5 Situational Interview Questions and How To Answer Them

By Indeed Editorial Team

Updated 16 November 2022 | Published 25 June 2021

Updated 16 November 2022

Published 25 June 2021

The Indeed Editorial Team comprises a diverse and talented team of writers, researchers and subject matter experts equipped with Indeed's data and insights to deliver useful tips to help guide your career journey.

When you are being interviewed, your interviewer will often ask you situational questions, which are also known as behavioural questions. These are designed to assess your soft skills and personality. Understanding these questions and being prepared can help you do better during interviews. In this article, we will cover some general best practices for answering situational questions, as well as some example questions and answers.

What are situational interview questions?

A situational interview question will detail a situation, whether real or hypothetical. The interviewer will then ask you how you dealt with it, or how you would do so if the situation arose. These situations will be presented to assess your soft skills, like time management, conflict resolution and communication. This will also allow the interviewer to see how well you think on your feet, and how you would handle unexpected situations.

Related: 31 Common Interview Questions and Answers (With Tips)

How to answer situational interview questions

An effective way of preparing for situational interview questions is using the STAR method (situation, task, action and result). This is a general outline, consisting of four steps, that allows you to answer questions concisely and comprehensively.

One thing you should keep in mind is the need to tailor your answers to the company you are applying to. An example that involves you in a similar role to the one you are applying for will be much more relevant. Follow these steps to use the STAR method:

1. Describe the situation

The situation is the context in which the event took place. If you are recounting something that happened in the workplace, then you should give details on your role, with whom you were working and when it took place.

2. Explain your task

In this step, you should describe your assigned role and what was expected of you. Focus on what you were supposed to do, not what others were tasked with. Focusing on what you were expected to do shows the interviewer that you can take responsibility.

3. Specify the actions you took

This is probably the most important part of your story. In this step, explain to the interviewer the steps you took to address the situation and your reasons for doing so. You can go into a reasonable amount of detail. This might include whether you tackled the problem alone or collaboratively, how you became aware of the problem and whether or not you delegated anything.

4. Detail the results

There are two things you want to include during this step. The first is what happened as a consequence of your actions. The second is what you learned from the experience. Whenever possible, explain the result in terms of a tangible difference made. For example, saying that you increased client satisfaction is not as effective as saying that client satisfaction increased by 15%.

Related: How To Use the STAR Interview Technique in Competency-Based Interviews

Example questions and answers

Below are five examples of situational interview questions, along with answers that use the STAR method as a general guide:

1. How would you handle a disagreement with your superior?

This question revolves almost entirely around your soft skills. It requires you to demonstrate your communication and conflict-resolution abilities. You also have the chance to demonstrate that you can both respect company structure and come up with creative solutions.

Example answer: 'A couple of years ago, I was working as a customer service agent. Our work was shift-based. At the beginning of every month, we had a meeting with our manager to discuss our shifts. However, on one occasion our manager suddenly changed our shifts halfway through the month. The sudden change disrupted my schedule and that of my colleagues.

Although my manager resisted requests to rethink his decision, I asked if I could be of any help and volunteered to act as an intermediary. This allowed me to present my concerns and those of others. I assisted my manager in amending the shifts so that the disruption was minimal. I had to compromise, but the overall change was positive for all involved. Because of this, I was given extra responsibilities for managing shifts. A year later, complaints related to scheduling had dropped by 20%.'

2. Tell me about a time you failed. How did you deal with it?

Questions that require the interviewee to talk about their weaknesses are among the most common. This is partly because nobody lists their weaknesses or failures on their CV. Some people may seek to downplay their failures when answering this question. What an interviewer wants to see is that you are capable of admitting to mistakes and learning from them.

Example answer: 'In my first role after graduation, I worked as an assistant. The bulk of my work related to administrative duties. The department head gave me a list of web pages that needed copy written. She then asked me how long it would take to complete.

I told her that I would be able to complete them by the end of the next working day. I quickly realised I had underestimated the task. By trying to meet the deadline I had given her, I failed to adequately complete my administrative duties. I realised that I needed to inform her before I caused more disruption, and apologise. She told me to resolve the problems I had caused before proceeding with the web copy. Ever since then, I have been much more careful with the claims I make.'

3. How would you deal with receiving criticism from a superior?

This question is designed to assess your emotional maturity and professionalism. You need to demonstrate that you are capable of receiving criticism without taking it personally, and actually learn from it. This gives the interviewer an idea of how much you can develop in the workplace.

Example answer: 'In my last position, I was tasked with introducing potential clients to our company's services. In 2020, my manager had me mostly speaking to potential clients over the phone. At some point, he explained that fewer clients were opting to use our services. He explained that I wasn't being friendly or enthusiastic enough on the phone, and that he expected me to address this.

Over the next few days, I tried to remember if I did things differently when I met clients face-to-face. As it turned out, I used to do a lot of smiling to soften my demeanour. I immediately started working on my communication skills. Since then, I have noticed that clients are even happier with me in-person than before.'

Related: How To Give Constructive Criticism

4. How would you handle being asked to perform a task you have never done before?

This question is meant to assess your problem-solving skills and flexibility. Most people will be expected to learn to do something new at some point in the workplace, and the interviewer wants to know that you are capable of this.

Example answer: 'Five years ago, I was working as a marketer in a team. I mostly worked on promotional materials and campaigns. I felt my strengths lay in developing strategies, but we needed to derive insights from client data. I was asked to compile the data and identify trends.

I had never done this before, so I asked if I could have some help getting started. I spent a few days with a colleague from the accounting department, and he helped me get the data compiled and showed me how to visualise it. I also found tutorials online, which I studied after work. The insights helped our marketing team lower unnecessary expenditures by 12% in just a few weeks, and led me to seek training as a data analyst.'

5. How would you deal with an employee of yours who was underperforming?

Even if you are not applying for a leadership position, it might be a future consideration. Interviewers may be looking for long-term employees who are capable of taking up management roles.

Example answer: 'I had a situation like this when I was first put in charge of a small team. A new member of the team was underperforming and unmotivated. As their manager, I knew it fell to me to motivate them.

I had a chat with him and asked what he thought of the work environment. I then gave him positive feedback and made a note of his concerns. I gave him constructive feedback on how he could improve, and assured him I would look into his concerns. I also made it clear that he could speak to me whenever he had trouble, but that I did expect to see improvement. He reacted very well to this and there was a clear improvement. He now heads his own team.'

Explore more articles