How to Approach a Scenario Interview

by Matt Kirkman

Scenario Interview

A scenario interview is also known as a situational interview, and is where the recruiter will give you a particular situation and ask you how you might deal with it or solve a particular problem. The scenarios in this type of interview may be hypothetical, or a possible situation you are likely to face if you were actually performing the role being recruited. Either way, what you do, and your explanation of why you think it was the most appropriate course of action, can tell an interviewer a lot about you as a candidate.

What’s the Recruiter Looking for?

These interviews are similar to competency interviews, in that the interviewer is looking to see how you would behave in a particular situation, and the competencies you demonstrate. However, with competency interviews your behavior is based on what you actually did in a particular situation. A scenario may involve a situation that you haven’t experienced, and in some interviews this is the intention.

The recruiter wants to develop an understanding of your thought process when you are faced with a particular scenario, so they can understand exactly how you go about dealing with different situations. If all the questions focus on the type of situations you’re likely to have experienced as part of your current or previous roles, your answer is likely to be based on that experience. However, if the scenario is something that you won’t have faced, perhaps even a hypothetical event that you’re never likely to encounter, this will tell the recruiter a lot more about how you think about new challenges and the way you deal with them.

The Best Way to Answer Questions in a Scenario Interview

One of the best ways of answering questions in a behavioral interview is to use the STAR technique, and because of the similarities between situational and behavioral interviews, this approach works for this type of interview too.

Situation - As the recruiter will give you a particular situation to deal with, this part of the model is relatively straightforward, although you could always take the opportunity to clarify the situation with the interviewer just to make sure you understand all the details.

Task - Once you understand the situation, in order to demonstrate that to the interviewer, you should outline the task you are looking to achieve. This shows that you can put the situation in context and you appreciate what needs to be done.

Action - Next, you should outline the action you would take to achieve the identified task, explaining what you expect the outcome of each action to be, to show why you thought that it was the most appropriate thing to do.

Result - Because a lot of the questions in a scenario interview involve situations you might not have faced, there is no tangible result you can point to. So you need to make it clear how all the actions you took would deliver the desired result, and achieve the task you identified.

Questions in a scenario interview tend to focus on what you would do rather than what you did, either because the situation is hypothetical, or perhaps something you would only encounter if you were actually doing the job you applied for. But if any of the questions deal with scenarios that you do have experience of, as long as there was a positive outcome, it’s always a good idea to link your answer back to this experience. This way, you’re not only demonstrating how you would approach a particular situation, you’ll also be able to show that your course of action delivered a positive result when the scenario presented itself in real life.

The important thing to remember about scenario interviews is that it's unlikely you will have encountered all of the situations the recruiter asks you about - that is partly the point of this type of interview. The scenarios you will be asked about will either be linked to situations that might happen in the role you’ve applied for, or hypothetical situations you will never encounter. Using your experience and the skills you’ve developed, simply explain how you would approach the situation to deliver a positive outcome, and if you can link it back to your previous experience, doing so will show the interviewer that your answer is based on practical experience, rather than just theory.

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