"I'm preparing for an upcoming interview for a summer job within the public sector. I was told that there will be situational interview questions asked. What are these questions and how can I prepare for them?"
Situational interview questions are a very common type of interview question. They aren't new, as they've been used for years.
Essentially, they are questions designed to see how prospective employees handle certain situations - hence the name, situational question.
The question setup is basic - you will be given a hypothetical situation and the interviewer will ask how you would handle it. These questions are designed to test your thought process and logical thinking skills. Plus, they can be used to predict how you'd react in a similar situation.
Of course, a good interviewer will not be judging your answer based on how quick it is given. You are encouraged to think about it and take a few moments to gather your thoughts.
And these questions aren't scored in a typical "yes" or "no" fashion. Instead, many situational questions have a scale that's used to grade responses. There is usually a benchmark rating that serves as the mark of what most people would do - to score higher, you must say things that people wouldn't think about or do.
Here are some sample situational interview questions:
1. You are employed at a retail store and you notice that one of your colleagues has been purposely damaging items and then taking them home. What do you do?
2. One of your colleagues has told you in confidence that one person is committing time card fraud and doesn't punch out for lunches or breaks. What would your actions be?
3. You are a keyholder at one of the stores in the mall. One of your employees is consistently late for work in the morning. What would you do?
4. A customer approaches your till while you are helping another customer. She angrily says that you did not give her the food she ordered. She's visibly upset and there are a line of customers still waiting to place their orders. What do you do?
5. One of your colleagues calls in sick the day before a project is due. However, you have your own project that is also due but both projects are important in order to land a major client. What actions do you take?
Now, like any other interview question, unless you know what will be asked, you cannot prepare for each and every question. However, take note of a few things that you can do to ensure that you get the highest score possible:
- Take your time when answering the question. You aren't being judged on how quickly you give an answer, so take your time and make sure it's a good answer. Some interviewers might provide a paper and pen to collect your thoughts and I recommend using them if available.
- Make your answers believable and grounded in reality. Don't provide an answer that isn't feasible. Think of what you or someone else would logically do in a given situation.
- Be okay that your answer isn't 100% perfect because everyone handles situations differently and thus, there really isn't a 100% perfect answer.
- Anticipate questions by taking a look at the job ad and identifying key skills that the employer has asked potential employees to have. For example, if the job involves customer service, you will most likely be asked a situational question where an irate customer phones or walks in and you have to deal with him or her. Once you have an idea of possible questions, practice your answers to them.
- Be okay with asking for clarification. If you don't understand the question, ask the interview to clarify and/or repeat the question - some of the most oft-used situational questions are not as straightforward as they seem.
- When answering, try to provide the steps in a logical sequence. For example, if you're asked about how you'd deal with multiple projects, don't say that you'd spend half the day thinking about how to tackle them - most people would see their boss first and that's the logical thing to do.
- Do not rely on past experiences to answer this question. You aren't being asked to provide an example of when you used such and such skill - those are called behavioural questions. You're being tested on what you would do, not what you have done before.
- Provide detail and lots of it. Interviewers are looking to see how you'd respond to a certain situation, so provide them with detail so that they can imagine exactly how you'd handle the situation. Plus, the more detail provided, the better your answer.