Chances are an interviewer will ask you at least one or two situational interview questions during your next interview.
If you have an upcoming job interview, congratulations! You overcame a huge hurdle by snagging the hiring department's attention. Now, it's time to prepare.
When preparing for a job interview, it's important to understand there are various types of interviews, including the situational interview. Since this is a common style of interviewing, it's very likely the hiring managers will ask you at least one or two situational interview questions.
In this guide to situational job interviews, you'll learn exactly what a situational interview entails, how to prepare for one, and some common situational interview questions and answers.
What is a situational interview?
Everything about a situational interview is similar to a traditional job interview. You're in a room with an interviewer — or interacting with an interviewer through video. The only difference is the types of questions you're asked.
Most professionals would agree situational interviews are equivalent to behavioral interviews, with interviewers using situational interview questions to gain a better understanding of who you are and how you handle various situationsin the workplace. At the core of each question, they want to get a glimpse at how you manage stress, collaborate with team members, juggle multiple projects, as well as your problem solving skills, communication skills, and more.
The formula to answering situational job interview questions
The best way to prepare for a situational interview question is to make a list of several specific challenges or obstacles you've faced in the workplace, as well as your greatest accomplishments. Then, using the STAR method, outline the situation, task, action, and result of each situation.
Here's a breakdown of what that will look like:
Situation: Think about a professional challenge you've faced, which could include overcoming a workflow hurdle, building a team, managing several projects, or communicating with a difficult co-worker or client. Just give the interviewer a general overview of the situation.
Task: Address the role you took in the situation. How did you handle it? What responsibilities did you own?
Action: Think about what action(s) you took to overcome the challenge. This is the perfect opportunity to highlight some of your skills, such as problem solving skills and communication skills, so think specifically about the hard and soft skills you utilized.
Result: What was the outcome? You'll want to tie this situation up with a nice bow. To make sure your answer to the hiring managers is as strong as possible, think about quantitative results and highlight those numbers. Did you increase output by 20 percent? Secure another $20,000 partnership? The more specific and concrete you can get, the better.
Obviously you won't know the situational interview questions you're asked ahead of time, but if you think through a handful of obstacles using the STAR method, you'll find you can often tweak your answers to address various situations.
Common situational interview questions and answers
To help you prepare for the situational interview even more, here are some common situational interview questions — plus examples of ways you could answer them.
1. “Tell me about a time you had to work alongside a difficult co-worker”
By asking this question, the hiring manager wants to see how you work with others. They also want to know you can resolve conflict on your own, when possible.
Example answer: In my role as a marketing assistant, I worked with a copywriter who was frequently absent from work. This made completing assignments on time difficult.
Instead of dwelling on my frustration, I had a conversation with her. I found out she was caring for her mother, who was sick. We worked together to adjust our workflow and shift deadlines to ensure she had plenty of notice for upcoming assignments, making it easier for her to work ahead and prioritize.
Once we were on the same page, we were able to communicate better, and we even started meeting our deadlines an average of two days early! Our manager was thrilled.
2. “Describe a time when you failed. How did you overcome this?”
This can feel like a jarring question; after all, you're being asked to expose a weakness. However, use this as an opportunity to highlight the skills and experience you used to bounce back from this failure.
Pro tip: Don't dwell on the failure part of the question too much; instead, focus on the positive outcome.
Example answer: As a content manager, I was responsible for overseeing the team's editorial calendar, keeping tabs on deadlines, and posting new articles to the website. One time I accidentally made a mistake and let a sponsored post written for one of our largest clients slip through the cracks, and I missed the deadline to get it on our website.
I realized my mistake the next morning, and I immediately took the steps I needed to remedy it. I posted the story as quickly as possible, and I took ownership and apologized directly to the client. After that, I suggested we refine our workflow, so this wouldn't happen again. I pinpointed weaknesses in the process and found ways to fix them. With the improvements we made, we hit every deadline 100 percent of the time after that!
3. “You're assigned a task you don't know how to complete. What do you do?”
With this question, an interviewer wants to gauge your ability to work independently, problem-solve, and take initiative.
Example answer: When I started my job as a data analyst at AB Co-op, I was the first person who ever held this position. I didn't have many training documents, and I didn't have concrete direction from management.
Instead of waiting for someone to tell me what to do, I immediately began sitting in on various team meetings so I could get a better understanding of the company's product, sales, and marketing strategy. I asked team members what type of data they needed, and I helped them understand how they could benefit from using data.
With these insights, I took this as an opportunity to apply my 10 years of experience with other companies and developed a plan of action. It took a few months to really settle in, but with the insights I provided the team, we increased our sales 90 percent the first quarter I was there.
Although situational interview questions might feel overwhelming at first, the key is to compile your experiences, use the STAR method, and practice! By walking into your interview prepared with a handful of situations you could apply to various questions, you'll feel more confident and at ease.
Want to practice answering situational interview questions with a pro? Connect with one of our interview coaches to schedule a practice interview.