Situational Interviews and Stress Interviews: What to Make of Them and How to Succeed in Them

Randall Hansen
by Randall Hansen   Career Advice Expert 
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by Randall S. Hansen Ph.D.

The best job-seekers not only prepare answers to typical interview questions but also prepare for the type of interview expected. All sorts of job interviews are possible: screening traditional behavioral telephone case and panel. Two of the types are situational interviewing and stress interviewing.

Situational Job Interviews

In situational interviewing job-seekers are asked to respond to a specific situation they may face on the job. These types of questions are designed to draw out more of your analytical and problem-solving skills as well as how you handle problems with short notice and minimal preparation.

Situational interviews are similar to behavioral interviews except while behavioral focus on a past experience situational interviews focus on a hypothetical situation. For example in a behavioral interview the interviewer might start a question with “Tell me about a time you had to deal with…” In a situational interview the interviewer asks “How would you handle…”

The key to preparation and success in situational interviews is simply to review your past work experiences and review the steps you took to resolve problems and make corrections. You should also have short stories of some of these past experiences so you can also incorporate them into your answers to show that you have experience handling similar situations.

Here’s one question an interviewer might ask an applicant for a customer-service manager position: “How would you handle an angry customer who was promised delivery of the product on a certain date but because of manufacturing delays the company was not able to deliver on a timely basis? The customer is demanding some kind of compensation for the unexpected delay.”

Or for a management position a job-seeker might be asked: “How do you handle a disgruntled employee in your department who has made a habit of arriving late to work and causing minor disruptions during the day as well as a declining morale among the rest of the staff?”

Stress Job Interviews

The stress interviewing technique is typically used only for positions in which the job-seeker will be facing stress on the job and the interviewer wants to see how well he or she can handle the pressure. The key to surviving stress interviews is to remain calm keep a sense of humor and avoid getting angry or defensive.

The interviewer may try to stress you in one of several ways such as asking four or five questions in a row acting rude or sarcastic disagreeing with you or simply keeping you waiting for a long period.

Don’t take any of these actions personally. Simply stick to your agenda and showcase your skills and accomplishments calmly. Better try taking back control of the interview by ignoring the stress. Some experts suggest even getting up and walking around the room so that you take control by being the only person standing. And if there is a board or flip chart in the room another option is to get up and draw or diagram parts of your answers.

Most job-seekers will not encounter such interviews but it is important to know they exist and know how to handle yourself if you are faced with such an interview style.

Final Thoughts on Job Interviewing Success

Remember that the most important thing job-seekers can do to succeed in job interviews is prepare. And preparation begins with conducting research so that you know what type(s) of interview styles you will be facing. Preparation also includes reviewing common questions you may face as a job-seeker and preparing narratives that illustrate a key point that each question is seeking.

After reading this article you should be ready to test your ability to answer some situational questions. Are you? If so go to: Job-Seeker Interview Database: Situational Interview Practice Questions. Once you submit your answers you’ll receive an email with sample excellent responses.


Questions about some of the terminology used in this article? Get more information (definitions and links) on key college career and job-search terms by going to our Job-Seeker’s Glossary of Job-Hunting Terms.

Have you taken advantage of all of our job interviewing resources? Find articles tutorials and more — all written to help job-seekers learn how to succeed in all types of job interviews.

About the Author

Career Advice Expert

Randall Hansen Career Advice Expert

Dr. Randall S. Hansen is the founder of Quintessential Careers, one of the oldest and most comprehensive career development sites on the web, as well CEO of Dr. Hansen is a published author, with several books, chapters in books, and hundreds of articles to his name. He is frequently quoted in the media and conducts empowering workshops around the country; he is also an educator who has taught at the college level for more than 15 years.


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