10 situational interview questions you should be asking every candidate

By Robert Half 26th June 2017

Your candidate looks good on paper, but do you know how well they’d respond in a challenging workplace situation?

Making a good hire involves more than an ability to assess CV-based skills and experience—it also concerns the quality of the interview questions you ask during the hiring process.

Once you’ve assessed the candidate CVs and identified those with potential, you’ll need to meet them in person to determine whether you can add value to one another’s growth and development. Situational interview questions are a tried and tested way of doing this.

What is a situational interview?

The standard hiring process can typically contain two types of interview—behavioural and situational. Each type is designed to probe the candidate to test various character traits, technical skills and soft skills.

In a behavioural interview, questions are used to assess how candidates behaved in past work situation and will give an insight into how they might behave at your company when faced with a similar situation.

A situational interview uses questions based on hypothetical ‘what if’ future situations. They help determine how a candidate would handle difficult situations in the work place and unearth the character traits of great employees.

Typically, your second round interview questions will be more situation-based, where the first round will be dedicated to covering the basics and getting to know your candidate.

Situational interview questions to ask

Although there are standard situational interview questions you can ask, it also helps to include targeted, role-based questions. Situational interview questions for customer service might include handling difficult customers, where situational interview questions for sales would focus on how the candidate might reach challenging targets.

Here are some frequently asked situation interview questions, depending which area you’d like more insight on:

Authority

To determine whether your candidate has qualities that make them an effective manager, you should focus on questions that explore difficult situations or getting the best possible performance from employees.

  • How would you go about motivating your team on the lead up to ‘X project’ and what might you do to keep them continuously engaged with it?
     
  • How would you resolve a conflict between employees within your team?

If you’re interviewing for a more junior role, ask questions designed to assess how proactive a candidate is, how much support they’ll need and how they take direction.

  • Is there a situation in which you feel it’s acceptable to make key decisions independently, without consulting your manager?
     
  • How would you build a relationship with a senior staff member that you felt disconnected from?

Colleagues and team dynamic

Our report, It’s time we all work happy: The secrets of the happiest companies and employees revealed that employees who feel like they have good relationships with other team members are 2.7 times more likely to be happy and satisfied at work. With that in mind, here are some simple situational questions to explore how a candidate works within a team.

  • What would you do if you felt that another member of your team wasn’t giving 100 per cent on a group project?
     
  • How might you resolve a disagreement with another colleague?

Download our employee happiness report

Competency-based

Asking questions around competency gives you the opportunity to dig deeper into a candidate’s skill level and will build upon anything striking that you saw when reading their CV.

  • Is there a situation in which you feel altering work process would improve productivity? How might you change things?
     
  • What would you do if you felt you’d been asked to perform a task that you considered to be outside of your technical skill set?

Client-facing situations

Client-facing roles come with their fair share of pressure and expectation, so you may want to explore a candidate’s attitude towards clients and their potential to impress.

  • Assume you were in a situation in which you failed to meet a client’s expectations. How would you identify the problem and rectify it?
     
  • How would you go about making a good impression on a client?

Candidate answers – what to look out for

Besides having a good idea of the kinds of situational interview questions you’ll be asking during the job interview, it’s also good to know what a strong answer looks like.

  • Has the question has been listened to properly?
    Not listening to the question properly before giving an answer could be a sign of interview nerves or an indication of a lack of workplace communication skills.

Tip: Take the time to allow a candidate to relax into the interview setting before asking situational interview questions so that you can get an accurate reflection of their listening and communication skills.

  • Has the answer has been tailored to the role?
    Assuming that the interview question was not a role-specific question, a truly clever candidate will be looking to tailor their answer to be role-appropriate wherever they can. By the way they answer the question, you may be able to ascertain there understanding of the roles requirements, the company culture or common obstacles associated with the role.
  • Has the candidate given answers that include examples from their personal lives?
    Answers that use examples from a candidate’s private life will give you a fuller picture of their character, both in and out of the office.  

When paired with a strong CV, situational interview questions offer you a fantastic opportunity to glimpse into your professional future with a candidate and can provide insight into the growth and success you can offer each other.

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