How to Handle Situational Interview Questions


A growing number of employers are letting go of outdated interview questions and replacing them with more meaningful, open-ended questions that can reveal more about each candidate in a shorter period of time. Some of these are known as “situational” questions, which provide the candidate with a scenario she may encounter on the job. The scenario may involve a crisis that needs to be addressed, an everyday problem, a technical issue, or an interpersonal conflict that often arises in this particular workplace culture. For example:

“In this position, you’ll face difficult leadership tasks, but you won’t have any direct authority over those you’re being asked to lead. How will you handle this?”

“In this role, you’ll have to make difficult choices between top priorities. All of your demands are critical, but if you only have time for one, how will you make this decision?”

“Answer quickly: You have an angry client on a tight budget, and she wants to know why her deliveries haven’t arrived. What will you do first, second, and third?”

Here are a few things to keep in mind as you tackle these tricky questions:

Think first. Pause for a few full seconds while you place yourself in the scenario and honestly envision what you might do, based on your experience and personality. Don’t just blurt an answer. Your employers will wait.

Ask questions. Your questions will demonstrate your experience and familiarity with real life versions of this scenario. For example, “In this scenario, what are my sales goals? Do I have the resources for a complete program overhaul? Have I already contacted the client by phone?” etc.

Engage fully. Commit to the scenario, and whether you win or lose, enjoy yourself. Your attitude in this session will reflect your attitude on the job. If you step into this position, will you be constantly edgy, anxious, and verging on panic? Or will you stay confident, cool, and collected as you put the pieces together and solve the problem?

Describe your process. If you don’t have all the elements you need for a solution, explain what you’ll do to obtain these elements. As in, “First, I’ll need to know the extent of the damage, so I’ll take some measurements at the site”, or “Before I can attack the problem, I’ll have to obtain the following information.”

Don’t give up. You may not be able to solve the entire problem with a few elegantly chosen words, but don’t falter or freeze like a deer in headlights. If you can’t slam dunk the question, try to work together with your interviewers and get as close as you can.

For more on how to tackle tough interview challenges and land your target position, consult the Little Rock expert staffing team at CSS.

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