Here’s the situation…. More and more interviewers are using the format of ‘situational interviews’, also called ‘behavioral interviews’.  This format is intended to get the candidate talking about how they handled a past situation, or how they would handle a hypothetical situation.  It tells the interviewer volumes about how the candidate handles stress, if they take action or take a stance of ‘that’s not my job’, how the candidate communicates verbally, if they follow through to resolution and if they perceive themselves to be a leader or a ‘worker bee’.


 If the questions are about how you handled a past situation, they will be phrased as, “Tell us about a time when….” or “Can you give us an example of a time when….” either of these sentences would end with asking for an example of a situation that presented a problem, or an issue that required action and resolution. 

If the questions are hypothetical, there may be more explanation in the lead-in to the questions.  A typical lead-in would sound something like this;  “We’re going to give you a hypothetical scenario and we would like you to tell us what you would do in this situation, how you would go about it, and why you chose to handle it this way.  You may assume anything you like for the purpose of answering the questions but please tell us what your assumptions are.”


If you have not prepared for these types of questions, they can be quite daunting, and you may stumble.  However, the preparation is not as complicated as you may think.  What you need to do is come up with three or four ‘stories’ from your professional past.  There are specific qualities or actions that the interviewers will be looking for, such as;

  • Leadership and gaining consensus
  • Strong organizational skills and being detail-oriented
  • Communication and sharing of information
  • Positive resolution and follow up

Keeping these key qualities in mind, craft your stories into short, three to four minute vignettes that give some background information, state the problem or situation, describe the action you took, then close with the resolution and follow up taken.

You will want a mixed-bag so that you can draw on your stories for a variety of questions.  Craft your stories using the following premises;

  • HR based- example; showing teamwork in a stressful environment
  • Operational based- example; being instrumental in redesigning a cumbersome process that resulted in a shortened sales cycle
  • Sales based- example;  winning back a customer who had left for another vendor.

Your stories will be used for both the factual and hypothetical questions, so you need to practice, practice, practice telling your stories until you are comfortable with them.  In the instance of hypothetical scenarios, you will want to relate the question to one of your stories in order to help you remember the response sequence of stating the problem, describing your actions and explaining the resolution and follow up.  The difference is that you will be speaking in the future tense, “I would” instead of past tense, “I did”.


Having your stories crafted ahead of time will serve you well in a situational interview, and the resulting confidence you display will put you in the top-contender position.