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How to Answer Common Situational Interview Questions

In this era of supercharged development, you are either a part of the solution or a part of the problem. Employers are on the hunt for business impetuses that can have a positive impact on business growth. It is all about making the big bucks at the end of the day, isn’t it? Getting acquainted with rough times equip you with tools to survive in the race. So, do you want to be the one the manager looks up to whenever there is a crisis, or do you just want to be a part of the herd?

“Our greatest story is not in never falling but in getting up every time we do so.” –Confucius

Let’s get started!

Here's what this article will cover:

  1. What are situational interview questions?
  2. Why are situational-based interview questions asked in job interviews?
  3. Why is preparing for scenario-based interview questions consequential?
  4. How to prepare for situational behavioral interview questions?
  5. Elements to include while composing answers for situational interview questions
  6. Answering situational interview questions using the STAR method
  7. Common mistakes to avoid while answering situational job interview questions
  8. Advantages of situational & scenario-based interview questions
  9. Tips to answer situational questions in a job interview
  10. TRIVIA
  11. Top situational interview questions and answers, with right and wrong examples

What are situational interview questions?

A situational interview is also referred to as a behavioral interview. These interviews are conducted for the interviewer to be able to judge your character and test your problem-solving abilities under pressure. This can be overcome by putting forth your most notable achievements under dire circumstances in your previous jobs.

Explain precisely the problem which was hurting the company productivity. You can then go on to explain what it is, which helped you identify the cause and the course of action you decided to adopt. Do not forget to mention how following those instructions helped your company generate increased output.

Why are situational-based interview questions asked in job interviews?

Situational-based questions help gauge the candidate's ability to handle the ship in rough waters. These questions are aimed to assess your skills and what you can bring to the table. It is their first time observing you as an entity and not just an applicant number.

Testing the waters, you might call it.

To check communication skills: Without communication skills, there will be an unnecessary hassle, and miscommunication can be a barrier to smooth business operations. Recruiters are not exactly looking for people who will slow it down for them, but rather speed it up with their crisp communication skills and team management in demanding situations.

This makes it all the more important how you communicate with the recruiters in the interview. Common situational interview questions are all about checking if you can convey and explain a situation with clarity and in a simplified manner – understandable to all. If there is even one missing link, the outcome can be greatly affected.  

To check critical thinking skills: Every employer seeks employees who have impeccable critical thinking skills through common situational interview questions. If you believe that you can keep your composure and think in an organized manner rationally, you are already on the right path. All you need to ensure is to get this message conveyed in the interview with examples of how you analyzed and pointed out mistakes during data verification. You can say how you turned it around with your critical observing ability.

“Remember that guy who gave up? Nobody does.” -Anonymous

Without a critically thinking brain, you can’t be a factor of change in the organization. And if not change, what else can you bring to the table?

To check decision-making skills: In an era of delegation and micro-management, it is a given that you need to be your own lead. And to excel at it, you require to assess situations quickly and take a stand on the course of action which can resolve the issue. This is a must-have skill as at one point, the onus will be on you to call the shots.

Do you want to be the one who calls the shots, or do you want to be the one who listens to those shots?

Ensure that you give yourself a chance at the interview by informing them of the time when you saved your previous company's blushes by taking a quick decision to outsource website content. You can also further state how you were appreciated after the problem subsided.

To check problem-solving skills: Problem-solving skills contribute to an exponentially rising career graph. These skills are aimed to identify the problems in a brief time and the ability to recognize the cause of the issue. Problem-solving skills are a hot favorite among recruiters because who wants a problem creator, right?

Pointing out the contributing factors of the debacle is an added catalyst for business growth. It helps to make an informed decision about business operations, depending on your feedback and suggestions. Are you ready to be the one your manager is looking up to whenever in a hot soup?

To check organizational and prioritization skills: Organizational and prioritization skills test your mettle in a chaotic situation. If you are taking it in your stride and can give evidence for the same, you will be a catch for the company. Not many are born with it, but one can surely learn it. Without proper organizational and prioritization skills, it would be a bust choosing the next course of action in business operations.

To check leadership & management skills: If your team cannot depend on you in times of need, do you think companies like Facebook and Apple will prefer you? No, business operations are all about teamwork and management skills. If you are in a position of authority, understanding and knowing your teams’ weaknesses and strengths is your bread and butter. If it is not, you are not trying hard enough.

Without a team on your side working in sync, effective leadership is compromised, and your team’s performance is bound to take a dip. Nobody wants that!

Why is preparing for scenario-based interview questions consequential?

Danielle is really nervous about the interview at Amazon. Not because she is incapable, but maybe she will not get the chance to tell about everything she has accomplished in a short span of 2 years. Nonetheless, she prepared as per the STAR (Situation, Task, Action, and Result) technique. To her delight, the recruiter asked about her proudest achievement. The interviewer was delighted with what she disclosed and instantly cleared her for the round and congratulated her.

What is the takeaway here? Does Danielle land her ticket to success? No.

It is the fact that she prepared her speech about her work in a precise manner that first describes the situation. She then goes on to data analyzing skills and finding the cause and its solution with its results. Danielle was ready when it mattered the most. This is why it is important for recruiters to know what an ace you are when it comes to crunch situations and pressure’s got nothing on you! Never let an opportunity go begging!

How to prepare for situational behavioral interview questions?

The best way to prepare for situational interview questions and answers is to set yourself up with the STAR – to give your recruiters something to think about. Delivering it in a crisp and cohesive manner can earn you extra brownie points.

Talk about a particular challenge in your previous organization and how your last-ditch effort helped your team gain valuable momentum during a rough time. Explain your thought process and the positives of the situation. Freshers can always talk about his/her high school achievements or their contributions to science fairs. Make it a 5-STAR effort!

Elements to include while composing answers for situational interview questions

If you are a skillful person, your contributions to any organization you work for will not go unnoticed. When you do something as important as helping the team and company in tough times, it is always an added bonus for your next job interview. However, do not forget to:

Explain the situation: Explain the situation distinctly and leave no important detail left out. That being said, do not go overboard and start reciting essays. That is not the best path to take if you are planning to be an integral part of the company. Point out the key takeaways from the situation and how you came to the forth and took it over. Do not forget to mention what you thought of the condition from a personal perspective.

Describe the problem: Once you are done with giving a picture of the situation, identify the problems you figured and mention the contributing factors leading to it. Keep it short and precise, do not overkill!

Outline the action you took to solve the problem: The hirers on the other side of the table are not fortune-tellers that they would know what course of action you took when your team was in dire straits. Ensure that they get to know the rationale behind your choices and how that helped the team at the moment in dealing with the problem.

The people on the hot seats are not looking for prodigies but for guys with a knack for problem-solving skills to amplify business operations. Who doesn’t want to have some employees who can take the sail while the captains can take a break!

And the results: This is the cherry of the cake and if you do not put it on top, it is wasted. Specifically, mention the outcome of the actions you took to ensure that the recruiters know the validity of your methods. If there is no scale to judge, it is hard to determine whether the action bore positive or negative results. If possible, include improved stats in your dialogue to better describe the effectiveness of your calls in action.

Answering situational interview questions using the STAR method

Situation: Briefly describe the situation which you faced at your previous company and that the onus was on you and your team for the rescue. Do not be too long about it. Remember, it is about you.    

Task: This is the part where you tell what an important clog you are for your team, in thick and thin. Employers are looking for positive initiators and not laid-back taking-it-easy sort of people. Be the spark!

Action: Explain to your recruiter the course of action you took in a concise manner, jamming it with relevant details. Do not go too long bragging about it either. Clarify your thought process and your role in handling the distress call.

Result: Showcase the results. Preparation is of paramount importance for coding interview preparation, and if you can skillfully explain the magnitude of your success in quantifiable numbers, it can just do the trick!

I never dreamed about success. I worked for it. – Estee Lauder

Common mistakes to avoid while answering situational job interview questions

Not preparing for it: Not preparing for an interview is a big mistake if you think that you can make it when the time comes. You cannot. Without practice, it may happen during crunch time, and you may forget some critical information which would have raised the odds of you joining the company. Not the best idea, right?

Make sure to prepare what you are going to say and practice it by yourself. Questions will not be common, but it will give you the preparation of including vital information in a limited time.

Winging It: Take adequate time to prepare for your interview. Do not be a sitting duck when the firing guns come at you. You need to be technical and professional in answering the questions. Do not make unnecessary comments which can get you in the bad books of the recruiter. Think before you speak!

Non-tailored responses: Make your responses to the point and what is asked of you. Do not give unrequired information and make a fool of yourself. Communicate what is asked from the question and avoid beating around the bush.

Getting off-topic: This is one of the common occurrences in the interview room, and you must make a conscious effort to speak only what is asked of you. Do not drag it and bore the person in front. He/she has other people to interview, and by giving irrelevant information, you are only hogging the time. And recruiters do not appreciate that!

Advantages of situational & scenario-based interview questions

  1. It helps the recruiters to assess your skills, and whether you have got what it takes to be part of the team.
  2. There is no possible way you could have known what the interviewer is going to ask you. Being ready with an answer shows your go-getter attitude and your quick thinking abilities in unfavorable conditions.
  3. This is your chance to make it or break it. If you can systematically answer the hypothetical interview questions, chances are you will come out with flying colors.  

Tips to answer situational questions in a job interview

Winners don’t do different things. They do things differently. –Shiv Khera

Many of you are already equipped with stunning abilities to think on your feet and are gifted with the art of critical thinking. For those of you who are not, here are some handy tips for you to stand apart from others during coding interview preparation:

  1. Prior to the interview, note down some of the most difficult situations you faced in your last job.
  2. Make your responses be an overview of your professional brilliance.
  3. Prepare a compelling, cohesive account of the incident with the necessary details.
  4. Mention what caught your eye which revealed the cause of the issue.
  5. List the actions you took and the results they bore.
  6. Do not stray off topic and keep your relevant core skills and abilities for the main attraction of the show.
  7. Do not stick to issues of one computer language. Experience in the broader spectrum has more value.
  8. Prepare yourself to be capable of handling any difficult situation that may come at you. Practice various situations to acquaint yourself.
  9. You can take technical interview prep mock classes for professional advice and guidance.
  10. You can also take your family or friends' help to listen to your speech and help you out with any positive input.


Top signs that you are a great asset as a team member

  • You are great at communicating, lateral and horizontal.
  • You can work with your team, unified for a single goal.
  • You are not slacking off while your team is grinding.
  • You are supportive and empathetic about your teammates.
  • No matter the situation, you do not give up on your team when the going gets tough.


Top situational interview questions and answers, with right and wrong examples

Q1. How would you react if your coworker is incredibly hard to work with?


Wrong: I can easily mix with people, and I can manage to get along even if the person is stubborn. I somehow find a way.

Right: I would have a conversation with the coworker and would try to know what it is about me, which is bothering him/her, and ask for a path of mutual acceptance. Working on team bonding will be a good idea to mitigate negative attitudes amongst each other.

Q2. Will you want to work in a place which is not recognizing your contributions?


Wrong: You would go and confront your manager and ask for an explanation.

Right: You would communicate with your team and analyze your performance. You would up your game and make more relevant suggestions, which will be impossible to ignore. Working on your lacking factors as a team member and understanding the job better is your way to go!

Q3. How would you like to change them?


Wrong: I would listen to every member of my team individually and always make them a part of the decision making process.

Right: I would look for better participation in group brainstorming sessions, meetings, and presentations to get my point across to the other side. Everyone needs this scope to showcase their talent and input, which they can bring to the company's table.

Q4. You have been working long and hard on this project for a few weeks now. Suddenly, the client requirements changed. What would be your next steps?


Wrong: You would go to your manager who is handling the client and ask him for an extension of the deadline as it would not be possible to integrate the changes and deliver it on time.

Right: You would inform your manager that it may take longer, but you do your best to get it done on time. The changes need in-depth implementation, and you would leave out no stone unturned to make the delivery, but a little bit more time would add some cushion in case of emergency.

Q5.  You have given your best, and yet it was somehow not up to the mark. You receive an earful from your manager. How do you contain the situation?


Wrong: Answer my manager back then and there and make sure he/she knows I am going the extra mile, which others are not.

Right: After my manager is done, I would go to his office and sit patiently and ask him to help out with the places where I went wrong. I would also notify him that I am trying my best and try to work harder to be an important team member.

Q6. You realized you have made a mistake halfway through a project. But trying to rectify is like going a step backward. What will you do?


Wrong: I don’t make mistakes. And even if I do, I make sure to correct them before anybody knows.

Right: If it is my mistake which can cost us later dearly, I would immediately come clean with the manager and inform him that I would work extra hours to put it right. Deadline is my top priority, and I would give my all to get it done on time.

Q7. What about the times when you had difficulty working with a fellow coder of another team?


Wrong: You would go to the team lead and express your discern towards working with an unappreciative team member and probably change your collaborator, if possible.

Right: Communicate with the fellow coder and understand the barriers to smooth workflow between the two of us. This would help our team bonding gain traction and enhance our overall performance.

Q8. Have you ever gotten out of your way to help your team? Tell me about it.


Wrong: Work is always a top priority, and I am always going out of my way, some way or the other, to help my team.

Right: I try to be a team player. Once, I was on leave as I took a break from work, but my manager called and asked for urgent help for immediate delivery, and others in my team were already occupied. I could not turn him down and completed the work on the day.

Q9. Tell me about an important achievement in your last workplace.  


Wrong: At my last workplace, I solved a server issue without help and later earned applauds from my supervisors.

Right: At my previous job, our servers had some issues that slowed down our applications, and no matter the tweaks we made, it did not help the case. I identified the codes which needed to be changed. This solved the issue and instantly became a mark in the company.

Q10. Have you ever proactively tried to fix a problem at your workplace?


Wrong: Yes, of course. I worked at a mobile application development company that could not bring some necessary changes to the in-game store. I noticed it and solved it immediately.

Right: In my last stint at a mobile application development company, I noticed some minor issues in the in-game market. I had some previous experience in the field and suggested the changes to my supervisor. The changes were implemented in a couple of weeks. Oh, and I got a pay-raise soon after!

Q11. How would you deal with a difficult manager who is tough to please?


Wrong: I would work hard and intensively to meet his/her expectations. I am confident with my abilities, and I can successfully make my manager see my potential with persistent efforts.

Right: I would communicate with my manager and his/her modus operandi. In my experience, understanding what your role is essential to have a healthy team spirit. Delivering my duties is something I consciously make an effort to achieve.

Q12. Give an incident where you surpassed client expectations and made him appreciate your work individually.


Wrong: My work level is always top-notch, and I ensure that the clients are impressed with the delivered product. I am a perfectionist, and anything short of it is unacceptable.

Right: At my last job, a client was frantic about losing users due to server issues. Our team searched high and low to find a solution but was unable to do so. I listened to the client's problem patiently and made a few suggestive edits to the repository database. To my surprise and the client's delight, the issue was resolved, and the client thanked me for my contribution.

Q13. We all hate to work too hard. But at times, we need to. Do you think you have got what it takes?


Wrong: Working hard is a virtue which I have mastered, and I am always ready to give my best to the company, under all conditions, at all costs.  

Right: I am always ready to go the extra mile for my organization if I feel my work is valued and appreciated. Motivation is the key to my consistency, and I expect the same from my peers and supervisors.  

Q14. It is a long project, and the requirements are updated every other day. How do you cope with it and deliver by the deadline?


Wrong: Proficiency in handling last-minute changes is something I am extremely adept at. Incorporating those changes in a flash and pushing the program through is my bread and butter.

Right: I would have a discussion with my manager about the constant changes and inform him of the possible repercussions in case of such frequent updates. I would also inform the client that it may take longer than expected to deliver the job.

Q15. What is your proudest achievement as a professional coder?


Wrong: I have developed my video editing software with lesser rendering time and have made it free for people working in the domain.

Right: For a long time, I noticed Adobe and only a handful of good video editing software in the market. I decided why not change it by bringing software that will edit videos and edit it fast! This led to the creation of VidEd, the proudest moment of my career.

You can check out the other field-relevant articles for closure and find the path to glory for more career advice!

Last updated on: 
October 27, 2023

Ashwin Ramachandran

Head of Engineering @ Interview Kickstart. Enjoys cutting through the noise and finding patterns.

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