When you're interviewing for jobs, you try to prepare as best you can by reviewing your resume, thinking about what questions might be asked and how you’ll answer them, and practicing your responses. Then you walk in and realize the interviewer wants to ask you situational interview questions.
What’s a situational interview question?
- There are two types: past experience questions and circumstantial questions.
- For past experience questions, you'll be asked to provide a negative situation from your professional experience, and detail how you successfully resolved it.
- For circumstantial questions, you'll be given a specific set of circumstances or challenges and asked how you would create a positive outcome from them.
How do you prepare for these types of questions?
Interviewers use past experience questions because they believe your past behavior makes a good indicator of your future behavior on the job. The interviewer wants to know how you’ve tackled previous challenges.
They’ll ask you to tell them about a difficult situation you’ve faced in your past work history – one that is relevant to the question being asked – that you resolved successfully.
Think of some examples before the interview, review those situations, and analyze them. What steps did you take? What words did you use? Become so familiar with your actions, and those of the others involved, that you can give the interviewer very specific details and demonstrate your knowledge of what it takes to create a positive outcome.
Part of the reason employers use circumstantial questions is to gauge your ability to think on your feet. For these questions, the interviewer will create a challenge for you to solve. It may be a situation you actually have faced in your work history, or you may be required to respond to a hypothetical scenario.
This can be difficult if you’ve never dealt with such challenges before, but use the same structure: specific actions leading to specific results, all handled in a smooth, professional way.
It’s impossible to anticipate in advance what specific situational interview questions will be asked, which makes it hard to prepare your answers. However, it’s fairly safe to expect the interviewer to investigate the following broad areas:
- organizational skills/time management skills
- leadership skills
- communication skills
- interpersonal skills/conflict resolution
In addition to the above examples, an interviewer may formulate more technical or focused situational questions pertaining specifically to your field or area of expertise.
Here are some common situational interview questions that you may encounter:
You have a deadline approaching and fear you will be unable to meet it. What do you do?
Describe a situation where you were in disagreement with a coworker and explain how you handled it.
A coworker frequently leaves early when the boss is not around, and asks you to cover for him. What would you do?
Please describe a project that you led from start to finish and describe your strategy for seeing it through.
While situational interviews may be drastically different from your past interview experiences, they're not impossible to conquer. It's a chance for you to show how you handle real work situations, your problem-solving style and what your personality is really like.