicant to put their analytical skills to work.

Situational interview questions can help you see how prepared your applicants are for a position at your company. The questions put the applicant in a similar situation where they have to achieve customer satisfaction, meet a tight deadline, or find a positive outcome. Then, you can use the answer to see if they are ready for a place on your team.

5 Situational Interview Question Examples

If you are struggling to think of sample answers and questions, the following list can help. These common situational interview questions can be modified for a range of industries and will help you figure out if someone fits the job description or not.

1. “You are dealing with a tight deadline, but you’re struggling to finish your part of the project because your co-workers and boss aren’t available to answer your questions. What do you do?”

Why this question works: It helps you see how a worker would do in a real-life situation based on what is happening around them. The answer will show if the worker passes off their responsibilities to someone else or takes initiative and finds a solution.

Example of a good answer: “If I were in this situation, I would take a moment to look at the entire project and if there was an area I could focus on by myself until everyone was available. If this wasn’t possible, then I would use every technique I could to find someone who was able to answer my questions, allowing me to continue working.”

An appropriate answer to this question will prove the candidate's ability to think on their feet if specific resources like co-workers or managers aren’t immediately available. It’s a great way to test their resolve and see if they can accomplish a task with limited help or supervision.

2. “What would you do if you were teamed up with a co-worker who was difficult to work with?”

Why this question works: This is a real problem many workers will eventually face. At some point, they will have to work with someone they dislike. As their employer, you need to know if they can handle difficult team members (and won’t be one themselves).

Example of a good answer: “I previously had to work with someone like this. At first, I thought the worker was simply rude and inconsiderate. Once I got to know them, I realized they had recently lost their mother, which was fueling their poor behavior with others. In future situations, I would take time to get to know difficult co-workers since they could be going through a difficult time in their personal life.”

If you pay close attention to the way an applicant responds to a question like this, you’ll see hints about how the individual handles adversity when it comes to other people. The candidate referencing a specific past experience is great.

3. “Imagine you made a mistake, but no one noticed the mistake. What would you do? Would you fix the problem or let it slide?”

Situational interview questions: Man points to book while office worker looks on

Why this question works: During your next interview, you can ask this question to learn more about the applicant’s integrity. Honest, responsible workers will generally admit they made a mistake and work to fix it. If the worker seems hesitant about owning up to a problem in a job search, then they will definitely be unwilling to recognize their mistakes once they are hired.

Example of a good answer: “While I know no one would notice the mistake, I would still bring it up to the customer and find a way to fix the problem. In addition to being the right thing to do, it’s always possible the customer would notice the mistake later on. But by fixing it, I’d be able to ensure it didn’t affect their experience.”

Integrity and honesty are some of the most difficult traits to measure when interviewing someone for the first time. If interview questions are too simple or common, they could already have rehearsed answers ready to throw out at a moment’s notice. But unique situations like this one allow you to dive deeper into their personality and see them think about how to reply. Remember to ask for the “why” in their response.

4. “What would you do if an angry customer confronted you about an issue they had with one of our products?”

Why this question works: By asking a question like this, you can see if the employee has good communication and conflict-resolution skills.

Example of a good answer: “First, I would ask the customer to describe their problem and empathize with them. To show I listened to their complaint, I’d repeat the problem back to them as I discussed potential resolution options like exchanging the product or getting a refund. Then, I’d use the balance between our company’s policies and the customer’s wishes to determine the best course of action.”

Regardless of your industry, everyone is bound to come to a point of conflict at one point or another. You need to be assured that your candidate is capable of taking care of these heated situations with poise and tact. This is especially important if customer-centricity is an important value to your company as it is for us at Searchlight.

5. “Your supervisor gives you instructions about how to do a task. Once you start the project, you realize the instructions weren’t good enough to do the job correctly. What do you do?”

Why this question works: This kind of question helps you see how well an employee works with people in a team setting and if they are willing to bring up issues with their supervisor. It also shows whether the employee is willing to risk looking dumb in order to do the job right.

Example of a good answer: “I would read through any instructions I had and check to see if I was overlooking something. If it turned out nothing was missed on my end, I would find my supervisor to ask them for assistance or clarification. I would rather do the job the right way upfront than guess and end up doing something wrong.”

When a prospect responds to this question, you have the chance to see how good they are at listening, following directions, and how they would handle a scenario with ambiguity. They could either sit and wait for further instructions or dive into research and find out more themselves.

Prepare Your Situational Questions for In-Person or Video Interview

Whether your candidate is coming to have their interview in person or you’re doing it via an online video call, make sure everything is ready to go ahead of time.

For example:

  • Make sure your video link works.
  • Call in via audio just in case.
  • Have ice breaker questions and conversation starters ready to set a personal tone.
  • Choose fitting situational interview questions.
  • Allow for longer pauses than you would normally be used to if on a video call.

The Right Questions Can Improve Your Hiring Process

Woman interviews someone on video call on laptop

Employers use LinkedIn, social media, group interviews, and countless other techniques to narrow down a list of candidates to the best new hire. Situational interview questions can help you understand the applicant’s point of view and how they would fit in with your team.

Since applicants are less likely to have an answer memorized for these customized questions, they are more informative and telling about the applicant.

You can make these interviews even easier by using a referencing platform like Searchlight. This strategic evaluation technique can help you identify top applicants in your field with an emphasis on their past behavior and performance. It will help you obtain the answers you need to understand whether a candidate is the right fit for the role and make a faster decision. 

With good questions and the right tools, you’ll add the best person to your team in no time.

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