This Byte has been authored by

Quincy Cooper

Your job interview is going well. You provided a good summary of your experience, described your interest in the role, and highlighted your relevant strengths.

Jack Black raising his hand in triumph, captioned

Then the interviewer starts asking questions that begin with:

  • Tell me about a time when…

  • What do you do when…

  • Have you ever…

  • Give me an example of…

  • Describe a…

Panic begins to set in. You're struggling to recall an appropriate situation or having difficulty providing a concise response.

Jordan Peele in fear and sweating profusely.

We've all been there before. Thankfully preparation, structure, and practice can help you answer situational job interview questions effectively and get the job!

What Are Situational Job Interview Questions?

Situational job interview questions, otherwise known as behavioral job interview questions, ask you to explain with specific examples certain situations or scenarios when you've had to use relevant skills — most often soft skills.

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Situational job interview questions help employers determine:

  • your experience and past behavior

  • how you might deal with situations and issues in the role

  • how you work independently and within a team

  • if you demonstrate the required competencies

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Situational job interview questions allow you to highlight:

  • specific professional experience

  • your ability to overcome obstacles and challenges to meet goals

  • your motivations and values

  • knowledge, skills and abilities that make you a good fit for the role

Choose The Right Practice Questions

Situational job interview questions vary based on the position, organization, and industry.

Review the job description thoroughly to identify the core competencies required. There are many different core competencies and they will vary based on the role.

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You can prepare to answer situational interview questions effectively by using practice questions that match the core competencies.

Examples of situational job interview questions by competency:

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Motivation and valuesTell me about your proudest achievement.

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Creativity — Give me an example of a time you were creative with your work. What was exciting or difficult about it?

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Time management — Tell me about a time you set a goal for yourself. How did you go about ensuring you would meet it?

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Conflict resolution — Describe a time you faced a conflict while working on a project. How did you handle that?

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Teamwork — Tell me about a time when you had to work closely with someone whose personality was very different from yours.

Quiz

"Tell me about a time you needed to get information from someone who wasn’t very responsive." Which core competencies should the answer to this situational interview question primarily demonstrate? Select all that apply.

Prepare Dynamic Stories

Situational interview questions and storytelling are interconnected. 

The interviewer wants to hear an account of your work experiences, and your task is to provide a focused and concise narrative that demonstrates the core competencies.

Prepare stories that identify challenges you faced in your career or time at school.

A person picking a book off a shelf. Photo by Christin Hume on Unsplash

For example:

  1. When you solved a problem — critical thinking, creativity, and resourcefulness

  2. When you overcame a challenge — initiative, motivation, ability to navigate obstacles

  3. When you made a mistake — accountability, problem-solving, personal development

  4. When you worked as a leader — decision-making, negotiation, ability to influence

  5. When you worked with a team — communication, collaboration, conflict resolution

  6. When you did something interesting — motivation, values, interests

    These situations involve many competencies and are general enough to help you answer a variety of situational job interview questions.

The Art of Storytelling

Every good story has structure.

The S.T.A.R. method provides a structure that enables you to analyze your experiences from work or school, and give thoughtful and thorough responses to any question.

Image of a young woman sitting at a table in conversation, captivating the listeners. Photo by Jason Goodman on Unsplash

S.T.A.R stands for:

Situation — Set the scene by providing context of the situation, including relevant details.

Task — Describe your responsibilities or your role in the situation.

Action — Describe what steps you took to resolve the situation or overcome the challenge.

Result — Share specific outcomes you achieved because of your actions.

Meet Paolo

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Paolo is interviewing for a marketing specialist role and is asked the following situational interview question:

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

Paolo provides the following response:

“In my previous role as a marketing coordinator, my manager asked me to create and launch a digital ad campaign. I met with a coworker 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.”

Quiz

The hiring manager seemed a bit disappointed with Paolo's response. Where could Paolo have provided more detail?

Take Action

Using preparation, structure, and practice will help you answer situational job interview questions effectively and help you get the job!

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