4 Situational Interview Questions (With Sample Answers)
By Indeed Editorial Team
Published 13 September 2021
The Indeed Editorial Team comprises a diverse and talented team of writers, researchers and subject matter experts equipped with Indeed's data and insights to deliver useful tips to help guide your career journey.
Employers typically try to explore every aspect of your character and work history during an interview to create a more complete profile of who you are professionally and personally. This might include interview questions involving potential situations you may encounter at work that help highlight some of your best character attributes and skills. Understanding what situational interview questions are can help you prepare for them in your next interview. In this article, we define situational interview questions and provide four examples with sample answers.
What are situational interview questions?
Situational interview questions are requests from an interviewer that present hypothetical situations or focus on past experiences. Because every industry and job role has a unique set of challenges and opportunities, employers assess whether you're qualified to manage these circumstances before they make a hiring decision.
These interview questions focus on how you handle real-life scenarios you may encounter in the workplace and how you've handled similar situations in previous roles. Asking these questions helps employers better understand your thought process and assess your problem-solving, self-management and communication skills. They also give you a chance to highlight how you use your professional experience, abilities and personal strengths to overcome business challenges and meet goals.
How to prepare for a situational interview
While you may not know the exact situational questions an employer might ask, you can use the STAR method. STAR stands for situation, task, action and result. This technique can help you prepare thoughtful, thorough speaking points. Using this method helps you fully address the interviewer's question in a cohesive story, highlighting a clear obstacle and resolution. Here's a detailed overview of this technique to help you better answer your situational questions:
Explain the context of the situation you experienced, including relevant details. This can be a work or personal situation, but employers typically prefer to hear about work-related experiences that directly connect you and your skills or qualifications. Describe as many details as you can and keep your answer focused on the initial question.
Example: “In my last role as a team lead, I was responsible for filling employment gaps during the holiday seasons to account for extra business. Employment gaps meant my team had to work overtime and often became stressed or overworked because of those gaps."
Discuss your responsibilities or your role in the situation. Describe the specific details of your tasks and how you navigated a potentially negative situation. You can focus on your positive contributions to the team and any achievements from your efforts.
Example: “As the team lead, I was responsible for interviewing new job candidates and hiring seasonal employees, while also managing the daily operations of the store and overseeing the needs of my core team members."
Describe how you overcame the challenge or faced the situation. Include any specific actions you took, as this is the part of your answer that best defines how you fit the role. This part of your answer is your opportunity to highlight specific industry hard skills or soft skills you believe make you a suitable candidate.
Example: “I used a career website to start accepting applications for new employees while shifting schedules to ensure no one experienced burnout. I also took additional shifts to show the team I wanted to help. I also contacted former seasonal employees and hired three additional seasonal employees."
Share the outcome you achieved through your actions, with specific details on why you believe the result was favourable and any insight you can offer on how you might do things differently in a similar situation.
Example: “By using a career website and contacting previous seasonal employees, I was able to hire three additional employees for the season and save my core team around 60 hours per week of additional labour.”
4 situational interview questions and answers
Here are five interview questions and sample answers you can use to help craft your own responses:
1. What would you do if you made a mistake that no one else noticed?
Employers may ask this question to assess your integrity and determine whether your ethics and beliefs align with the company. Consider using your response as an opportunity to share your commitment to honesty and quality work.
Example: “I've always found it's better to take responsibility for your mistakes. When I worked as a barista, a customer asked for a soy latte and I accidentally made their drink using whole milk. While there's a chance they may never have known, I knew my error could affect their experience. I promptly told my manager, remade the drink and apologised to the customer for the error. The customer left satisfied and my manager thanked me for doing the right thing. From that point forward, I paid special attention to drink ingredients.”
2. What would you do if I asked you to perform a task you've never done before?
When you're new to a position, your manager may ask you to complete duties beyond your level of experience. Employers ask this question to understand how you leverage your problem-solving skills to learn how to do something new. Your response should detail your methods for developing a new skill.
Example: “In my last role as a marketing coordinator, my manager asked me to build and launch a digital ad campaign, which was something I'd never done before. I explained to my manager that I had no experience leading that type of project, but volunteered to do all of the work if someone more experienced could offer guidance. I met with several employees who had experience running digital ads, studied best practices and successfully launched the campaign. Thanks to that hands-on learning experience, I became the team expert on digital advertising.”
3. How would you react to an unhappy customer?
Managers may want to determine your level of experience in customer service and tough situations by asking how you would handle or react to an unhappy customer. This might be a reality for someone working in a customer service role, so it's important for an employer to know if they can trust you to maturely and tactfully handle a customer who's upset. Answer honestly and use any situations from your previous customer service experience that might provide context for your answer and highlight specific skills.
Example: "In my last role as general manager at a local retail store, I encountered a customer who was angry about a sudden price change on a product. She claimed the product changed prices overnight and brought a screenshot on her phone to prove it. One of my store associates asked for my help in verifying the price change, so I investigated the screenshot and the item's price. I found that in our system, the price change had been recent, but not overnight.
The screenshot the customer had was from someone's social media post. I explained to her that the price change she found was inaccurate and that the price changed several weeks ago. I offered the customer a similar item for less, which she refused, so I offered her a 10% discount on the item for the confusion. The customer gladly accepted, I apologised for the inconvenience and she left the store satisfied. I take a calm, measured approach to unhappy customers and always verify the facts before acting."
4. How would you respond to a supervisor asking you to work overtime during a busy week?
Some positions may require employees to work overtime during especially busy work weeks, so an employer wants to learn whether you're open to the idea and how you might handle the situation if you already have prior commitments. Answer this question honestly, letting your interviewer know whether you're open to overtime. This allows you to express yourself before you're hired, so the expectation that you can work overtime isn't a factor in your new job.
Example: "If my employer asked me to work overtime, I would kindly explain to them that I'm a community volunteer at the youth shelter every night from five to eight in the evening. This typically cuts into any additional time I could spend working overtime and I don't want to push myself to the point of exhaustion. However, I would still tell my employer that I'm open to certain holidays, weekends and weeks when the youth centre isn't hosting events."
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