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Job interviews are meant to give a potential employer a better idea about what it would be like to work with you. One of the best ways to do this is to see you in action, but that usually isn’t possible until they hire you.
To make sure they know what they’re getting into, often interviewers will ask situational interview questions to help them see your thought processes and how you’ve used your skills in the past.
This article will explain more about the intent behind these questions as well as how to prepare for them.
Situational interview questions, also called behavioral interview questions, are intended to help the interviewer get a better understanding of how you would solve problems specific to the job you’re applying for.
One of the common ways to do this is by asking about how you’ve handled similar problems in the past or by giving you hypothetical situations to work through. Your answers will give your potential employer insight into your soft skills such as communication, leadership, and teamwork.
While this may sound intimidating, this is actually a great opportunity for you to showcase your skills and the results you’ve gotten from putting them into practice.
It just takes a little preparation to make sure you’re ready to let your skills shine.
The best way to prepare for these types of interview questions is to practice. Even though you won’t know exactly what they’re going to ask, you can look at the qualifications listed on the job description and think of examples of when you’ve demonstrated them in past positions.
Use the STAR method to structure your answers:
Situation. Describe the circumstances that created the problem or challenge.
Task. Explain what your job or end goal was in the situation. This could be as simple as getting the project done or satisfying a customer while still following company policy.
Action. Talk about what you did in response to the problem or challenge.
Result. Describe what happened because of your actions. Did the customer walk away happy? Did you create a new system that the company is still using?
Even if you don’t use your practice answers in your interview, getting used to using this formula will help you structure your real answers so that they sound organized and professional.
Tell me about a time you failed . How did you handle it?
This question is usually asked in order to see how you overcome adversity and if you take responsibility for your actions. The key here is to also share what you learned from the experience.
During my first month as social media manager, I posted an infographic that I downloaded from the internet. I didn’t check it carefully and got a call from our CEO asking why my post had profane language. I looked closer and sure enough, there were some curse words in the infographic. I apologized profusely and immediately took it down. I’ve never forgotten to thoroughly read a post since then.
Tell me about a time you had to work closely with someone you didn’t get along with. What did you do?
Interviewers usually ask this question to see how you deal with conflict and work with others. Be sure to include the end result of your efforts in your answer.
I had to work on a large project with another department head who was known for being difficult to please and work with. During our first meeting, I was intentional about forming a personal connection and setting our expectations for the project up front. We finished the project successfully, and now we have a strong working relationship.
What would you do if you were asked to complete a task you’ve never done before?
Your potential boss wants to know that you are willing to take on new challenges independently. Your answer to this question will also provide some insight into your problem solving skills.
I would first get as many details as possible to make sure I had a clear understanding of what was needed. Then if it was a relatively straightforward task, I would do a quick internet search for a tutorial. If that wasn’t easy to find, in order to not waste time, I would ask either the person who assigned the task or another coworker for help.
Tell me about a time you were in a high-pressure situation . How did you get through it?
Interviewers usually ask this question to see how you work under pressure. They want to see that you know what steps you need to take in order to deliver.
I was assigned an important coding project that was due in a much shorter time frame than usual. I blocked out time in my schedule to work on it, asked for help when I needed it, and I made sure I got plenty of rest at home so that I would have the energy I needed to focus throughout the day. It took a lot of work, but I was able to successfully complete it.
Describe a time you had to make a good impression on a client.
Your answer to this question will provide insight about your work ethic and customer service skills. Use this opportunity to show how you go above and beyond in your work.
One of my first high-profile clients was extremely particular. I showed him several design samples and asked what he liked or disliked about each one. Then I created three different design options and asked which one he liked best and what edits he wanted to make. He made minimal changes and was so pleased that I had taken the time to get to know his preferences that he hired me three more times.
What accomplishment are you most proud of in your career? How did you achieve it?
This question not only helps interviewers see what you’ve achieved, but it also shows them what you are most passionate about in your work. Just make sure your answer applies to the job you’re applying for as well.
When I was teaching second grade, I noticed that students in one of my classes were struggling with their spelling tests. I made up some review games and rewarded them for any improvement in their test scores. Their average scores increased by 10% by the end of the year.
Give me an example about a problem you observed and how you solved it.
Your answer to this question will demonstrate your initiative and problem solving skills. They want to see you’ll make valuable improvements without being asked.
During my time as an administrative assistant, I noticed that we were ordering printer paper at an unusually high rate. I knew we had plenty hidden in the storage closet, so I rearranged it so that we could easily see where it was. We saved $300 in paper that year and always had some on hand.
Describe a difficult client interaction you’ve had. What did you do?
This question helps employers see your customer service skills in action. Make sure you’re as detailed as possible in your answer to show the steps you took and the end result of the interaction.
A customer was upset that they hadn’t received our catalog yet. I apologized and explained that it had only been recently mailed out. I then offered to email them a PDF version so that they had it immediately along with a coupon for their next order. The customer accepted my offer and left a positive review on our website.
Tell me about a situation when you had an especially heavy workload. What did you do?
By asking this question, the interviewer is trying to gain insight into your organizational and time management skills. Make sure you share the specifics of how you got everything done.
During my time as a marketing assistant, we had several of our team members out sick at the same time that we had several projects due. By prioritizing tasks, setting personal deadlines, and communicating with my project team members about when I was going to get back to them, we got it all done on time.
Give me an example of a difficult decision you had to make. What steps did you take to make it?
The intent behind this question is relatively straightforward, as interviewers want to see your decision-making process. Because of this, be sure to outline the steps you took to make the decision.
When I worked as a project leader, we realized that an earlier mistake would cost us either the quality of the final project or require us to push back our deadline and miss our departmental goal for the month.
I talked with our team to get their perspectives, asked my supervisor what she thought, and weighed the pros and cons myself. Ultimately, we all agreed to push back the deadline because one of the company’s values was excellence, and we knew that having a quality product would be more beneficial than getting it released on time.
Say you’re working on a project with a tight deadline, and you’re waiting on something from a coworker who said that they’d get it to you last week. What do you do?
This question is another one that is intended to get an inside look into your interpersonal skills. Make sure you share the steps you’d take and consider including the reasons behind each one.
I would contact this person and start the conversation by asking how they are doing, because you never know if they’re dealing with a crisis that is keeping them from getting back to you.
I would then explain that I’m on a deadline for this project and that I really need that item to complete it. I would then ask if they could get it to me in the next day or two and offer to help.
Tell me about a time when you disagreed with your boss. How did you handle it?
An interviewer wants to know not only how you deal with conflict with your peers, but also with authority figures. Good employers will also want to know that you aren’t a mindless yes-man but are still respectful.
When we were setting new project goals for the year, I saw that one of them would not be attainable based on my personal knowledge of our clients. I went to my boss after the meeting and asked to talk about the goal.
I explained that while I saw the reason for wanting to do it, I didn’t think it was the best fit for our particular clients. I shared my reasons why, and she ended up agreeing with me and thanking me for saving the department time and money.
Give me an example of a goal you set for yourself and how you met it.
Interviewers want to see that you are self-motivated and have the practical skills necessary to meet your goals. Make sure you outline the steps you took to meet them in your answer.
At the beginning of the year, I set a goal of doubling my sales. I attended trainings and asked for tips from successful salespeople. I calculated how many sales I’d need to make per month to meet my goal, and then how many contacts I’d need to make to do this. In the end I was successful in reaching my goal.
Tell me about a time when you had to explain something to a frustrated coworker or client. How did you do this, and what was their response?
Your answer to this question will reveal more about not only your interpersonal skills, but also your communication skills. This is another one where you should always include the results of your efforts.
I had a new client call me, frustrated about why we couldn’t get a customized product to him by the next day. I explained that while we would love to be able to do this, even if someone started on their product immediately, the materials we used would have to set for two days before it could be shipped.
The client was understanding and appreciated that I had taken the time to explain this to him.
Tell me about a challenge or conflict you’ve faced at work.
Your potential employer wants to know that you will work to overcome challenges instead of running from them. This is your opportunity to demonstrate how you do this.
During my first year of teaching, my students would always come to my class after lunch rowdy and unfocused. After a few months of trying to teach through the noise, I decided to look up some creative methods to help them focus.
I created a fun, simple workout routine to do in unison when they first got to class. This helped them burn energy and dial in, and our afternoons went much more smoothly.
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