In an interview, you may get questions about how you would respond to a particular scenario. These situational interview questions are designed to help a recruiter learn more about how you would react to a particular scenario on the job.
But how do you answer these often tough interview questions? In this guide, we’re going to walk what situational interview questions are and how you can respond to them.
What Are Situational Interview Questions?
In a job interview, employers want to learn more about whether you would be a good fit for a position. While your experiences and the skills you discuss will help an interviewer evaluate you as a candidate, this information can only go so far.
Unlike technical interview questions, situational interview questions allow a business to learn more about how you would handle work-related situations.
Your responses to situational questions will help a business better understand how you navigate challenges and give the interviewer insight into your soft skills. These questions are usually hypothetical and begin with one of the following phrases:
- “How would you handle…”
- “How would you respond…”
- “What would you do if…”
How to Respond to a Situational Job Interview Question
Situational job interview questions are opportunities to showcase your ability to think quickly and highlight how you respond to scenarios that may be unexpected.
To respond to a situational question, you can leverage a technique called Situation, Task, Action, Result (STAR).
While this technique is usually used to describe experiences, you can use the structure to inform how you would respond to a hypothetical scenario. You can also use this structure to explain how you have responded to similar situations in the past.
Here is the structure of the STAR interview response:
- Situation: Explain the situation the interviewer presents and break it down into its main components. What is the nature of the problem? How did it come to light?
- Task: Describe your involvement in the situation. Why are you the right person to solve the problem? What responsibilities will you need to take on to solve it?
- Action: Explain the action you took that helped you overcome the challenge. What courses of action did you consider? Which one did you follow through on? How did you implement the action you wanted to take?
- Result: Walk through the outcome that you achieved as a result of taking the action.
By using STAR, you can keep your responses to situational interview questions focused and action-oriented.
Common Situational Interview Questions
To help you prepare for a situational interview, we have compiled a list of six common questions that could come up. Each question is accompanied by a sample answer to help you see how a candidate may respond to the question.
#1: What would you do if you had a disagreement with your manager?
There are occasions where your manager may make a mistake, which could have drastic consequences on the business. Employers ask this question to learn more about how you relate to your managers, generally. It also tells them whether you would step up if you knew your manager was about to make a mistake.
In my last role as an accountant, my manager asked me to use a new technique to track our outgoing expenses. While this technique was initially effective, as our business grew it became clear that it was not scalable. This led to a number of inefficiencies in our accounting practice, but my manager continued to ask us to use the technique.
I explained the disagreement to my manager. First, I showed him how this problem could affect us later and volunteered to come up with ideas to improve our tracking practices. I met with other employees to figure out a new approach, then presented it to my manager. After presenting our solution, my boss decided to switch tracks and go along with the team’s new approach.
#2: How would you respond if you were working hard on a project and your manager changed the goals near the end?
Employers ask this question to learn more about how you respond to changes in the workplace. This is especially the case with changes that have a direct impact on how you work. You should aim to show your flexibility and how you have used this trait to address unexpected changes to how you work.
In my third month as a marketing associate, I was asked to increase conversion rates on our website, a priority for the business. I was initially assigned to work on ways in which we could convert more people from our blog to our homepage.
However, after doing all the legwork, my manager informed me that the company now wanted to focus more on homepage conversion. She explained that this would provide the business more immediate value. To respond, I shared my existing findings with my manager, and quickly pivoted toward the new assignment. I understood that this was a priority, so I did not resist taking on the new task. This experience allowed me to learn about the importance of adapting quickly.
#3: Tell us about a time when you failed to meet a goal. How did you recover from this experience?
Nobody is perfect, and at some point in your career, you may fail to achieve a goal. Interviewers ask this question to learn about how you respond to falling short of your goals, and how you respond to failure more broadly.
You should talk about how you have responded to failure in the past and used that experience to achieve a good outcome.
In my last job, I was assigned to a project where I had to improve loading speeds on our web application by 10%. Unfortunately, I was unable to meet this goal by the deadline that was imposed. I underestimated the size of the task, which meant that I ended up taking on too much work at the same time.
I quickly informed my manager of the magnitude of the task and requested that more engineering resources be assigned to the project. My manager gave me another chance, and together with the new engineers I was able to meet the goal by the revised due date. This experience made me realize the importance of always setting reasonable goals, and being realistic about the size of a project.
#4: Describe a situation when you have entered onto a new team. How did you transition to the new team?
At some point, you’ll likely have to face changes with the team you work on or where you work within a company. Employers ask this question to determine how you respond to changes in your work environment and in co-workers.
Your answer to this question is an opportunity to discuss how you respond to change and how you navigate building new relationships with co-workers.
When I worked as a project manager at my last job, I was reassigned from the web redesign project to a new one. This was because I had more experience with web redesign projects and it became a top priority for the business. As a result, I had to leave my old product team.
I reached out to my new co-workers before my transition was scheduled to take place, so that I could get to know them better. This helped me break the ice and build a good rapport with them before I was scheduled to start. I also scheduled a team meeting on our first day to ensure everyone was familiar with my management style before we began.
From this experience, I learned the importance of being adaptable. I also learned that the best way to get to know a new team is to work directly with them as soon as possible. Further, it showed me the importance of being transparent about expectations.
#5: What would you do if you were assigned a task which you have no experience completing?
No matter what job you have, someone is bound to give you a task that you have no experience doing. This task may be beyond your level of expertise. By asking this question, an employer is aiming to learn more about how you use your soft skills to respond to new challenges.
In your answer, you should clearly talk about how you work on developing new skills in response to new professional challenges.
Once, the head of marketing asked me to perform a complete site audit and create a report on how to improve the site. While I had done some site auditing work in the past, I was still learning the ropes.
In response to this situation, I explained to my manager that I was not ready to take on this challenge. I asked my manager if there were any professional development courses I could take that would prepare me for the job in the future. This resulted in me spending the next two weeks taking an online company course on advanced SEO. The head of marketing also mentored me as I navigated this task.
I was able to conduct the site audit to a high standard and was named the Employee of the Month for my dedication.
#6: Suppose you are working on a tight deadline and your manager asks you to work on another project. How do you prioritize your work?
Employers ask this question to learn more about how you respond to unexpected increases in your workload. Your answer will also help an employer evaluate how flexible you are, which is an especially important skill in fast-paced working environments.
In your response, give an example of an occasion where you were assigned multiple projects the techniques you used to respond to this situation.
In my last job as an executive assistant, I faced many situations where I had to work on different projects with conflicting deadlines. A few months ago, I my boss asked me to lead our executive correspondence reorganization project, while still having to execute my day-to-day roles.
I made a list of all the tasks that I needed to complete, alongside their deadlines and the size of each task. Then, I evaluated the importance of each task, in addition to the deadline for the task, and prioritized those which needed my attention. I also asked my manager to assign an additional executive assistant to work on the file reorganization project, so that my workload was manageable.
As a result, I was able to fulfill all of my duties and I did not miss any of my core deadlines. My boss assigned an additional assistant to work on the project as well. This situation made me realize how important it is to consistently evaluate the priorities of my task, and to understand my work boundaries.
Situational job interview questions may be intense and require a high degree of quick thinking. But they are an essential part of many job interviews.
Employers ask these questions to learn more about your skills and how you would apply them to different situations.
Before you start your job interview, take some time to prepare for a few situational interview questions. Consider a few examples you could give using the STAR technique. The more you practice for situational interview questions, the more likely you are to be able to impress an employer with your answers.