5 Situational Interview Questions (With Example Answers)

By Indeed Editorial Team

Updated January 15, 2023

Published May 17, 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 the recruitment process, an employer may ask you some situational interview questions. Also known as "behavioural interview questions," situational interview questions give the hiring manager important information about how you deal with specific issues and circumstances that may occur during your work. Your responses show how you resolve these issues, how you fit in with the company culture and how you can help the company achieve its goals.

In this article, we discuss situational interview questions, explain how to give the most suitable answers using the STAR method, and explore five situational sample interview questions and sample answers to help you prepare for your next interview.

What are situational interview questions?

Situational interview questions paint real-life scenarios to discover how you would handle them if they occurred in the workplace. Every role and industry has its own unique set of opportunities and challenges. Therefore, employers must determine how well job applicants are prepared to handle these incidents before they make a hiring decision. Employers also use situational interview questions to find out how you handled similar situations in previous roles.

Situational interview questions are a great way to highlight how your professional experience, strengths, skills and abilities enable you to meet your employer's business goals and overcome any challenges you have faced. They also help an employer better understand your thought process and accurately test your communication, problem-solving and self-management skills.

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Answering situational interview questions

There's no way for you to know which questions a prospective employer will ask. However, you can use the STAR method to prepare thoughtful, thorough answers to any question. The STAR method helps to guide your response and helps give a well-rounded answer to the interviewer's question. A great response highlights a clear obstacle and how you reached a reasonable resolution.

First, identify some unique challenges you've faced in your career. If you're a fresh graduate and this is your first time entering the job market, consider the obstacles you encountered during your time at school or while participating in any extracurricular activities. Then, analyze each experience using the STAR method:

  1. Situation: Explain the context of the situation you experienced, including relevant details. An example of this could be: “In my previous role as a customer service manager for a retail company, my team was frequently deluged with a high volume of phone and email orders during the busy holiday season. However, we could not afford to hire part-time staff for the holidays.”

  2. Task: Discuss your responsibilities or your role in the situation. Explaining the task could look like this: “It was my responsibility to ensure that the customer service team worked quickly to resolve customer questions and concerns effectively. I made sure that our customers always had a fully satisfactory experience.

  3. Action: Describe what you did to resolve the situation or overcome the challenge. Here's an example: “To reduce the workload on my colleagues, I created a more concise version of our phone script and developed multiple templates for emails to help my team address customers' needs faster.”

  4. Result: Share specific things you achieved because of your actions. Here's one way you can share the result: “By creating better resources, I improved our response time by 60 percent and increased customer satisfaction rates by over 25% year over year.”

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Five sample situational interview questions and answers

As you prepare for your interview, you can use these five examples of situational questions and answers to guide your own responses:

1. What would you do if you made a mistake no one noticed?

Employers may ask questions like this to assess your integrity and morals and determine whether your values and ethics align with the company. Your response is an excellent opportunity to show your commitment to honesty and producing high-quality work.

Example: "I believe in acknowledging your mistakes, learning from them and attempting to correct them. My first job was working as a barista at a coffee shop. One day, after preparing a customer's drink, I realized that I had used whole milk instead of soy milk like they had asked. They may not have noticed the difference, but I knew my error could have a negative effect on their experience.

I immediately informed my manager, made a fresh drink with soy milk and apologized to the customer for the delay. They were pleased, and it impressed my manager that I had done the right thing. From that point forward, I paid particular attention to customers' requests for specific ingredients.”

2. What would you do if you were asked to perform a task you've never done before?

When you are new to a position, your manager may ask you to perform tasks you're not familiar with or good at. This is their own way of understanding how you use your problem-solving ability to teach yourself a new skill. Remember to detail the steps you take to develop a new skill.

Example: “In my previous role as a marketing coordinator, my manager tasked me with creating and launching a digital ad campaign, which was something I'd never done before. I explained to my manager that I had no experience leading that type of project but offered to do the work required if a more experienced colleague could guide me. I met with several of my coworkers who knew all about running digital ads, studied industry best practices and successfully launched the ad campaign. Thanks to that hands-on learning experience, I became the team expert on digital advertising.”

3. Tell me about a time when you failed. How did you deal with this experience?

Employers use this situational interview question to find out how you overcome difficulties, recover from failure or defeat and learn from your mistakes. You can use your response to demonstrate your flexibility and share an example of how you transformed a negative experience into a positive one.

Example: “In my first week as an account manager, I wanted to impress a top client and over-promise on a project timeline. Unfortunately, my team could not complete the project before the deadline, as I promised. We ended up losing the client. I reached out to the client and took full responsibility for our failure to deliver, and they gave us another chance. Because of this experience, I learned the value of setting realistic expectations and never promising more than I could deliver.”

4. What would you do if an angry and dissatisfied customer confronted you? How would you resolve their concern?

Employers ask this situational interview question to determine whether you have the communication and conflict-resolution skills required for the position. Use your response to show that you possess empathy and the ability to overcome unexpected challenges.

Example: “When I worked as a receptionist for an auto mechanic, I took a call from a customer who was upset that we weren't finished working on their vehicle. I listened patiently to the customer's concerns and tried to calm them down using phrases like, ‘I completely understand your frustration.' Then, I took down their information and promised to call them back.

I found the technician who'd been working on their vehicle and learned that the vehicle would need more extensive repairs than we had originally expected and would take several days to fix. I had a loaner vehicle sent to the customer and then called them back. Not only were they appreciative of my help, but they also publicly thanked us on social media.”

Related:

  • Behavioural Interview Questions and Answers (With Samples)

  • Customer Service Skills: Definition and Examples

5. What professional accomplishment are you most proud of, and how did you achieve it?

Employers ask this situational interview question to identify the type of work you find fulfilling and the steps you take to meet goals. Your response should address a career highlight that's also relevant to the job for which you're applying.

Example: “When I worked as an IT administrator, I found a security vulnerability in our server during my regular maintenance rounds. Rather than simply patching it, I looked into the network records and discovered that a virus had recently compromised several files. I notified the rest of the team, and we quickly isolated the infected files and stopped them from spreading further, which saved the company millions of dollars. That experience ignited my passion for preventing cybercrime and drove me to apply for this position as a cybersecurity manager.”

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