In the past, you've probably had an interviewer ask you a question that started with, "Tell me a time when...".
Those questions are hard to answer, as they force you to think on your feet.
These questions are called situational interview questions, and they offer an interviewer a greater glimpse into how someone will respond in a certain situation.
Interviewers will use situational interview questions in a job interview to assess your problem-solving skills and how you respond under pressure.
By pointing to specific examples from your career, you can provide your interviewers with practical examples that showcase why you’re the right fit for the position.
In this article, we will discuss:
- What a situational interview question is.
- Tips to use the STAR method to ace any interview questions.
- 8 situational interview questions with engaging answers for each.
Did you know that Enhancv has an amazing career counseling service that can help you succeed? Well, we do! And you can gain a wealth of experience by talking to a career counselor, learning everything from how to craft the perfect answer to interview questions to how to negotiate for a salary that respects your experience and education.
What are situational interview questions?
Situational interview questions are questions that interviewers ask you to pull out specific work-related experiences. Situational interview questions offer a glimpse into your career, as you provide unique situations in which you gained skills and overcame adversity.
Essentially, you're diving deep into what makes you unique, showing what has shaped your career journey. Although these questions may feel like a form of light torture, they are also one of the best ways to differentiate yourself from other job seekers.
How to use the STAR method to provide the perfect answer
The goal of answering situational interview questions is to position yourself as the best candidate that a company can hire because of your wealth of experience. You can do this by using the STAR(Situation, Task, Action, Result) method.
The STAR technique is the easiest way to translate your experiences in your value to the company. Let's examine what STAR stands for:
- Situation: Here's where you provide context to your answer by providing a specific instance when you experienced something similar to the question your interviewer asked. Keep it specific, pointing to a real instance or time when you were faced with a challenge that you overcame.
- Task: Mention the specific issues that you encountered, and what responsibilities you were given to mediate the situation.
- Action: Provide details on the actions that you took to create a solution to the problem. Try to be as specific as possible with all the steps you took to correct the issues, even if you had to work through a mistake to accomplish your goals.
- Result: When mentioning the result, try to quantify your success by pointing to sales figures, key performance indicators met, or technical performance in percentages.
If you're looking for a more in-depth article on the STAR method, check out this article on our blog: "STAR Interview Questions".
8 Situational interview questions with answers
1. Tell me about a time when you had to collaborate with a coworker that you had a hard time getting along with?
This question is the perfect opportunity for an interviewer to discover how you deal with conflict and build rapport with people who you may disagree with.
This question can allow you to make a great first impression with an interviewer, as you can point to a specific instance where you have put aside any differences that you have with another person, and worked hard to complete a task. It shows you are professional and willing to set aside any baggage that you have and work on a project.
Example answer: just recently, I was tasked to provide IT oversight to customer relationship management software used by the HR department.
The head of HR and I didn't see eye to eye on the need for new software, but I was able to show her the benefit of the program by using a trial run, which allowed our customers to provide feedback on products and services that they purchased.
After that trial period, with all the success that we saw, the head of the HR department was completely on board, and we added new software systems in place.
2. Describe for me a time when you were under a significant amount of pressure at work. How did you deal with it?
Whether because of a change in personnel or added responsibilities, sometimes you shoulder more of a burden than other times in your career. While this is a brilliant question for you to answer because you can show tangible ways that you have dealt with stress and taken on added responsibilities that have led to growth.
Example answer: Recently, I was tasked to chair weekly meetings, as a way to alleviate some of the workload on my boss's plate. I had a hard time leading during those first few meetings.
However, over time I gained skills and confidence to comfortably lead the meetings, and I even got some tips from the executives at meetings on how to do that. I found that feedback is one of the best ways to learn and grow.
Eventually, the stress simply went away, and I found myself seeking out opportunities to use the new communication skills that I gained.
3. Tell me about a time when you were asked to work on a task that you had never done before.
This is one of the behavioral questions that your interviewer may ask to understand your thought process better.
Here they're trying to discern whether you're the type of employee that could grow and learn new tasks, or whether you prefer to stay in your comfort zone.
Example answer: I found that if I'm working on a new task, one that I've never worked on before, reaching out to someone who has completed the task before is one of the best things you can do.
I pick their brain and learn from them and gain valuable insights.
For example, I was tasked with training new team members on safety and hazardous materials in the workplace. I found that by speaking with the last person who filled the role, I was able to gain a lot of new details that I may not have had.
I also asked that person for feedback once I was done.
If you're interested in learning more about how to gain confidence when starting a new job, check out: Imposter Syndrome at Work: 4 Strategies to Battle It Out.
4. Tell me about a time when you had to cultivate a relationship with a new client. What did you do?
If you are in the sales or HR department, this question may be very important for you to answer. Your hiring manager may want to learn more about how you build relationships with customers, and when possible, use numbers and percentages to validate your success.
Example answer: When I started out in the sales business, I had the hardest time with closing customers. I have a "nice guy" nature, which makes it difficult for me to move towards the call to action in the sales pitch.
What I began to do was spend time learning more about my clients before I ever tried to sell them anything. I learned if they had kids, what their goals were for their professional career, and where they saw themselves.
People began to open up about all that kind of stuff in regular conversation. This holistic client care philosophy allowed me to become the top salesperson at my company, with over $100,000 in sales in one year.
5. Describe a time when you disagreed with your boss. What did you do?
Employers want to know how you bring up disagreements with your boss, and work on solutions to solve the problem.
Once again, this is another one of the behavioral interview questions that you may come across, ones that are focused on learning more about the way that you think and act in specific situations.
There are a lot of different ways in which you can address disagreements with a superior, but try to focus on ways that you showed your manager respect when dealing with disagreements.
Example answer: Two years ago, I was working with my boss to plan out key performance indicators for the year.
I usually deferred to her experience when setting goals, but I found one specific goal that just didn't seem attainable for my group. In the middle of an economic downturn, she was expecting to grow sales by 30%.
I cautioned her, that an expectation of 5 to 10% might be more accurate. Eventually, we found the sales figures fit my prediction, and we were able to grow our sales by 7%, which was a huge win for us.
6. Describe your greatest challenge.
Although it may seem like your interviewer is asking you about a time that you failed, instead, they're trying to see how you deal with adversity.
It's a great opportunity for you to share your greatest "comeback" story, a time when you felt like there was no way that you could succeed but managed through ingenuity to solve the problems and exceed expectations.
If you'd like to find great examples of this question, check out our article Describe Your Greatest Challenge - Interview Question (+Answers). There you'll be able to find how to use the STAR method to answer this question.
7. What Was Your Greatest Accomplishment?
Human resources managers ask you this question because they want to discover your work ethic and values. What you feel is your greatest accomplishment at work will show a lot more about the way you think and act in the workplace.
There is a great article on our website which gives you more details on how to answer this question: How To Answer 'What Was Your Greatest Accomplishment?' In an Interview.
8. Tell Me About A Time You Failed
Your hiring managers may ask you this question to learn more about your problem-solving skills and ability to learn from your mistakes.
No person is perfect, and that's why this question is a common situational interview question. This may be one of the hardest questions to practice answering, as you're forced to delve into tough times throughout your career when you tried something new and still failed.
We have a great article on our website which provides answers to this question, so check out How To Ace 'Tell Me About A Time You Failed' Job Interview Question.
- Use the STAR method to provide practical answers to questions.
- Examine each of the eight common interview questions, and come up with your own answers which fit your own experience.
- Try to be honest and include times when you've collaborated with team members to achieve goals.
Answering situational interview questions isn't easy, and it will certainly benefit you to speak with a professional career counselor at Enhancv. They can help you come up with answers to hypothetical situations as well as allow you to create a good impression on potential employers.
Meta description: Discover what a situational interview question is, learn the most common questions you may encounter in an interview, and learn from example answers provided.
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