5 Situational Interview Questions (With Sample Answers)

By Indeed Editorial Team

Updated 26 August 2022

Published 15 November 2021

The Indeed Editorial Team comprises a diverse and talented team of writers, researchers and subject matter experts equipped with Indeed's data and insights to deliver useful tips to help guide your career journey.

During an interview, the interviewer may want to evaluate your knowledge, experience and readiness for the new role. It is easier for most candidates to answer technical or knowledge-based questions about their profession, which usually have definite right answers. But answering situational questions that test your problem-solving abilities, emotional quotient and ability to tackle stressful situations can be more challenging. In this article, we discuss some situational interview questions, review their sample answers and provide effective techniques to answer them professionally.

What Are Situational Questions?

Hiring managers ask situational questions to understand whether you can deal with actual work-related situations that do not qualify as business as usual (BAU). Every industry comes with a particular set of challenges and demands that require specific skills, intellectual and emotional capabilities. These are difficult to assess through the resume or elemental interview questions about a person's education and work experience. Situational interview questions are important as they convey the following:

  • Mindset and perception: Such questions provide a much better perception of the individual's ability to communicate effectively, manage stress and solve problems.

  • Values and ethics: They help the interviewer understand the core values and ethics that drive a candidate, to see if they align with those of the company.

  • Achievements: They help you highlight relevant experiences and achievements to show that you already possess the required expertise to do justice to the role.

Related: Interview Question: "What Motivates You?" (With Examples)

Tips To Answer Situational Questions

Following the right strategy or method can make answering situational questions much easier. Here are some tips and methods you can use to help you answer situational interview questions:

  • Use the STAR method: This is a well-known method that is very helpful in formulating a structured and well-thought-out response. STAR stands for Situation, Task, Action and Result.

  • Deploy the Problem-solution-benefit formula: This method involves describing a problem you faced, your solution to it and how it benefited your employer.

  • Keep examples ready: Review your previous experience and extract some examples from your professional experience that can be useful while answering some common types of situational interview questions. This helps you answer more confidently and be sure of your skills.

  • Practice mirror talk: Pretend that your mirror is the interviewer and practice answering the questions in front of it. This might feel awkward at first, but when you have done this a few times, you might notice a tremendous confidence boost.

  • Stay relevant: While sharing details of an anecdote, it can get easy to get distracted and share irrelevant details. Remember what the interviewer really wants to know and make sure that gets highlighted in your answer.

  • Be authentic: If you feel you could have done better on a previous occasion but came out of it with great learning, be willing to admit it. This reflects far more confidence and the ability to learn, adapt and grow than a made-up superhero story.

Related: How To Use The STAR Interview Response Technique

5 Situational Interview Questions With Sample Answers

Here are five situational interview questions and sample answers you can familiarise yourself with before you go for a job interview:

1. Tell me about a situation where you had to work with a colleague who was hard to get along with.

The interviewer wants to assess your ability to work in a team and collaborate with people. Use an example that shows you can stay composed even while dealing with difficult people and meet the work objectives.

Sample answer: 'I had a colleague who always wanted things done his way, invariably getting into confrontations with many co-workers. I had to team up with him on a month-long social media campaign to develop creative post ideas and strategically schedule them for maximum reach and engagement. I was tactful and kept my cool throughout. When we disagreed, I heard him out. If I still believed that my idea was better, I supported it with enough data and proven theories to convince him. Ultimately, the campaign was a success and my colleague came to respect me greatly.'

2. Tell me about a time when you exceeded a customer's expectations?

Interviewers often ask this type of question for roles in the customer service or hospitality industry but it may apply to other industries too. It is important that your answer shows that you possess a good emotional quotient to understand the customer's needs and are passionate enough to go above and beyond to give them a delightful experience.

Sample answer: 'I was on a long-haul flight to New York in my previous job as a flight attendant. There was a teenaged girl travelling alone, looking nervous. While serving the meals, I noticed on the passenger manifest that her birthday was in three hours. The scheduled landing was 12 hours away. I worked with the crew to give her a little surprise with the leftover cake and a birthday song. Later, before landing, the captain wished her a happy birthday on the loudspeaker on behalf of the airline and the crew. She was pleasantly surprised and overjoyed by the gesture.'

3. Tell me about a time when you were loaded with too many tasks and not enough time to complete them. How did you cope?

The interviewer wants to know how you deal with and perform under stress. Use an example that shows you can stay calm, focused and come up with innovative solutions when faced with a challenging situation.

Sample answer: 'As an HR executive of an MNC, most days were busy and packed with back-to-back meetings. But, one day I found my inbox flooded with emails because of half our team being sick. I took a moment to make a priority list of different types of requests in order of importance and urgency. I decided payroll-related queries were required to be handled first. By the end of the day, I managed to get through the tasks successfully and had a great priority list ready for the rest of the team to work more efficiently.'

4. Describe a mistake you made at work. How did you handle it?

Apart from measuring your weaknesses, the interviewer also wants to see how you deal with failure and if you are able to derive the required learning from such experiences. Be honest in admitting a mistake, but also mention how you rectified it, the learning you took from it and how you prevented it from occurring again.

Sample answer: 'As a data scientist, one has to be very careful with stats and figures. While analysing my previous company's potential markets, I accidentally used data from an unreliable source. The results confused my manager and he did not know how he would explain that to the investors. Later, while checking the source files, I noticed the error and immediately notified my manager so we could rectify the information before his presentation. He was thankful and after this experience, I always made sure I cross-checked the details several times with the original files to avoid such mistakes.'

Related: Addressing Your Weaknesses In An Interview

5. If your manager assigned you a task that you had never done before, how would you approach it?

The interviewer is trying to check if you can learn things quickly and grow with new challenges that may be present in the new role. In your answer, show your openness to learning new things and using available resources to your advantage.

Sample answer: 'As a marketing assistant, my manager asked me to do new market research and present a detailed report. This was my first such assignment. I informed my manager that I was willing to learn and give it my best shot. I started by reviewing the basics of market research that I had studied in college but never applied.

I also took a short-term course online on how to perform basic research and analysis. By the end of the week, I had an in-depth report ready and a deeper understanding of different research methodologies. This impressed my manager and eventually, I got promoted within months.'

Related: 13 Important Judgement Skills And How To Improve Them

More Commonly Asked Situational Questions

Here are more examples of situational questions that interviewers may ask during an interview:

  • Describe an instance when you had to prioritise something else over work.

  • What would you do if you disagreed with a decision your manager made?

  • Tell me about a time when you had to deal with an angry customer.

  • Describe a time when you were the first to identify a problem that nobody was seeing.

  • What is your biggest failure and how did you handle it?

  • Describe your biggest achievement.

  • What would you do if a colleague took the credit for your work?

  • How would you deal with a manager who refused to recognise your talent and efforts?

  • Tell me about a time when you helped solve a conflict between two team members.

  • Tell me about a time you gave an excellent presentation.

  • If you disagreed with a colleague during a team meeting, what would you do?

  • How would you manage time and performance while working remotely?

  • Tell me about an expectation that your previous company could not meet.

  • Tell me about a time you had to train a new colleague who was a slow learner.

  • Describe a time when you had to make a hard decision. How did you go about it?

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