The 21 Best Situational Interview Questions to Ask

A hiring manager interviews a chief marketing officer candidate.

A resume can tell you about an applicant’s educational credentials, certifications, and past professional experiences, but it can’t tell you nearly as much about their ethical decision-making or problem-solving skills. It also can’t tell you what they are likely to do when confronted with a complicated work problem, dissatisfied customer, or difficult coworker. The best way to know how a prospective employee will respond to a work situation is to ask situational interview questions.

With the estimated cost of a bad hire tracking at around one-third of any given role’s salary, according to the lowest estimates, to as much as twice the cost of wages when other expenses are taken into account, it’s clear that gauging aptitude more accurately is critical to the success of your organization. Asking well-crafted interview questions based on real-world situations employees are likely to face on the job can you give a true glimpse into a candidate’s work style and problem-solving abilities, and thus the true value they’re likely to add to your bottom line.

What Are Situational Interview Questions?

Sometimes referred to as “scenario-based questions,” this category of behavioral questions can be tailored to predict how well a candidate is likely to shoulder the responsibilities on the job description. They can help you determine how often the candidate has encountered similar situations in the past. The 21 questions below can help you understand which soft skills a candidate may be lacking and which are strengths, especially in qualities like emotional intelligence, interpersonal relationships, and customer service.

Situational Questions Based on Past Work Experience

This category of behavioral questions can be used to elicit more detailed information about a candidate’s past work experience. You’ve likely asked situational interview questions before any time you’ve asked a candidate about a previous role with introductory phrases like “Tell me about a time when…” By asking about specific situations they may have encountered in past roles, you make it easier for applicants to share a story that reveals key aspects of their personality, values, and interpersonal skills. For example, you could ask:

  • Describe a time when you were tasked with training a new hire. What methods did you use to help them learn about your employer’s procedures?
  • What kind of problem-solving skills did you use in your past position?
  • How did you find solutions to client problems in your past roles?
  • How did you tackle the toughest problem you faced in your most recent position?
  • Describe a time when you had to work closely with someone with a very different work style and/or core values from your own. How did you negotiate that relationship to make sure you could still be effective?
  • Have you ever had a manager or coworker take credit for your work? How did you address this issue?
  • Tell me about a time when you encountered a seemingly insurmountable challenge that threatened to derail a crucial project. How did you communicate the problem to your boss? What strategies did you employ to solve the problem?
  • Can you think of a time when you failed to perform to expectations? What did you learn from that experience?
  • Have you ever needed to find a work-around because you did not have adequate time or resources to accomplish a task in an optimal manner? What creative methods did you use to get the job done?

Interview Questions Based on Hypothetical Situations

By describing hypothetical scenarios that an applicant is likely to encounter in your workplace, you can ask situational interview questions that reveal an accurate snapshot of how candidates will behave when confronted with circumstances they are likely to face working for your organization.

  • You’re in charge of training a new hire and she is visibly nervous. How do you calm her down and reassure her so that training will be more effective?
  • If you managed our organization’s relationship with an important vendor who was not delivering on time or with the quality of service needed, how would you handle it?
  • If you were assigned to a new team and allowed to take on any role, what would it be?
  • If you were required to partner on a project with a coworker who did not shoulder their share of the workload, how would you work through the problem?
  • Your new manager directs you to tackle a new project or solve a problem in a way that you do not believe will be successful. How do you respond?
  • Your coworker calls in sick the day you’re both giving an important presentation to your management team. What do you do?
  • Your team leader has a new idea they are excited about, but you don’t think this is the solution that is needed to make your project successful. How do you go about diplomatically pointing out the problems with this new solution?
  • If you could design your own workplace management plan, what three initiatives would you include?
  • If you could hire your own manager, what three qualities would you look for in the perfect candidate?

Expanding on Scenario-based Interview Questions

One of the best aspects of situational interview questions is that they tend to get candidates talking, giving you plenty of opportunities to learn what you need to make the right hire. If a job seeker’s initial answer to your questions leaves you wanting to know more, you can encourage them to go deeper into their narrative response by asking follow-up questions, such as:

  • What happened next?
  • How did that go over with your coworkers/client/manager?
  • Can you tell us more about that?

Attract Candidates With the Skills to Tackle Any Situation

The best situational interview questions can help you determine which job applicants possess the qualities you need to grow your business. Selecting a job posting plan that fits your needs can ensure you attract those applicants in the first place. Get started with Monster.