35 Situational Interview Questions (With Example Answers)

By Abby McCain - May. 2, 2021
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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, interviewers will often 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 situational interview questions as well as how to prepare for them.

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What Are Situational Interview Questions?

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.

They’re some of the most common interview questions around because they give hiring managers and recruiters the greatest insight into the interviewee’s key strengths and weaknesses.

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, it’s 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.

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How to Answer Situational Interview Questions

The best way to prepare for these types of interview questions is to practice. Even though you won’t know exactly what interviewers are going to ask, you can look at the qualifications listed in 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.

    When I was a sales rep at XYZ Inc., there was a significant drop-off in outbound sales calls conversions.

  • 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.

    Our sales manager tasked the sales team to come up with a new and more effective system for converting on cold calls.

  • Action. Talk about what you did in response to the problem or challenge.

    I spoke to several professionals during cold calls about their needs and assessed what we could do better to satisfy those needs earlier in the sales funnel. I found that they were put off by the steep cost of our entry package and wanted to be able to test our service risk-free. Based on this research, I recommended that we qualify leads earlier on and provide a free or low-cost trial period.

  • 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?

    My manager worked with the product team to put together a trial package that we could offer businesses for free, which increased our conversion rate by 26%. Not only that, but more than half of those who signed up for the trial ended up subscribing to our premium package, boosting overall sales by 22%.

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.

Situational Interview Question Tips From An Expert

Leslie Boudreaux
Sr Managing Partner

Situational interview questions are the most telling and thus the most valuable questions for a hiring manager. The interview is a chance for you to showcase your relevant skills for this particular opportunity (not ALL of your skills). The best way to prepare is to do your homework first. Research the company (industry, size, etc.) and go through the job description line by line. Think about your experience as it relates to every bullet on the job description. Be prepared to answer any question they ask with the context of this company and this job description in mind. This planning will enable you to be relevant when they ask an open-ended question like “tell me about your experience at company X.” You can also infer a lot of what is needed based on your research of the company itself. For example, a high-growth startup will have a fast-paced environment and need someone who can build processes from scratch with little infrastructure. This may or may not be explicit in the job description.

If the job description states that you will hire and develop a team, be prepared to discuss your previous experience with this succinctly but with relevant detail. If the job description states that you will lead a system implementation, same thing. Conversely, if you have experiences that are not listed in the job description as important, then don’t waste time talking about them. You want to “meet the interviewer where they are” and position your experience in the way that best solves their problem.

15 Sample Situational Interview Questions and Answers

  1. 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.

    Example Answer

    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.

  2. 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.

    Example 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.

  3. 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.

    Example Answer

    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.

  4. 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.

    Example Answer

    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.

  5. 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.

    Example Answer

    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.

  6. 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.

    Example Answer

    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.

  7. 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.

    Example Answer

    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.

  8. 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.

    Example Answer

    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.

  9. 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.

    Example Answer

    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.

  10. 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.

    Example Answer

    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.

  11. 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.

    Example Answer

    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.

  12. 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.

    Example Answer

    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.

  13. 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.

    Example 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.

  14. 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.

    Example Answer

    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.

  15. 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.

    Example Answer

    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.

Situational Interview Questions

There are plenty more situational interview questions that might come up. Here’s a list of more common situational interview questions, broken down by category:

    Communication Skills

  1. What would you do if you had to persuade someone to do things your way?

  2. How are you able to communicate complex topics to people who aren’t familiar with the technical details of your work?

  3. How would you go about explaining a challenging issue to a client?

  4. Tell me about your most/least successful presentation. What went right/wrong?

  5. Time Management

  6. How do you prioritize when you have multiple high-priority, urgent tasks to perform?

  7. Tell me about a long-term project you worked on. How did you make sure everything stayed on track in an efficient way?

  8. What steps do you take to ensure you have enough time to meet all of your deadlines?

  9. How do you organize your time to maximize your productivity throughout the day?

  10. Goals and Motivations

  11. What is your greatest professional accomplishment?

  12. How do you stay motivated when you’re not being supervised?

  13. Tell me about a time that you handed in work that was flawed.

  14. Can you give me an example of how your values impact your work?

  15. Adaptability and Stress

  16. How do you handle a stressful situation at work? How do you stay focused when the pressure is on?

  17. Tell me about a time when a project failed to meet expectations. How did you adapt to remedy the situation?

  18. How do you adapt to a situation on the fly in a fast-paced environment?

  19. What’s the first thing you do when a plan goes awry?

  20. Teamwork and Collaboration

  21. How do you handle conflict within a team?

  22. Tell me about a time when you wish you’d handled a situation differently with a coworker.

  23. How do you stay in communication with your teammates throughout a project?

  24. What steps do you make to promote a healthy level of compromise between team members?

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Author

Abby McCain

Abby is a writer who is passionate about the power of story. Whether it’s communicating complicated topics in a clear way or helping readers connect with another person or place from the comfort of their couch. Abby attended Oral Roberts University in Tulsa, Oklahoma, where she earned a degree in writing with concentrations in journalism and business.

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