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Hire Better Employees with These Situational Questions

Hire Better Employees with these Situational Questions

Assessing soft skills during the hiring process is no easy feat. Often, candidates have prepared by rehearsing their answers in advance, leaving you with a less-than-honest depiction of what they can bring to the table. Using situational questions is a great way to put your candidate’s soft skills to the test.

In LinkedIn’s recent Global Talent Trends report, 30 percent of hiring professionals said it was more difficult to assess soft skills than hard skills. Many hiring professionals (58 percent) rely on hypothetical/situational questions to judge soft skills.

We asked recruiters their favorite hypothetical/situational questions to ask during the interview process and why they work. Here’s what they shared:

What is your go-to karaoke song?

Lauren PopeIt’s two-fold why I always liked asking this question when I was actively involved in hiring candidates. First, it breaks the monotony of interviewing and allows the candidate to relax and you get an insight into the candidate’s personality, their hobbies, and whether or not they seem enjoyable to be around.

Second, this is the most important, is the applicant thrown off by this question or too flustered to answer? I work in tech and being able to quickly adjust is required for success. If a candidate is unable to think on the fly when a random question about karaoke comes up, how well will they be able to handle unexpected situations at work?

The best answer to this question isn’t the song they choose — it’s how they handle being asked a question they weren’t expecting and if they can be flexible. Soft skills, specifically adaptability and communication are key. This question can help suss that out.

Lauren Pope, Employee Engagement Journalist at G2

What would you do if your boss told you to do something you disagreed with?

Bryan ZawikowskiIn this instance, the interviewer is looking for insight into how you deal with conflict, your ability to stay professional and tactful in any situation, and the confidence you possess when defending your convictions.

The best response would include describing your philosophical approach to dealing with conflict in the workplace, explaining the actions that you would take to resolve the situation and talking about the results you would expect – while also allowing for a contingency plan if the first method fails.

The most important thing to gauge isn’t so much their answers, but more in the way they deliver them. While explaining how they would be cool, calm, and collected in a hypothetical situation, are they maintaining that same discipline while responding to your questions? These are clear signs interviewers can interpret to know whether or not a candidate has the soft skills to succeed in an organization.

Bryan Zawikowski, vice president and general manager of the military transition division for Lucas Group

Tell me about a time you had to deal with a particularly nasty customer?

Laura HandrickI love asking this question because candidates have rarely pre-rehearsed the answers. I often find they provide more candid responses and facial expressions that give me an insight into the job applicant’s temperament and style.

Asking them to tell me about a time they had to deal with a particularly nasty customer helps me see how the person manages their own emotions and behaviors when confronted with rudeness or unkind customers. I want to see that they took the high road to solve the customer issue, and not that they reacted negatively, called their manager in, or became rude or confrontational.

Laura Handrick, career and workplace analyst at

Describe a specific situation when you dealt with your biggest or most difficult people problem.

Michael ArnoldFor this question, the difficult people problem could be a peer to peer, or with a boss or subordinate. The question provides me insight into several valuable traits of how they will perform in their job.

First, when they describe the situation do they really understand both sides of the problem? Do they just describe the problem they were faced with or do they understand the other person’s perspective? This lets me know they understand empathy and can relate to other people in a tough situation.

Second, how do they communicate in difficult situations? Do they handle things one on one or do they elevate issues to a higher level or even worse they avoid it at all costs. As a leader you need to understand your responsibility in resolving their future people problems — will you be drawn into every little thing or have ticking time bombs blowing up because of ignored conflicts.

Last but not least, did the resolution lead to a win-win? If a person is all about winning an argument or is willing to always compromise to resolve conflict, this will lead to problems in either case, others will not work with them if they never lose or they will get burned out by always agreeing to what others want them to accomplish.

Michael Arnold, continuous improvement quality manager & certified coach/trainer at Protean Quality Systems

If you were dissatisfied with one aspect of a job, how would you handle it?

Samuel JohnsThis question functions as an effective check of a candidate’s perseverance, time management, and self-motivation.

A strong candidate would ideally answer by providing an example of a task they don’t enjoy, followed by the actions they would then take to ensure that they would still handle it.

Take an employee who dislikes ordering office supplies, for instance. She might talk about how once a month she sets aside the morning to check office supply levels and order more if necessary. During that time, she turns off her laptop and phone notifications so she can finish the task at hand without distractions. This reveals that she has a strategy for overcoming the task’s mundanity to ensure that it is completed, even though she has a distaste for it.

Everyone has a particular task that they dislike doing more than others — there’s no shame in that, but recruiters should ensure that candidates have a method for performing such tasks. Having this method in place shows that a candidate realizes that every task holds value for the company’s bottom line, and they are determined to succeed.

Samuel Johns, hiring manager & HR specialist at





Josh Tolan

Josh Tolan is the Founder and CEO of Spark Hire, a video interviewing platform used by 6,000+ customers in over 100 countries.