21 Situational Interview Questions & How To Answer Them
If you’re looking for a new job it’s important to be ready for common situational interview questions. These questions are used frequently because of their fantastic ability to shine a light on how you operate in the workplace.
This list of questions will help you get prepared so you can knock your answers out of the park.
1. Tell me about a time you failed at work. How did you deal with it?
Even the most qualified individuals will encounter challenges they can’t overcome. Failure is completely fine, but hiring managers want to learn how you respond to those experiences. Do you falter, or is it a nexus for growth?
The best way to answer this situational interview question is to share a short story of a workplace failure. Focus on what happened afterward. Describe what you did to fix the issue and what it taught you.
Emphasize the growth aspect of those scenarios. Explain how you recovered and what it meant for your professional development. Companies love hiring people who can use those mistakes to improve their skills, turning an otherwise negative experience into one of positive growth.
2. Tell me about a time when you saw a problem at work and fixed it
This situational interview question is about taking the initiative to correct problems as you see them.
Operational issues can occur at any time. The blame may not fall on you directly. So do you ignore the problem until someone else addresses it, or do you take the initiative to make corrections yourself?
Of course, hiring managers want people who do the latter. They don’t want to bring on people with a “not my problem” attitude.
When answering this question, choose a situation that required direct action from you. You may have fixed a jammed copier or uncovered an error in an account ledger. Avoid anything that’s common courtesy. For example, informing the janitorial team at your office of a water spill at the entrance isn’t anything to brag about.
Instead, choose a moment that could have ended badly had you not stepped in.
3. Tell me about a time you went above and beyond
Exemplary employees will go above and beyond despite other priorities. Hiring managers and interviewers want to know that you have genuine dedication and are willing to put in extra effort to contribute to the company’s bottom line.
That doesn’t mean you have to commit all your time, but companies prefer hiring people who occasionally go the extra mile to get things done when it counts.
Choose a moment that illustrates your willingness to be that person. Don’t choose a simple moment like staying a little late for work. That’s relatively common.
Instead, talk about a scenario where you had to put other responsibilities or priorities on hold to accomplish vital work that made a difference.
4. Tell me about a time when you had to make a great impression on a new customer or client. What did you do?
Impressing customers or clients is a vital part of any business, and their happiness often impacts your success.
Meeting new clients can be challenging, but interviewers want to know what you do to make a positive impression. The best way to respond is to talk about a time when you went the extra mile to make a customer happy.
For example, you might have a story about a time when you had to think outside the box to meet expectations and leave a lasting impression. Any story that shows your dedication to customer service and satisfaction will help.
Be sure to conclude your answer with the positive customer response and any other outcome that resulted because of your servicing the customer’s needs. This may include additional projects, new business, or a glowing review.
5. What do you do if you make a mistake at work and nobody knows?
This is a tricky situational interview question, and that’s by design. You may encounter situations where you make a dire mistake. But if no one is around to notice, you may feel that temptation to brush it under the rug.
No hiring manager wants that. Like we said before, mistakes happen. In most cases, your response to those mistakes matters most.
This question tests your integrity and helps interviewers understand your workplace ethics. It’s a way to see if your morals align with company expectations.
Think of a situation that exemplifies your honesty and integrity. Focus on moments when you took responsibility, addressed the mistake head-on, and mot importantly, include what your learned from your misstep.
6. Describe what you would do if your boss wanted you to do something incorrectly
Here’s another scenario that can be awkward to deal with, but it happens more often than most realize. Bosses aren’t perfect! They make mistakes just like you and your colleagues.
What interviewers want to know is how you respond in these situations. It’s also testing your judgement, emotional intelligence, and integrity.
It shouldn’t matter who asks you to do something wrong or potentially unethical, illegal or just plain wrong. The key is in how you address the request. Some people let mistakes made by bosses fly under the radar, even if it results in major issues later. Others will speak up but do so in an inappropriate way.
The best answer is to talk about a time when you approached this situation tactfully. Did you ask your boss to clarify his/her request or did you accuse her/him of cheating? There’s a difference. Hiring managers want to see that you speak up, but they also want to ensure that you’re respectful while doing it.
Use an example and clearly spell out the steps you took to address the situation with your boss and how you did that. The conclusion should include how they responded and what didn’t happen because you intervened.
7. Tell me about a time when you had to talk with an unhappy client or customer
Unfortunately, it’s not always possible to satisfy every customer. Hiring managers want to know how you respond in these situations and what you do to address customer concerns.
This question highlights many things. First, it gauges your situational awareness. Do you recognize when a customer is unhappy?
Secondly, this situational interview question tests your problem-solving skills. It’s a way to describe how you react in these all-too-common moments.
Describe the scenario and focus on what you did to resolve the issue. Talk about it, whether that’s going to a colleague for assistance or elevating the case to management. More importantly, share the positive outcome of your interaction, discuss what you learned and what you did to prevent similar moments from happening again.
8. Tell me about a time when you and a coworker didn’t see eye to eye. How did you deal with it?
Disagreements with coworkers will happen. It’s inevitable when you work with others. Unfortunately, it sometimes causes unnecessary drama.
No company wants to have this become a distraction, so they ask this question to see how you approach these moments with grace and maturity.
Think about the last conflict you had and what you did to squash it before it turned into something unprofessional or ugly.
The main focus here is on your interpersonal skills and communication. Lean into those aspects of your experience when answering. Talk about how you applied your communication skills to resolve conflict and what you did to find a place of mutual understanding.
The more valuable employees are those who take the initiative to eliminate drama and overcome coworker conflicts without elevating this to management.
9. Describe a time when you needed to use great communication skills at work
Speaking of communication skills, interviewers will often ask questions with the sole purpose of learning more about this soft skill.
Communication is a critical part of any position. It’s not only about speaking in public or knowing what to say to clients. Good communication can take you far and make it easier for others to work with you.
Think about moments when your communication skills came to the rescue. That could be when you led a team and had to communicate tasks with individual collaborators. Or, it could be about a time when you had to convey complex ideas to help others understand.
Whatever the case, go into detail and explain each step you took that made a noticeable difference.
10. Describe a situation when you were unable to do a great job due to unforeseen circumstances
No matter how well you prepare or how hard you work, unforeseen circumstances can impact your ability to do your job. It could be a personal emergency or problem that disrupts workplace operations. Either way, those moments are often unavoidable and leave you with your hands tied.
When answering this question, think of a time when an obstacle interfered with your work and what did you do to overcome that challenge and get back on track. Employers understand that things happen. But what matters most is how you respond and what steps you take to move forward.
This situational interview question gives them a better idea of how you respond to unavoidable issues. It provides a blend of information about your problem-solving skills, dedication, and motivation.
11. Tell me about a time when you had too much on your plate at work. How did you handle this?
Companies appreciate diligent workers. But there’s a fine line between going the extra mile and putting too much on your plate. In the latter scenario, your work performance may suffer.
Contrary to popular belief, this question isn’t a way to show off your ability to do as much as possible. Interviewers don’t want to hear cliche answers like, “I buckle down and get everything done!”
While that can benefit the bottom line, it’s not sustainable nor is it what interviewers are looking for out of this question. They want to learn about your time management skills and ability to prioritize work. How do you get everything done, and are you self-aware enough to understand when you need help? Always be sure to include the positive end result.
Taking the initiative is great, but not at the sacrifice of work quality.
12. Tell me about a time when you achieved a goal at work
Here’s a great opportunity to describe your work style in detail.
Every company has goals you need to hit, but they don’t always provide a perfect roadmap of how you get there. As an employee, it’s your job to figure out the rest. You know where you start and where you need to end, but how do you get to that point?
Interviewers want to understand your work process and what approach you take to complex goals.
Talk about the goal and company expectations you had to meet. Then, go into your thought process and highlight the skills and capabilities you harnessed to cross the finish line.
13. Describe a time when you had to present something at work and how you prepared for it
Presentations can be stressful regardless of how experienced you are or what work you do. But they’re an important aspect of your career.
This situational interview question isn’t about showing off the finished product of your presentation. It’s about the process!
Interviewers want to know how you prepare for these landmark moments. It tests your communication, time management, and public-speaking skills.
Before developing an answer, research the company to understand how presentations impact everyday operations. What form do those presentations use? What software does the company prefer? Now you can reference any similarities with your own experience.
In your answer, start with the situation then discuss your work process and implement key details that help the interviewer envision you in this new role. Focus on what you did and what positive results came after.
14. How do you adjust to change at work?
One thing that can negatively impact your chances of getting a job offer is inflexibility. Companies evolve, and employees must adapt.
This situational interview question is crucial because it directly involves adaptability. The goal is to show that you’re flexible enough to change with the company and can transition to new experiences.
Think about the last time you encountered a significant change in at work. For example, your company could have switched business models or changed their standard operating procedures. Focus on the impact of that change, what you did to adapt, and how you went proceeded and ensured that the change didn’t disrupt your success.
15. What would you do if you were asked to handle something at work that you’ve never done before?
With this situational interview question, hiring managers are looking for a few crucial details.
The first is your willingness to take on new challenges. The strongest candidates have no problem tackling new things. They thrive on it and use those moments as opportunities to grow.
However, everyone has limits. That brings us to the second detail interviewers are looking for in your response. Do you have the self-awareness to know your own limitations? In other words, who did you turn to for help or where did you go for resources?
It’s fine to give an example and say that you struggled or had to overcome a learning curve. The most important thing to highlight is that you understood your limitations and took action to get up to speed. Talk about what you did to close that skill gap and get the results your higher-ups expected.
16. How do you handle being under pressure?
Workplace stress can have a serious impact on an employee’s performance and productivity. It’s common to experience pressure, but everyone deals with those emotions differently.
Companies want individuals who are confident enough for challenges but self-aware enough to understand they need to take steps to reduce the stress of the job.
Discuss the last time you felt substantial pressure. Then, describe what you did to address it. Maybe you learned new skills to make your job easier, or you leaned into your time management skills to adjust to new responsibilities. Then talk about what this taught you and how you use a similar process today.
The most important thing when answering this question is to choose moments when you overcome the pressure and experience a positive outcome.
17. Tell me about your biggest professional accomplishment
This question serves a few purposes. First, it shows the interviewer what work you find fulfilling.
Everyone’s greatest professional achievement is different. It could be an award you won or a standout moment that made you feel proud. Talking about that achievement shows the interviewer what you value and what kinds of work will make you feel the most fulfilled at your job.
Another thing it highlights is your overall skills and capabilities. This is a great question that allows you to reiterate what you have to bring to the table. You can also use it to express your enthusiasm for your career and your passion for your work.
As with all situational interview questions, be sure to tell a concise version of the story including the situation, your actions and the results.
18. How do you manage your time when you have a tight deadline?
Here’s a situational interview question that’s all about time management.
Time management is a soft skill that impacts your overall productivity in every job you do. Someone with good time management can meet their deadlines without last-minute cramming and unnecessary stress, so hiring managers want to learn if this applies to you.
Answering this question is about telling interviewers how you handle your responsibilities. Maybe you make to-do lists or prioritize your tasks by importance. Tell a story about how you met tight deadlines and the positive impact that came after.
19. Describe a situation where you needed to persuade leadership to take action on something. How did you approach this?
Questions like this give you a chance to highlight your communication and problem-solving skills.
There are many ways to approach delicate situations like this. The important thing is that you take action.
Doing so requires solid communication and interpersonal skills. You may also need to find ways to convince leadership to see things from your perspective. Interviewers use this question to understand how you solve these problems.
Talk about the situation and detail what steps you took. Don’t forget to finish on the positive results your actions made.
20. Describe a time when you needed to show initiative at work
The purpose of this situational interview question is not difficult to see. Hiring managers and interviewers want to learn about your initiative and motivation!
There will be many moments in your career when you can’t wait for someone else to take action. You may be the only one who can solve a problem before it becomes a workplace disaster.
Think about those past work experiences. When developing a response, focus on the steps you took and why you had to take them. Then, discuss what happened after.
Include your motivations with your answer and what led you to take the initiative.
21. Tell me about a major project you were involved with. How did you manage your time and responsibilities to complete it?
This final question is one that you can almost always expect to hear. It’s a straightforward question that asks you to highlight your time-management skills. It’s a way for interviewers to see how you perform and what you contribute to major projects.
The most critical thing to remember here is that you must highlight your value. That’s what interviewers are looking to understand. It’s about what you bring to the table and how you benefit the projects you work on.
Be specific but concise. Talk about your contributions and how they impacted the final product.
Being prepared to answer these situational interview questions will significantly improve your chance of getting hired. These questions are used all the time, so take this opportunity to prepare and practice.
Run through these a few times and come up with some answers you’re happy with. Then you can go to the interview with confidence!
Hannah Morgan speaks and writes about job search and career strategies. She founded CareerSherpa.net to educate professionals on how to maneuver through today’s job search process. Hannah was nominated as a LinkedIn Top Voice in Job Search and Careers and is a regular contributor to US News & World Report. She has been quoted by media outlets, including Forbes, USA Today, Money Magazine, Huffington Post, as well as many other publications. She is also author of The Infographic Resume and co-author of Social Networking for Business Success.