Best Interview Practices; Quiz Candidates on Real-Life Situations


The goal of any employment interview is to evaluate discover how a candidate would perform in his new environment. Traditionally, interviewers try to predict on-the-job behavior by analyzing applicants’ explanations of how they achieved results in similar situations. Recently, interviewers have adopted more esoteric questions – “How would you move Mt. Fuji using only a spoon?” – to try to discern problem-solving and analytic abilities in their potential employees.

A better way to find out how a person will react to a real-life work situation, however, is to create that situation and observe how he solves the problem or takes advantage of the opportunity.

That is the goal of the situational interview.

As a general strategy, studies show that Situational Interviewing will yield the most useful information, if that information is duly noted and taken into consideration when evaluating potential hires.

Instead of asking about negotiation skills, explain that the position’s responsibilities include negotiating with suppliers. Then present proposals from real or hypothetical vendors. Invite the candidate to evaluate them and devise a strategy for obtaining favorable terms.

Instead of asking a job-seeker how he handled a disagreement with a former supervisor, invent a scenario in which such a disagreement might emerge. Ask the applicant to outline his options as he sees them, weigh the pros and cons of each, and arrive at a course of action. The answer gives the interviewer insight into the candidate’s psyche and personality. Does he opt for confrontation? Does he acquiesce to the boss’s wishes? Does he go over the supervisor’s head to the company president?

More importantly, situational questions force the interviewee to think on his feet. Even if the applicant is experienced in negotiating with vendors, the interviewer can learn much about his ability to apply and communicate the lessons learned from that experience.

Examples of Situational Interviewing questions would be asking the interviewee how he would respond to these types of situations:

  • Sudden reassignment to another division
  • A project he does not know how to manage
  • Multiple, equally important assignments with not enough resources to complete them all

Theoretical appraisal of a job-hunter’s mindset and evaluation of his background in positions with similar responsibilities can be important interview tools. A realistic picture of how the candidate will perform the tasks, problems, and issues he will face daily in the current position, however, may be the best way to grade his suitability. 

  • It cannot be stressed enough that in order for Situational Interviewing to work, you not only need to know the questions to ask, but most importantly, you need to know the ANSWERS that you are looking for.  And conversely, the answers that you actively want to avoid.

Ann Zaslow- Rethaber is President of International Search Consultants ,  a leader in executive search since 1999. Please reach out to ISC for any recruitment needs. You can reach the author directly at /" target="_blank" rel="nofollow noopener noreferrer">, or phone at 888-866-7276.

Carolyn McClendon is a Senior Recruiter with ISC and can be reached directly at 888-974-0086 or via email at