3 Steps to Answering a Situational Question at Your Job Interview


We’ve all been there before. Whether it blindsided us, or we came well prepared with stock answers, it’s inevitable and unescapable: The dreaded situational question. It can come tiered, it can come hypothesized, or it can ask you to delve deep into the recesses of past experience. They are tough and meant to be so. They are telling of who you are as an employee and arguably of your human fabric.

So how do you answer?

Step 1: Prepare

Preparation is fundamental to a successful interview. By doing so, you’ve already mentally prepared by equipping yourself with top-of-mind points. These points are crucial for applying to any question thrown your way as a means of proving your case and fit for the position. By preparing, you’re lessening your chance for panic when hit with off-guard questions. Keeping calm will help with your recall of these valid selling points of yourself.

Step 2: Don’t panic

Remaining calm is another element for conquering these types of questions, especially when given the tiered question. This type of situational question is essentially asking for you to take the interviewer on a journey into your problem solving skills. Present the problem, provide your solution, and explain all the steps involved in finding resolve. This, of course, requires focus on the phrasing of this layered question. What skill are they really looking for you to put into action in this scenario? Were they looking for your expertise in collaboration or your ability to work autonomously? This is your chance to show how you respond under pressure by the interviewer purposely trying to throw you off-guard.

Step 3: Apply your experience to the unknown

There will be times when the question posed presents a situation that you have not yet come across. No need to fear and certainly no need to lie. Be honest with the interviewer in saying that this has not come up in past career experience. Look for examples in your personal life, or within a volunteer or educational capacity. You can also shift gears by providing your answer in a hypothetical sense, where you have the opportunity to explain what you would do in such a situation.

Keep your answers succinct and to the point. You want your plan of action to be understood loud and clear by the interviewer. Don’t do your answer injustice by unnecessary rambling. The lengthiness of your response does not imply that it is a better one. A little preparation to calm the nerves will never fail you when put under the interview question pressure.


Alison McGregor is a marketing and communications professional, baking addict, travel junkie, and bourbon aficionado. She is based in Toronto, Ontario.

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