Classic Interview Questions: Theoretical Situations.

How would you respond if XYZ happened? If you had a magic wand….? Don’t get thrown off balance by the questions that are less about concrete fact and more about theoretical situations and cirumstances.

Alternative and related questions:

What would you do if you were presented with the following scenario?

The meaning behind the question:

Often, an interviewer may pose a hypothetical, scenario-based question telling you to imagine yourself in a difficult or negative situation and asking how you would deal with it.

By confronting you with an unexpected situation and getting you to think on your feet, they can tell a lot about how you would actually react under such circumstances.

Your answer:

The answer you should give will of course depend on the precise scenario the interviewer outlines. You need to try to identify what their expectations of you would be under the circumstances – and highlight the skills and techniques you would use to deal with the situation.

For the purposes of the example below, please imagine the following scenario:

You are a receptionist working on the front desk when all of a sudden a fax arrives, several phone lines start ringing, an important client walks in and a courier turns up with a package that requires your signature. How do you cope with this situation?

In this example, you should be able to identify that the interviewer is probing your ability to prioritise, to ‘fire-fight’ – and to not panic!

Example:

My first priority would be to answer the calls while simultaneously presenting the waiting clients and the courier with a professional and friendly smile. The calls can be answered and either be put straight through or be put on hold, allowing me to deal with the client and then the courier thereafter. The people waiting in front of me are able to see just how busy I am, whereas those on the phone will simply feel ignored if their calls are not answered promptly – and may hang up. Having successfully prioritised the calls and the visitors, I would then be able to respond to the fax when there is more time.

Alternative and related questions:

Which of your employers was the best?

The meaning behind the question:

By identifying what you perceive as the perfect employer, the interviewer can assess how closely their organisation fits this profile – and hence how well you are likely to fit in with their organisation. It’s a clever question and sets a trap that a weaker candidate is likely to walk straight into. If they don’t fit your definition of the ideal employer then why would they want to hire you?

Your answer:

It doesn’t really matter what your idea of an ideal employer is. What matters is that your description should match the organisation to which you are now applying. Of course, if there’s a big difference between your prospective employer and your conception of the ideal employer then you should perhaps be asking yourself whether this is really going to be the right job for you.

The easiest way to tackle this question is to first identify what it is that you like best about your prospective employer – and then build your description of your ‘ideal’ employer around this.

If you’ve already prepared an answer to, “Why do you want to work for this organisation?” (which I covered in the previous chapter) then you can recycle some of the ideas you had for this.

Example:

My ideal employer would be a large yet growing company with a strong reputation within its sector, a company which offers plenty of scope for progression within the hierarchy. While my preference is for a larger organisation, I want to work for a company which nevertheless has a dynamic and progressive approach. Your organisation certainly more than meets those requirements.

Word of warning:

It would be inappropriate to openly state that you feel their organisation to be the ‘perfect’ employer. You will inevitably come across as phoney!

Alternative and related questions:

Can you tell me about the best boss you’ve ever had?
Putting yourself in your manager’s shoes, what is the best way to manage you?

The meaning behind the question:

Along the same lines as the previous question, the interviewer is looking to identify how well you are likely to fit in with your manager. If your prospective manager differs significantly from the description you give then it’s going to raise questions in the interviewer’s mind as to how well you are likely to be able to work together.

You should also be aware that the way you answer this question can reveal a lot about what sort of a person you will be to manage.

Your answer:

It’s best to avoid going into too much detail and giving too precise a description. Try to keep your answer broad so that it is unlikely to exclude too many people. Horoscopes are carefully written so as to sound meaningful and yet remain as vague as possible – so that they can be seen to be pertinent by as many people as possible. You want to adopt the same tactic.

By phrasing your answer carefully, you can also score a few discreet points with regard to what sort of a person you are like to work with. Try to convey the impression that you’d most like to work for someone who was a lot like you – and then give a positive description of that person.

Example:

I’d most like to work for someone who has the same approach as I do to getting things done – planning, organisation and action. Also, I’m always keen to take on new duties and responsibilities so I’d welcome a manager who was prepared to give me the chance to continue my professional development. Besides this, a good manager is of course always approachable, supportive and sensitive to the needs of their team; while I’m good at working on my own initiative, every team needs a leader to give it direction.

As well as these questions, you may also be interested in our section: Tough Interview Questions & Answers.

Think you’re well prepared? use our simple Interview Question Tool to see if you have got an answer to some random questions that it will fire at you. Good Luck!

The Interview Question & Answer Book

The Interview Question & Answer Book

Take the fear out of your interview and never be stuck for the right answer to even the toughest questions with The Interview Question & Answer Book.

The job market is fierce, competition has never been greater and it’s important that you can grab every opportunity for competitive advantage and stay one step ahead. Written by James Innes, one of the world’s leading careers experts and bestselling author of The Interview Book, this definitive guide to questions and answers encourages every job-hunter to think on your feet and express your individuality while supplying ideal responses to interview questions so that you’re seen as the ideal candidate for the job.

Available for immediate download to your Kindle or any iOS or Android device with the free Kindle App installed (Get the right version for your device here)

Order The Interview Question & Answer Book from Amazon