How to Answer Situational Interview Questions

Situational interview questions are asked in a job interview to allow the employer to get a feel of how you’d handle particular situations in the position. These questions entail assessing a circumstance and responding with how you’d handle it in a solution-based way. 

What key things should you focus on when giving your answer?

  1. Explain the situation-You’ll first need to explain the similar situation you’re using to answer the question before you get into what you did to solve it. Include details such as the type of company, the existing process of handling things, and what was at stake.
  2. Describe the problem-Next, describe the problem and its cause. Was the problem unexpected or was it anticipated? Who did the problem affect? What impact did the problem have on your ability to complete your tasks?
  3. Outline the action you took-When describing how you handled the situation, be sure to include not only the action you took but also the thought process that led to that action. How did you determine the best solution? Did you speak with other team members or did you use a solution that worked before in a similar situation?
  4. Talk about the results-Highlight the results of your actions and how they helped solve the overall problem. Be specific about the results you achieved and use quantifiable data whenever possible.

Here are five situational interview questions and sample answers you can use to help craft your own responses;

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

Would you address the error and risk slowing things down or ignore it to keep the project or task moving forward?

Employers may ask this question (or something similar) to assess your integrity and determine whether your ethics and beliefs align with the company. Consider using your response as an opportunity to share your commitment to honesty and quality work.

Example: “I’ve always found it’s better to take responsibility for your mistakes—and work to correct them—to learn from your errors. When I worked as a barista, a customer asked for a latte with almond and I accidentally made their drink using whole milk. While there’s a chance they may never have known, I knew my error could affect their experience. I promptly told my manager, remade the drink and apologized to the customer for the wait. The customer was satisfied, and my manager thanked me for doing the right thing. From that point forward, I paid special attention to drink ingredients.”

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

When you’re new to a position, your manager may ask you to complete duties beyond your level of experience. Employers ask this question to understand how you leverage your problem-solving skills to learn how to do something new. Your response should detail your methods for developing a new skill.

Example: “In my last role as a marketing coordinator, my manager asked me to build and launch a digital ad campaign, which was something I’d never done before. I explained to my manager that I had no experience leading that type of project, but volunteered to do all of the work if someone more experienced could offer guidance. I met with several employees who had experience running digital ads, studied best practices and successfully launched the campaign. Thanks to that hands-on learning experience, I became the team expert on digital advertising.”

Tell me about a time when you failed. How did you deal with this experience?

Employers use this question to assess your ability to overcome pitfalls, recover from defeat and learn from your errors. You can use your response to demonstrate your flexibility and share an example of how you transformed a negative experience into a positive outcome.

Example: “In my first month as an account manager, I wanted to impress a top client and over promised on a project timeline. Unfortunately, the team didn’t have the resources to deliver by the deadline I’d promised, and we ended up losing the client. I reached out to the client and took full responsibility for the loss, and they decided to give us another chance. Because of this experience, I learned the value of setting realistic expectations and never guaranteeing more than I could deliver.”

 What would you do if an angry and dissatisfied customer confronted you? How would you resolve their concern?

Employers ask this question to determine whether you have conflict-resolution and communication skills required for the role. Use your response to share your ability to be empathetic and address unexpected challenges.

Example: “When I worked as a receptionist for an auto mechanic, I answered a call from a customer who was angry their vehicle wasn’t finished. I listened to the customer’s concerns and used phrases like, ‘I completely understand your frustration.’ Then, I took down their information and promised to call them back. I found the technician who’d been working on their car and learned the problem was worse than anticipated and would take several days to fix. I coordinated a loaner vehicle for the customer, and then called them back. Not only were they appreciative of my help, but they also gave us great reviews on our social media platforms.”

How would you handle a manager or superior offering you constructive criticism?

Employers want to understand if you are the type who handles criticism positively or negatively.  

Example-“During a supervision meeting, the Director asked me to take more initiative in organizing her schedule to reduce her input. I took the criticism on board and made it my goal always to be one step ahead of the Director’s schedule.

Every evening, I reviewed her calendar for the following day, so I always knew exactly where she was supposed to be. I also focused on building relationships with other support staff, such as the Meeting Room Assistants, to make the process of organizing meetings fast and seamless.”

In the end….

A situational interview allows you to communicate your expertise, skills and talent for overcoming challenges on the job. By having a few examples prepared, you can ensure your answers highlight your best professional accomplishments and abilities.

Nervous about an upcoming interview? Worry not! Book an Interview Coaching Session today and prove to the interviewer that you are the right person for the job.

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