How to Ask the BEST Situational Interview Questions


You have interviews coming out of your ears. Dozens of candidates to see. The process is becoming almost automated and everyone seems to be responding to you in the same manner. Recalling on their past experience and telling you what they did to achieve those oh so amazing results…deja vu anyone?

Yes, this is all well and good… but you are also looking for someone creative, innovative and someone who demonstrates flair and understanding. The type of person that would fit in to your company culture. The team culture. Someone who can adapt to your unique management style…

Time to switch to asking more (fun) situational questions! Hurrah!

Situational questions are different to traditional interview questions in that you provide the candidate with a scenario and ask them what they would do about it in the future tense. What you ask in these questions and the way the candidate responds can tell you a lot about that person in a very short space of time.

Check out a few examples below:

Scenario 1) You are an organisation that enjoys a flat management structure but you are concerned that the candidate’s main experience has been within more hierarchical organisations. Will they fit in or struggle with the more fluid communication channels/greater chance of plans changing at short notice.

Example Question: “You are working on a project with a co-worker and about to close a sale with a major client, your managing director has just requested for your co-worker to attend a meeting with him at the same time you are due to meet your client. What do you do?”

If the candidate thinks the situation is unavoidable and nothing can be done as the Managing Director has spoken, this could give you an insight into how well you think they may fit into your organisation.

If the candidate answers by saying they will knock on the Managing Director’s door and explain their situation, discuss possible alternatives, invite their colleague along to discuss, this may be an example of someone who can adapt to a flatter management structure without getting their knickers in a twist. Great huh?

paper best idea businessman standing out of the others. idea leadership business concept in modern flat style.

Scenario 2) You have a very lucrative but difficult to deal with client who requires a lot of attention and loves to complain about the tiniest of glitches. A lot of your staff have complained that they no longer want to work on that account but you feel they just need the right person to manage them.

Example Question: “You have been working late and dedicated most of your working hours to a client that does not seem to show you any gratification or respect. You are trying to maintain communication which seems to be falling on deaf ears. What would you do in this situation?”

If the candidate responds by providing a scripted text book answer of remaining patient, trying to go even further to please the client or saying they have a thick skin, chances are they are just saying what you want to hear. Mild alarm bells should start ringing at this stage.

If the candidate gives an insight into their creativity about how they would deal with the situation you may find yourself putting those alarm bells to one side. For example, they may suggest they visit the clients twitter page, check out their interests e.g. train spotting (!),arrange a visit to their favourite transport museum/send them some quality memorabilia/lie and say train spotting it’s also a passion of theirs… whatever it takes. Then this person may have the stick-ability factor that you are so desperately looking for.

So what exactly are the BEST questions?

This is the beauty of it all.

The basics of any situational interview question is to have a good think about exactly what areas of the job you need to press further on, the bit’s you don’t want the scripted response from, the bits that separate one personality from another

You then need to craft a question based on the ‘how would you handle xxx scenario’ depending on what parts you want to examine further. These ‘scenarios’ will vary from role to role, company to company and person to person which is what makes them so unique and powerful if used in the right way.

Do not use situational questions without thorough thought and insight into why and when in the interview process you would use them. We have covered the why (e.g. to press further for the key areas of the role) but the when is just as important.

Do you build up a good picture of the candidates skills and experience first, and then probe into their softer skills? Yes. We think this is a good method at Iopa Solutions as first and foremost this approach allows the candidate to relax into the interview and talk comfortably about their past skills and experience. They will be far more likely to give you more honest answers rather than turn to a more scripted approach due to unsettled interview nerves or having the feeling that they have not been given the opportunity to create a good rapport with the interviewer.

Situational questions provide you with a real insight into the person behind the interviewee. You are not trying to trip them up in any way, you are simply trying to get an insight into the way this individual thinks, handles conflict, and naturally conducts themselves. It’s then up to you to decide whether these traits are the best fit for your organisation.


Situational interview questions can provide interviewers with a much better insight into the personality of the candidate they are interviewing. This in turn can contribute greatly when it comes to deciding who to offer the job to when you are faced with similar skills-sets from numerous candidates.

However, you need to think carefully about what areas you want to probe on further that are intrinsic to the success of the role. Asking too many situational questions may leave the candidate feeling baffled about what you are really trying to find out.

Timed carefully and thought out well, these questions can be the key to who your next best hire is.

What situational question would you ask?

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