Situational and Behavioral Interview Questions

More and more, employers are shifting from the traditional interview to a more behavioral-based format.  Today I’ll explore behavioral and situational questions.  I’ll define them, let you know why they’re being asked, list several examples, and finally offer some tips for handling them effectively.

People often confuse these two types of questions, but they actually have different definitions.

With behavioral questions, the interviewer is asking you to share a time when something happened and how you dealt with it.  This makes sense, since how you behaved in the past is a pretty fair indicator of how you’d handle the situation in the future.  If employers have already identified the types of behavior they seek in a future employee, why not get right to the point of understanding your past behavior?

With situational questions, the interviewer provides a hypothetical scenario, then asks what you’d do in that situation.  They want to understand your problem solving thought process.

The reason candidates often use the two terms interchangeably lies in the fact that we try to answer them in the same way – ideally by sharing our past experiences (behavioral) even if the question posed was a hypothetical one (situational).

Some examples of behavioral questions might include:

Tell me about time when you overcame a challenge… about a time you reached a goal… about how you worked as part of a team… about how you’ve handled conflict.

So how should you answer behavioral questions?  Remember, they’re asking you to recall a time when…

Think of S.A.R. – scenario/situation, actions, results.  Briefly describe the problem or challenge.  Outline the steps you undertook to address the problem.  Lastly, let them know how things turned out, ideally quantifying your answer with dollar amounts, percentages, etc.

Some examples of situational questions might include:

What would you do if you were given an assignment and you knew there’d be no way you could get it done on time?  What would you do if you saw another employee stealing or otherwise violating company policy?  How would you respond to criticism you felt was unwarranted?

How should you answer situational questions?  Remember, they’re providing a hypothetical and asking how you’d deal with it.

If you’ve actually encountered their hypothetical scenario in your past, then answer the same as you would when addressing a behavioral question.  If you haven’t encountered their scenario, then let them know you don’t recall having dealt with that exact situation, but relay a S.A.R. from something similar.  If you have nothing similar with which to compare it, then talk about how you’d envision addressing the issue.

Many employers still conduct traditional interviews where the focus in on standard questions like your strengths/weaknesses, goals, describing your past jobs and why you left.

Yet for those behavioral interviews, you’ll also need to be prepared.  I hope today has given you a bit of a game plan on how to handle them with more confidence.  Good luck!

Our Job Centers are a great free resource to use for interview preparation. We have 4 Job Center locations in Sioux City, IA, Storm Lake, IA, Sioux Falls, SD, and Rapid City, SD. Our Job Center hours are Monday-Thursday 9am-5pm and Friday 9am-noon.

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