5 Situational Interview Questions to Ask Candidates

//5 Situational Interview Questions to Ask Candidates

5 Situational Interview Questions to Ask Candidates


5 Situational Interview Questions to Ask Candidates

Question MarksI’m quite fond of the idea of asking situational interview questions for potential employees. I’ve had the opportunity to sit in on a few interviews, and of course, I’ve been on the interviewee end also. As an interviewee, I’ve noticed quite a few employers choose to ask skill or experience related questions. This is all well and good. However, skill and experience oriented questions are typically addressed within the resume and cover letter. If they’re not, you might question yourself as to why you invited a candidate to an interview in the first place. Then again, the problem might not be the resume, but rather the job description itself, but that’s for another discussion.

Really, an interview would be better spent on items that are not in a resume…. for example, situational questions.

So, what are situational interview questions?

Panel DiscussionBasically, they’re questions that ask a candidate how they would respond under certain conditions. What’s great about situational questions is they tend to focus on the way the candidate thinks rather than how great they are about memorizing and reciting information (skill set, job history, etc.). It’s an opportunity to get to know your candidate and determine if their values mesh with your values and the company’s.

Example Questions

The internet is full of situational questions you can borrow for your interviews. However, it’s often best to use questions that relate to experiences your new employees might encounter. For example, you may ask a candidate a question that reflect situations you or others have experienced in the workplace. Or a question that addresses an issue your company has yet to solve. Keep in mind though, situational questions are typically about interpersonal relationships.

With that… let’s look at a few examples.

How do you deal with a co-worker whom you dislike?

Many people simply can’t work with others. However, it’s important to understand, the overall mission of the company isn’t about individual personalities. Look for answers that show the candidate is able to put aside their personal differences and work toward a common goal. An employee doesn’t have to like another employee to accomplish something great.

How would you handle a situation where a customer is abrasive or rude to you?

Likert Scale SometimesAt times, customers may respond in a manner which is inappropriate. Responding in a like manner can aggravate the situation and reflect poorly on the company in general. On the other hand, an employee should be afforded a safe work environment and should never be abused physically or verbally. Appropriate answers may refer to specific methods to deescalating the situation, setting firm guidelines for customer behavior, or even seeking help if necessary.

How would you put a customer at ease, who is distressed after hearing or sharing traumatic news?

We all know life isn’t perfect. Sometimes customers can reach a tipping point in their lives, and their breakdown may happen to be in front of an employee. The way an employee responds to the customer can make a strong positive or negative impact. That is not to say your employees are responsible for curing the psychological stresses of the world. However, the candidate’s answer should reflect they are able to respond in a respectful, and sometimes even supportive manner.

Describe a situation where you made a significant mistake at work and how did you resolve it?

WrongMistakes happen. After all, no one is perfect. However, the way an employee handles or recovers from a mistake is key. Look for signs that the candidate acknowledged and addressed the mistake. A candidate who believes he or she makes no mistakes may have a difficult time learning from past experiences, which can hinder personal growth and unnecessary challenges for those who work with him or her.

How would you react if the work you presented received strong negative criticism?

Simply doing any type of work leaves one open to criticism. Though receiving negative criticism can be discouraging, employees should be able to set their personal feelings aside to benefit from the feedback. The answer a candidate gives to this question should demonstrate the ability to  to actively listen to constructive criticism, extract valuable knowledge from the feedback, and incorporate the insights into their work.

Choosing the right employee for a position can be challenging. Not only do the skill sets and experience need to match the job description, but the right personality needs to be there also. Though I encourage you to develop your own, as each company has its own unique challenges, feel free to adopt the ones above.

By | 2017-01-13T21:09:12+00:00 February 25th, 2016|Managing Employees|4 Comments

About the Author:

Renee Townsend is a Certified Professional Coach and Business Consultant, who helps women start, grow, and run successful companies. She has a special knack for finding money for startup businesses and helping entrepreneurs get funded.


  1. Roopesh March 20, 2016 at 7:26 am - Reply

    Hello Renee
    Highly valuable information here.

    Situational questions certainly does get the candidate to think out of the box. It gives you the ability to see whether that person will fit in the group and can be a team player or not.

    Out of interest in your opinion, what percentage of the interview process should be primarily focused on situational questions vs skills based questions?

    Thanks for a quality article

    • Renee March 20, 2016 at 7:38 am - Reply

      That’s a good question, Roopesh. In the interviews I’ve done at my company, majority of the questions relate to situations, personality, or goals. If I’m not mistaken, we ask about 15 questions. Of those, 2 tend to be skill based. Those skill-based questions are not make it or break it interview questions (in my opinion). It’s more to give us an idea of how better we can utilize special skills which weren’t in the job description, but the candidate might have.

      So, why do we put so little value on skill-based questions in the interview? The skills we’re looking for should have been included in their resume or applications. The candidate should have read the job description and tailored their resume/application to the job description, which includes the skills we’re looking for in a candidate. If they didn’t, they likely didn’t get an interview.

  2. Eric March 23, 2016 at 7:51 pm - Reply

    This is some good info. I am applying for a new job soon, so I am going to have to interview. I will used these questions as a guide to prepare for it. The interviews i’ve had in the past, all had similar questions to these. One thing I think about any interview is to stay positive and confident. How you say the response is just as important as what you say.

    • Renee March 23, 2016 at 11:21 pm - Reply

      Thanks for stopping by, Eric! I’m glad this article has helped you also. I agree. Presentation please a huge role. For me, interviews can be stressful. One of the techniques that I used to get myself in the mood for an interview and put on a pleasant face is to smile and laugh on the way to the interview. Even afake smile done often enough can become a real smile. Smiling is a natural mood elevator. And of course, smiling makes you appear more personable. Wishing you the best of luck on your job search.

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