The top 5 situational interview questions to ask candidates
We reveal the top situational interview questions employers and recruiters should ask candidates and uncover the best responses to these questions.

Imagine you’re interviewing a potential new employee.

They’ve got a great resume and can give you well-rehearsed examples of their past behaviour, but can you feel confident in how they’ll perform for your particular business?

That’s where the situational interview question comes in.

Jody Dickenson is one of SEEK’s Talent Acquisition Specialists. She says by giving a candidate a specific scenario they are likely to face in the role, you can gain an insight into the things they consider before they act.

“You’re looking for problem solving, their ability to think through a situation and how they engage with stakeholders and colleagues,” says Dickenson.

It’s a handy tool, particularly if the role or organisation is different to what they are used to.

SEEK’s Interview Builder helps hiring managers and recruiters customise an interview template. Using this data, we’ve identified the questions that are most commonly asked to test how a candidate acts in a specific situation. 

The top 5 most-asked situational interview questions

1) If you had two important deadlines coming up, how would you prioritise your tasks?

This question covers problem solving, communication and a person’s ability to be aware of the bigger picture, explains Andy Marsland, Business Manager with Stellar Recruitment.

“You’re hoping they show an awareness of risk, and of the broader organisational goals,” he says.

“You’d like to hear what extra resources could potentially be brought in to break it down into manageable chunks.”

2) What steps would you take to make an important decision on the job?

Ask this to find out if your candidate can think broadly, and consider a range of factors such as the who, the how and the what it will impact, says Dickenson.

“You are looking to see if they will take into account what is most urgent, what will have the biggest impact and what will affect the most people, rather than make a decision based on just one factor.”

3) You realise that an early mistake in a project is going to put you behind deadline. What do you do?

Integrity and trust is key in any business, and that’s the underlying reason this question ranks so highly, according to Marsland.

“Someone who says they have never missed a deadline or pushes the blame onto others would be a red flag.”

A good response, he says, would acknowledge a mistake has been made, communicate with the people affected and, better still, explain how they intend to get it back on track.

Dickenson also warns against the candidate who declares they’ll work long hours to fix it.

She says that’s a reactive response based on panic. A better answer would be one that takes action early and shows they will own the mistake and fix it rather than try to cover it up.

4) How would you handle working closely with a colleague who has a different working style to you?

The value of a diversified and inclusive workplace is widely accepted. It’s why this question, which looks at a person’s cultural fit, is a popular one.

Dickenson says it can be a real eye-opener about a person’s empathy and ability to consider other people’s views.

“It’s an indicator of how they will manage any potential conflicts – you want to know if they are going to be someone who will cause issues.”

5) What would you do if you made a strong recommendation in a meeting, but your colleagues decided against it?

You are hiring someone for his or her expertise, says Marsland, but it can’t be to the detriment of the team, or business goals.

What you hope to hear, he says, is someone who will influence with facts rather than emotion, can accept other people’s opinions and will revisit the idea once they’ve identified solutions to the concerns raised.

Silence is golden

Dickenson says employers and recruiters should think about what traits they most value for this role – is it empathy, self-awareness, communication? - and pick the situational question or questions that will best test for it.

It requires on-the-spot thinking by the candidate, but don’t be scared off by someone who sits in silence for a while.

“There is no right or wrong answer, what you are looking for is how they think through it,” says Dickenson.

“Allow them to take time if they need it and don’t try to fill in the gaps for them.

“It can mean that they have been listening to what you asked and want to give you a thoughtful, articulate response.”