“Tell Me About a Time…” How to Handle Situational Interview Questions

See if you recognize this scenario: You’ve finally gotten an interview you’re excited about. The work is interesting, the company has a good reputation, the commute is doable, and the money is good. So you do your homework. You learn all about the company, its principles and objectives, how and where it conducts its business. You practiced your answers, relating your skills to the company’s needs. In the interview itself, everything’s going well, until the interviewer tosses out the curveball: a situational question.

It can be a hypothetical scenario, or you could be asked to describe a time when you displayed a certain quality or had to deal with a certain situation. It’s a thought-provoking wrench in the usual factual exchange of the interview.

We’ve all been there. Most interviewers ask at least one situational question, for a variety of reasons:

  • To see how you respond under pressure
  • To test your problem-solving skills
  • When caught off guard, people are less likely to stretch the truth
  • To get a sense if your priorities and values match the company’s

Luckily, there are a few strategies that can turn that curveball into a base hit for most people, or if you’re really good, a home run.

  • Stay Calm – This is vital. Getting flustered and tripping over words you haven’t thought of yet makes you look panicky and unqualified. Taking a minute to think about your answer before deliberately and clearly articulating your response will show your poise and thoughtfulness.
  • Figure Out Why They’re Asking This Question – Is the interviewer trying to suss out your personal values? Are they looking to see if you can take on a leadership role? Does the job call for someone who stays cool under fire? When you figure out what they want to know about you, you can offer an answer that best demonstrates the relevant quality.
  • Plan Ahead – While you never know exactly what situational question an interviewer will ask, you don’t have to go in blind. Think of your most important career events and assignments, and what your responses and performances say about you. Many situational questions involve prioritizing multiple important tasks. Knowing more about the company and its culture will tell you what answers they value.

Getting the situational questions right can give you an edge over other candidates. We can help you find the interviews for the jobs you want, and help you get ready to answer any question. Contact us today so we can get you impressing those interviewers as soon as possible.