Situational or Behavioral Interviews: What questions can you expect?

Situational interviews or Behavioral interviews are the vague, mysterious and confusing interview questions that get thrown at you when you are trying to get the best management consulting (including the top tier strategy consulting firms) and investment banking jobs. Or for that matter MBA interviews as well. They make you feel that the tough technical questions you got for your first few jobs were so much easier in comparison. At least there was a right or wrong answer to them, and after the interview you’d know if you fared well or not. With situational interviews, most candidates are unsure of how their performance will be judged by their future boss.

What are Situational / Behavioral interview questions?

These are questions designed to probe into your behavioral / thought process. These questions allow the interviewer to find out how you have dealt with (or would deal with) certain situations at work or outside. It gives the recruiter an insight into your personality and your working style. The questions could be in the area of inter-personal skills, analytical ability, capacity to work under stress, problem solving, multi-tasking skills or cover many other facets.

Why do companies ask situational / behavioral interview questions?

Your resume contains a listing of all the important milestones and achievements that you’d like your future employer to know. But that little document does not allow the recruiter to judge what challenges you faced while working towards those milestones. They can also extrapolate these inputs to get a feel for how you would perform when you are faced with new challenges that your previous job hasn’t allowed you to tackle.

How to answer situational / Behavioral interview questions?

For each question that you encounter, before impatiently jumping into an answer, ask yourself these additional questions:

– What is the interviewer really trying to get out of this question?

– What kind of skills would I need to talk about to convince the recruiter that I have what it takes to be successful in the new role (just like I was in the previous ones)?

– How can I answer this question with concrete evidence, rather than offering vague and diplomatic responses?

Sample situational interview questions

Here’s are some examples of behavioral interview questions. Think about how you would structure your answer to each of these using the 3 sub-question approach.

– Can you think of a situation where you had a conflict with a difficult colleague? How did you deal with the situation?

– Did you ever face a situation where you had to motivate yourself to accomplish something?

– Were you criticised at work? Why? How did you react?

– Describe a situation where you failed to deliver. How did you deal with it?

– Have you faced a situation where the majority was in favour of a certain decision and you were not convinced about it? What did you do in that situation?

– Give us an example of a situation where you had to take a decision based on very little (or too much) data.

– How did you manage to achieve work-life balance in your previous jobs?

– Have there been situations where you had to come up with an unconventional approach to solve a problem?

– Was there a time when you were faced with too many tasks with stringent deadlines, where each was as important as the other?

– Can you think of examples where you used non-technical skills to make an impact on your organisation?

Any other tricky ones you can think of? If you have doubts about tackling any of these, post a comment and we’ll share our thoughts.


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Sameer Kamat //
Sameer Kamat

Founder of MBA Crystal Ball. Author of Beyond The MBA Hype & Business Doctors. Here’s more about me. Connect with me on Google+ | Twitter | Facebook | Linkedin

2 Comments

  1. Ipseeta Aruni says:

    –> Was there a time when you were faced with too many tasks with stringent deadlines, where each was as important as the other?

    Usually when faced with such a situation, most people end up micro-managing their day to accommodate each task. But sometimes, it does happen that one task remains pending for a while longer than stipulated. Then people claw into their personal time to fix the deficit. Is this the right way to go about it? Or is there a better answer to this question?

  2. Sameer Kamat says:

    Ipseeta,

    What you’ve described is exactly how it happens for a big percentage of folks who are faced with a real life situation like that. I’d put that as a one man army solution (described in an earlier resume writing tips post).

    Unfortunately that approach might work when the tasks and deadlines are still humanly possible to manage. You may have managed to put in extra hours to fix the issue and make everyone happy. But there are several not-so-obvious issues with that approach. It’s too person dependent, not scalable (what if you had 20 tasks to juggle instead of 10), and you might have also missed out exploring important managerial traits.

    A few other perspectives to think about and skills to tap into, when you encounter a similar situation next time:

    Delegation: If you are working in a team, not everyone will be as loaded as you are. Ask for help. It’s not about ego, it’s not about proving a point. It’s about getting a job done for the organisation and it’s not just your problem.

    Negotiation: Unless this was a case of complete lack of planning, many of the developments would be unexpected. If it’s a genuine case, you could always talk to the stakeholder (client, boss, parents) to explain why the original deadline may not work and that you’d still be able to do a good job if the deadline could be extended.

    Re-prioritisation: Doing or not doing each of the tasks will have a reward and a penalty. For businesses, it is always a choice of choosing tasks where the pros outweight the cons. Do that for each of these tasks as well. Sometimes it’s also about saying No to things, rather than try to please everyone with a Yes.

    The combo deal: If each of the above options isn’t sufficient by itself, why not mix and match? Delegate a few, negotiate a few more, drop some and absorb the impact.

    Hope that adds a few more ideas to answer this question.

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