Scenario and Experience-Based Interview Questions

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••• U.S. Department of Veteran's Affairs

Whether you're getting started on your career search or you're hoping to advance and promote, there's a good chance you'll face some sort of oral interview somewhere along the way. If you really want to shine in your next interview, you need to do all you can to prepare yourself for whatever the interviewers may bring, including understanding the types of questions you may be asked and thinking through your possible answers.

The Difference Between Scenario-Based vs Experience-Based Questioning

When preparing for an interview, you need to recognize the difference between scenario-based and experience-based questions. Understanding the difference between the two types of questions will help you prepare well-formulated answers that are in line with what your employers are looking for.

Scenario-based questions are designed to get a glimpse into your decision-making process and give your employer an idea of how you may react to various situations. Answers to scenario-based questions should include all the steps you might take to respond to an issue.

Experience-based questions are designed to gauge your level of experience and see how you responded to relevant issues in the past. Many employers believe that past experience is the best indicator of future performance. You can expect to see one or both types of questions in any criminal justice job interview.

Scenario-Based Questioning

In scenario-based questions, you won't necessarily be expected to know precisely how to react. Employers understand that you can’t know everything about procedures or expectations for a job you don’t already have. Instead, they want to get a glimpse of how you may approach a situation and what steps you might take to solve a problem.

These types of questions are more about demonstrating your decision-making process, and they provide information about what kinds of insights you might use in accomplishing tasks.

Employers want to see how you might work through a problem; what available resources you may identify; whether or not you are able to recognize a problem and identify what information you might need to solve it; and how you might interact with your employees or members of the community.

A well-formulated answer to a scenario-based question should begin with articulating what the issue is and why it is a problem. It should then walk the interviewer through, step-by-step, the measures you would take to resolve it, including follow-up after the fact.

Experience-Based Questions

An experienced-based question will likely begin with “tell me about a time when…” or another similar phrase. These types of questions require you to draw on past experiences to give your employer an idea of how you might perform similarly in the future.

Experience-based questions often feel more difficult to answer than scenario-based questions, perhaps because it's easier to answer a hypothetical situation in a step-by-step fashion than it is to try to retroactively fit a past event into a well-formatted interview answer.

It doesn't have to be as difficult to answer experience-based questions as it may seem, though. First of all, you don’t have to rely solely on work experiences to find answers. Very often, you can draw on experiences from school, family, or volunteer work to provide answers, especially when they touch on issues related to interpersonal communications or getting along with others.

When answering experience-based questions, you need to set the stage. Explain the situation, and then explain why it was a problem. Next, discuss the steps you took to resolve the issue and what the final outcome was.

Finally – and this is crucial – discuss what, if anything, you would do differently if faced with a similar situation in the future. This will tell employers whether or not you are introspective and willing to learn from your mistakes.

Smart Thinking Leads to Smart Responses

No matter what type of question you're asked, the most important things to remember are to think through your answers and provide thorough, logical and detailed responses. A well thought-out and structured answer will go a long way towards success in your next interview.