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Situational interviews ask a candidate a hypothetical question about a real work situation. Unlike behavior descriptive questions, which are about past behavior, situational questions are about possibilities.

Use Real Experience

Though a situational question is about the hypothetical, most situational questions are based on actual work situations. When interviewing for a customer service position, expect questions about customer relations, dealing with difficult people and following policy while in conflict with client expectations. For business or policing interviews, expect questions about ethics, dealing with clients or the public, and public relations. Teachers can also expect to answer situational questions about dealing with parents, difficult students, colleagues and the public.

Since situational questions are stimulated by real world experiences, use your personal experiences as much as possible when answering these questions. If you have ever faced a similar ethical issue, use that example in your answer, and explain the outcome of the situation, and if the outcome wasn't positive, how you could improve based on your new experience. Recall past professional experience as much as possible since the interviewer will also be looking at your resume at the same time and it helps to enforce their feeling that you are an educated professional in the field.

If you are applying to your first professional position, also use your previous work experience. For example, if you worked counter service in a fast food restaurant and are now applying to be a manager in training, you have definitely dealt with difficult people, had conflicts with coworkers and had to defend product quality. See your previous experiences as transferrable and relevant, and the interviewer will make the same connection.

Sample Questions

For teachers:

  1. Sometimes teachers have to give students a low mark in a course and their parents are unhappy. How would you deal with the unhappy parents' concerns in a parent teacher interview?

  2. You have a student who falls asleep in class. How would you deal with this issue?

  3. This school will be introducing a new curriculum in the fall and you will have to update your teaching materials. What steps will you take to learn the new material?

For the first question, you need to have enough evidence to back up the mark that you gave in the classroom and be willing to listen to mitigating circumstances, such as the child is just learning English, or has a learning disability. In the example with the sleepy student, again, address mitigating circumstances about the student; if, for example, you are teaching in a high school, perhaps this student has a full-time job at night. In the final example, explain your personal process for learning new material and how you create class plans.

For business or finance:

  1. You are preparing a presentation for a group of clients with the assistance of several coworkers. However, you seem to be the only person working on the project. How do you get the other members of the team to participate?

  2. Your group has come together and finished the project on time, but you feel it could be better. What would you do in this situation?

The first question is about dealing with colleagues and your ability to persuade. The very wrong answer is to report the issue to your supervisor without trying to work out the problem yourself. The second question is about work quality and handing in the best product, also an ethical question. It is also a trap to find out if you are a perfectionist.

For policing or security:

  1. You see a senior officer mishandling material that would be essential to an investigation. How and when do you deal with the issue?

  2. One of your colleagues appears to have a personal, intimate relationship with a repeat offender. How do you deal with the issue?

Both questions are about appropriate behavior, as well as your own perception. Be careful that you answer the question to show that it needs to be dealt with in a timely manner that does not compromise your investigation, or public safety.


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