How to Answer Situational Interview Questions

Illustration of situational interview questions

The Balance / Emilie Dunphy

During a situational interview, you'll be asked specific questions about how you would handle certain circumstances at your job. You'll be asked to assess a situation and then provide solutions for how you'd handle it. 

What Is a Situational Interview?

Situational interview questions are hypothetical questions about how you would respond to a situation at work. The interviewer wants to know how you would handle a workplace issue. Your response will then be compared to that of the other candidates.

A situational interview is very similar to a behavioral interview but focuses on the future instead of the past.

In many cases, situation-based interview questions involve problem-solving and handling difficult issues and circumstances in the workplace. 

You can share some details about how you anticipate you would respond to a situation, but the best answers to situational interview questions provide concrete examples of how you handled similar situations on the job. That way, you're providing the interviewer with solid information based on real-life circumstances that you dealt with successfully. 

How to Prepare for a Situational Interview

Thinking about how you will approach questions beforehand will give you the best chance of getting hired. 

Consider the types of detailed situational questions you may be asked and how they relate to your past responsibilities, including any challenges you faced and how they were resolved.

Also, think about other workplace issues that did not affect you directly and how you would have solved them. Your answers can give you an advantage over other applicants and possibly land you the job.

Tips for Giving the Best Response

In a situational interview, your main goal in responding to questions is to describe similar experiences you've had in the past. To do this, use a version of the situation, task, action, result (STAR) technique. In this modified version of the technique, you'll substitute "problem" for "task."

By framing your response in this way, you'll avoid rambling and stay focused. 

The following should be included in your answer: 

  • What was the situation? Before launching into what you did, take the time to describe the situation. Include the kind of company you were working at, what was at stake, and the existing process. For example, a description of the situation could be, "In my past role, I was in charge of a major event, one of our biggest fundraisers of the year. It typically had hundreds of guests and brought in thousands of dollars for the organization. It was my job to plan the event, which included securing the venue and guest speaker."
  • What went wrong? Describe what went wrong and how it happened. Was it something avoidable, or was it an unexpected crisis? Using the previous example, you could say, "Just three days before the event, our keynote speaker became ill and canceled on us. Our speaker was the biggest draw for the event, so not having them was disastrous. If we canceled the event, we would lose thousands of dollars, but if we didn't have a speaker, we risked angering our audience."
  • What action did you take? Describe not only what action you took, but your rationale behind it and how you identified solutions. For instance, "I conferred with my boss, and we discussed our options. Canceling the event was out of the question since we would lose too much money, so our only option was to find a new speaker. I spent the next ten hours on the phone nonstop, calling every speakers' bureau in the region and sending emails to everyone I knew who might be able to help."
  • What were the results? Highlight what you accomplished and how it helped the overall project. "My persistence paid off. After chasing down one company, I was able to secure a new speaker for the same amount we were going to pay the original one. We sent out a communication letting attendees know about the change and highlighted the achievements of our new speaker. It turned out to be our best event yet; we earned $10,000 more than we had the previous year."

As you respond to questions, keep in mind the core skills and abilities that are required for the position. Try to use your responses to show that you are a good fit for the role at hand.

Sample Situational Interview Questions and Answers

The following are examples of situational interview questions, with links to sample answers and tips on the best way to answer:

More Interview Questions and Answers

Review the top interview questions that employers ask, tips for responding, and examples of the best answers.

Key Takeaways 

  • Using the STAR technique will help you give strong, effective, and focused responses. 
  • In your responses, look for opportunities to highlight skills and experience that will be relevant to the role at hand. 
  • Practice answering situational interview questions beforehand—and work on creating a list of workplace issues and situations you've dealt with in the past. 

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