Situational Interview Preparation and Practice

Situational interview questions ask what the interviewer would do in a specific, hypothetical job situation.  This is an example of such a question:  "You have an angry customer on the phone who is complaining about the cost of our services and has said that they would like a refund. What do you do?"

How would you deal with this situation is an example of a situational answer. Unlike behavior descriptive questions, which ask you to recount a past behavior in a specific situation, a situational question is hypothetical, though you could use an example from your past to explain the justification for your answer.

Situational questions can be used in business interviews to determine how experienced or ethical the candidate is. Though a situational question is speculative, you should use reason and be prepared to justify your answer according to your experience and knowledge.

Most situational questions are asked in the conditional tense, as in How would you..., unlike behavior descriptive questions which use the past tense and begin with Tell me about a time when...

Preparation

Situational interview questions are usually specific to your industry or the position you are applying for. If you are applying for a customer service position, expect questions about the client relationship. If you are working in a collaborative environment, where you are expected to work with colleagues closely and frequently, expect situational questions about peer relationships and difficulties with dealing with coworkers.

Situational questions often ask you to apply the knowledge that you have gained in your studies or through professional experience. If you are just starting out in your career, it is probably unlikely that you have experienced ethical quandaries or had experience with corruption, as a young professional business person, civil servant or diplomat may be expected to deal with. You will have to rely on your training and education to explain what you think would be the best solution to the question.

Reading books like Boost Your Interview I.Q., which has sample questions and three potential answers to select from, will help you learn about the types of responses required for these types of questions. A simple search online will turn up several different situational interview questions, though you should also include keyword terms, such as accountant, customer service or foreign service, to get the best questions for your profession.

However, begin a knowledgeable, ethical and collegial person is often hard to fake, so studying to concoct the best answer to please the interviewer may not work. Often employers are skeptical of the responses they receive from situational questions, since they seem like fiction, so speaking glibly or too rehearsed will not help you in the interview.

Practice

You can read books and visit websites with situational interview questions, but you should also prepare by composing some possible answers. Run your responses by a friend or relative, especially another professional in the same field, to get their perspective on your answers. Most career counselors and career centers will offer a mock interview service, for a small fee, that you should take advantage of, so you get feedback from a critical, well trained partner. Beyond situational questions, mock interview preparation will help your overall performance in the interview, especially if you are nervous, or if this is your first professional position.