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Here are 20 top situational interview questions, plus the right/wrong way to answer them. But first—
Ben Franklin said, “If you fail to plan, you plan to fail.”
That goes triple for situational interview questions.
The situational interview definition? “Tell me about a time you proved you’re the perfect person for this job.”
Situational interviews are an awesome opportunity to stand above the throng.
Most people botch them, so it’s easy to look good.
If you can spend the prep time, you can stand out like Dwayne Johnson in a crowd of Peter Griffins.
This guide will give you:
- 20 top situational interview questions and answers, with right and wrong examples.
- How to prep for the top interview questions for hypothetical situations.
- A formula to ace the toughest scenario interview questions.
- How to figure out which situational questions you’ll face.
And if you want to turn every interview into a job offer, get our free checklist: 42 Things You Need To Do Before, During, and After Your Big Interview. Make sure nothing will slip your mind!
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How to Answer Situational Interview Questions
Before we view the top situational interview questions and answers, here’s a tip:
To answer situation-based interview questions, use the problem–solution–benefit formula.
Your answer should contain:
- A problem you faced
- Your solution
- The benefit to your employer.
Do that, and you’ll fit the job like you were shrink-wrapped on.
Example Situational Interview Question
Tell me about a time you had to collaborate with a coworker who was difficult to work with.
(Problem) I had to work with another programmer who complained a lot about our projects.
(Solution) I took the time to learn about his personal life. It turned out he was going through a tough divorce. Once I got to know him, he was actually a great coworker.
(Benefit to employer) We worked so well together after that we were the most efficient programming pair in the company.
I had to work with a really difficult programmer. Eventually I was able to get transferred to another department and get some real work done.
See the difference? It’s the same scenario interview questions. The employer would walk barefoot over a mile of thumbtacks to hire applicant #1.
Pro Tip: Use this style for problem solving interview questions and answers too. Unless it’s a specific programming problem, find achievements in your past that match the question.
Ready to turn the tables on the interviewer? After your the difficult situation interview questions, ask your own. See our guide: 65+ Best Questions to Ask an Interviewer & Land Top Jobs [Proven Tips]
20 Common Situational Interview Questions
As promised, here are 20 great “tell me about a time” questions.
They’re organized by a CareerBuilder Study of 2,138 hiring managers. The survey looked at the top 10 qualities employers love most.
These situational interview questions and answers judge your strength within those qualities.
Make sure to personalize your own response to match your personal achievements.
This difficult situation interview question looks at your work ethic.
Here's how to answer "Tell me about a time when" questions:
1. Tell me about a time you went above and beyond for work.
The boss was away, and we got an order for an extra 300 concrete vibrators. I rallied the team and we focused on getting them done ahead of time. The customer signed an exclusive contract with us for the next five years.
Remember, problem, solution, benefit.
My boss asked me to work overtime to get an extra order done. I had plans, but I canceled them.
See the difference?
The next of our scenario-based situational interview questions gets at dependability.
2. Tell me about a time you had to choose something else over doing a good job.
I broke my leg skiing and had to miss two weeks of work. I take it easy on the groomers now. I’m happy to report I haven’t missed a day of work in five years.
Problem/solution/benefit. That scenario question answer shows a legitimate reason, a solution, and a benefit.
I’ve always put my work first because it’s very important to me.
Most employers look for employers with a positive attitude. This hypothetical situation question gauges yours.
3. Describe a situation where you weren’t satisfied with your job. What could have made it better?
Our online ordering page let clients order incompatible components, causing heavy complaints. I asked if we could put a product check in place. The software engineer added warnings when two products weren’t compatible. Complaints went down by 35%.
That applicant just got the job. Answering situational interview questions like that shows initiative.
Our online order forms created a lot of complaints. Management could have put in some kind of checking algorithm, but I guess they didn’t want to waste the time on it.
See the problem? No effort or result.
4. Tell me about a time you reached a big goal at work. How did you reach it?
The company wanted to double our rafting guests for the summer. I put together a 3-part plan with a full-color calendar, social media campaign, and found-media outreach. We not only hit our goal, we got a 50% budget increase for the following year.
We had to double our clientele. I designed a new marketing strategy we hadn’t tried before. We reached our goal.
That’s not a terrible scenarios questions answer, but it lacks detail. Plus, see how the first example adds additional benefit? That’s interview gold.
Which of the situational interviews questions answers below do you like best?
5. Describe a situation where you saw a problem and took steps to fix it.
Our rechargeable forklifts had two different plugs. If you used the wrong one, you could wreck a $3,500 battery. I added zip-ties as cord-shorteners so you could only reach the right outlet. We haven’t lost a battery since.
I saw one of our ladders had a broken step and marked it for repairs.
See the difference? Scenario-based interview questions are looking for a benefit.
How to Prepare for a Situational Interview
Have answers ready for scenario-oriented situational interview questions about the most important soft skills. Based on research, they are:
List of Soft Skills
Strong Work Ethic
Steady Under Pressure
Looking for situational interview questions for managers? Focus on the managerial skills shown in our guide: Manager Resume: Sample and Complete Guide [20+ Examples]
Are you team-oriented? The three collaboration interview questions below try to find out.
6. Tell me about a time you had to collaborate with a coworker who was tough to please.
The other pharmacy tech in our lab always had to have things her way. I picked my battles and actually found out she had some good ideas. When I felt very strongly about making changes to our ordering process, she was eager to help. We decreased our processing time by 25%.
I worked with another pharmacy tech who always had to get her way. I kept my head down and did what she said because it was easier that way. Eventually she moved on to another job.
Employers love to hire applicants who have unique abilities, as in example #1 above.
7. Tell me about a time you had to work with an important customer or a difficult manager.
Which of the scenario interview questions answers below would you rather give? Which one has more benefit?
I had an editor who always complained about my work no matter how hard I tried. I added a second round of proofreading on each piece. Since then, I’ve received numerous compliments from editors over my level of “polish.”
I had a boss who was always micromanaging me and everybody else in the department. I stayed out of his way and got my job done. It wasn’t easy, but I learned to keep my head down.
What’s better, an employee who grows through adversity, or one who hides from it?
8. Describe a situation where you had to make a good impression on a customer. How did you do it?
Prep for situational-based interview questions like this by digging for achievements.
In my wedding video business, one client hounded me day and night before her daughter’s wedding. I asked the venue if I could “fire” her. They said her photographer, baker, and band had quit, and I was welcome to. I decided to stick with her. She was so happy she hired me to do her other daughter’s wedding the next year. The venue made me their exclusive vendor.
Whenever I have to meet with an important client, I make sure I’m dressed professionally and I show up on time.
The second of those situational interview questions answers is like cooked spaghetti. Can you find a win in your past like #1?
The scenario-based interview questions below measure your time management. About 57% of hiring managers list that as a must.
9. Tell me about a time your workload was very heavy.
This is one of those scenarios questions that judge prioritization skills. Spot the difference in these answers:
We had two big orders at the same time. I delegated one to the assistant lead. He had some problems, but we got both orders shipped on time. We landed $200,000 in repeat business and the assistant lead turned out to be a capable leader.
We had a couple big orders come in at the same time. I worked overtime and we got everything done.
Delegation shows both dedication and time management. Working overtime? Just dedication.
10. Tell me about a long-running project you handled. How did you manage your time to meet your deadlines?
My team had to develop a SaaS app for a major client. We used the Agile SLDC model with 2-week sprints and daily standups/scrums. By delegating time management, we were able to finish the project 20% ahead of time.
We had to develop a SaaS app for a big client. It took a year to get all the kinks worked out. I kept myself on a strict schedule the entire time.
Don’t forget the benefit. Interview situational questions are always digging for your value.
Next up, answers to situational interview questions about a jammed to-do list.
11. Describe a time when you had too many to do items on your list. How did you solve the problem?
Our department downsized and I got twice my normal workload. I found ways to do things quicker by sourcing new transcription software and making a new system for sorting interviews. I was able to do twice the work with the same effort.
During the holiday rush, I had a lot more to-dos than normal. I had to work some overtime, but I convinced them to hire a temp assistant.
What was your biggest time management achievement? Have it ready for your situational job interview.
How to Answer Situational Interview Questions About Job-Specific Skills
The scenarios interview questions in this guide cover general soft skills. You’ll also face questions about specific job skills.
- Identify the skills you need. They’re listed in the job ad.
- Come up with a time you used each skill.
- Identify the problem and how you used the skill to solve it.
- Figure out a measure for how the company benefited. List dollars saved, revenue earned, time saved, customer satisfaction increased, etc.
12. Describe a situation where you used Photoshop to complete a project
Example Job Specific Situational Interview Question and Answer
We had a chance to win over a high-paying client. My design was shortlisted for a Design Week Award. We got their repeat business and raised annual revenue by 15%.
I’ve used Photoshop daily for 10 years. I guess one of my projects was to design a Tri-Fold for a client.
Which of those two graphic designers would you hire?
These next situational interview questions get at your problem-solving skills. More than half the hiring managers surveyed count that as a key requirement.
13. Tell me about a tough challenge you faced. How did you solve it?
We got swamped with a line out the door and every seat and table filled. I asked the boss if we could serve free soda and breadsticks and explain the wait time to each party. We served everyone in order, and our comment cards that shift were 95% positive.
The elevators went down during a busy check-in. We had to carry all the bags up four flights of stairs all night.
It’s not just “how you handled it,” it’s, “how did your idea help?”
Some behavioral and situational interview questions are booby-trapped. Make sure you find the benefit in this one:
14. Describe your biggest work failure. How did you handle it?
I let a big order of defective parts get all the way to shipping. That was bad and created a lot of scrap. After, I suggested we install mistake-proofing so it could never happen again. We created some dies with pins in them so the parts can only be put into the machines one way. We haven’t had a single defect since.
I shipped a big order of defective parts to a customer. It cost the company a big contract.
You want the silver lining to be bigger than the cloud. Which of the situation questions answers above works best?
More than 56% of hiring managers require effective communication skills. The next group of situational job interview questions judges yours.
15. Tell me about a time you made a great presentation.
Facing situational-based interview questions like this means knowing if the employer prefers PowerPoint, Keynote, or plain old public speaking skills.
We had to convince a big client to go with a costlier alternative that would ultimately make them higher profits. I put together a demonstration based on 10 real-world applications. They not only went with our suggestion, they became a long-term client.
I had to make a presentation to a client to convince them to pick the costlier of two alternatives. They did, and we got a bigger payment for the deal.
Some answers to situational interview questions reveal hidden facts about you. Which of the two applicants above seems more ethical?
Here are three more scenario-based interview questions.
16. Tell me about a time you used written communication skills.
I wrote reports as part of my daily shift. My department head frequently commented that my reports were the shortest and easiest to understand of all the officers.
I used written communication skills to write reports every day.
That first one shows a workplace hero. The second probably wakes up tired every morning.
Our next situation questions and answers focus on communication and interpersonal skills.
17. Describe a situation where you needed information from a coworker who was slow to respond. What did you do?
The sound engineer in our company took a long time getting back to me with vital details. I started taking coffee breaks with him to catch up. I got faster answers and completed projects 15% sooner.
Our sound engineer always took a long time getting back to me. I had my manager talk to him about being more prompt.
There’s nothing wrong with answering situational interview questions like that second example. However, the first answer shows valuable interpersonal skills.
The next of our scenario interview questions gets at your persuasion skills.
18. Tell me about a time you had to persuade someone to see your side of things.
The owner was convinced our gift shop was a moneymaker. I analyzed our cash flow and found it was running at a 10% deficit. I built data visualizations that showed we could increase store revenue 40% through focusing on more popular products.
The owner thought our gift shop was profitable. I sat him down and explained to him that he was wrong. He saw my side of things and agreed.
That last example proves persuasiveness. The first also shows measurable results plus communication skills.
Pro Tip: All hypothetical questions are a chance to share achievements. “Well actually I faced that situation and excelled,” beats “I would assess the situation and act accordingly” any day.
The next of our situational interview questions looks at flexibility. How do you adjust to change? 51% of hiring managers want to know.
19. Tell me about a situation when your job went through big changes. How did you adjust?
When our company grew, I went from a network administrator to a full system administrator. I read 5 books on systems admin and took a class to get a handle on my new responsibilities. I then used automated system monitoring and strategic hardware location to save us $50,000 a year in lost time and materials.
I was upgraded from a network admin to a systems admin. It was a lot more work and responsibility, but I adjusted well.
Can you see the benefit in example #1? That scenario question unearthed a super-employee.
Next on our list of situations questions and answers: confidence.
20. Tell me about your proudest professional accomplishment.
I made an educational video for a consultant that brought in over $1 million in revenue.
I made an educational video for a consultant that brought in over $1 million in revenue. I only made $1,000 for it but I asked him for a cut of the profits on future jobs.
Sometimes answering situational questions for interviews means knowing when to stop.
21. Describe a situation where your boss was 100% wrong. What did you do?
Are you confident enough to step up to the boss? Do you have the grace to accept when she says “no” regardless?
My boss said we couldn’t afford a bigger machine, but I knew the small one was hurting production. I took her to the shop floor during a production run and showed her all the defects and rework caused by forcing our equipment beyond capacity. She said, “price out the larger one tomorrow. We got one, and our production costs dropped 30%.
I knew we needed a bigger TV to help video sales. My boss said we couldn’t afford it. I said we couldn’t afford not to. I stood my ground and he finally gave in.
Again, problem, solution, benefit to the company.
Pro Tip: Does preparing for situational behavioral interview questions and answers sound hard? You only have to do it once for any number of interviews.
That’s that in terms of situational interview questions. Time to prepare for the rest.
Next, move on to behavioral questions:
Finally, move on to specific answers:
- How to Describe Your Current Job Responsibilities
- Tell Me About Yourself
- What Are Your Strengths?
- What Is Your Greatest Weakness?
- What Is Your Management Style?
- Where Do You See Yourself in 5 Years?
- Why Did You Leave Your Last Job?
- Why Do You Want to Work Here?
- Why Should We Hire You?
Want dozens of other tips to take your interview performance to pro level? See our guide: 50+ Successful Interview Tips, Advice & Guidelines
Here’s a recap of situational interview questions and answers:
- Prepare for situational questions in advance. Identify the key requirements in the job ad. Then find achievements in your past that match.
- Answer hypothetical interview questions with a problem you faced, a solution you came up with, and a benefit to the company.
- Get ready for scenario questions around popular soft skills like dependability, work ethic, and collaboration.
- Expect scenarios interview questions about job-specific skills shown in the job ad.
Do you have questions about how to answer situational interview questions? Did you think of key situation-based interview questions we missed? Give us a shout in the comments! Let's get the conversation rolling.