Thursday, May 2, 2019

Answering Interview Q's : How to answer behavioral & hypothetical questions

Answering Interview Questions

Different types of interview questions:

Its a good idea to be aware of the different categories of questions and how to best respond to each one before appearing for an interview. Corporate interviews are generally a mix of various types of interview questions, and very rarely of one kind. As such its better to be aware of the different categories of questions which may be asked from you, so you can be in a position to answer them appropriately and remain in control of the interview.

In this article well focus on three different categories of interview questions which are commonly asked and explain the best way of answering such questions.

1. Specific or Closed Ended questions:

Examples: What specialization had you taken in college?or Where did you do your summer internship from? or Are you willing to relocate?

Answering specific or closed ended questions - the best approach:

The best way to answer such questions is to initially give a straightforward factual reply, and then expand on your answer to elaborate upon your key strengths, achievements and interest areas related to the question.

Suppose you are asked about your summer internship project. Firstly, you can start by mentioning the factual details of your summer internship (the name of the organization, the field of your internship, the nature of the project you were given) and then move on to elaborating upon the key highlights of your internship - such as why you did your internship from that particular organization, the knowledge & experience you gained from the internship, followed by your achievements and contribution made to the organization during your internship period - all such information which is not mentioned in your resume.

It is always a good idea to elaborate further as it lets you to give a clear insight to your interviewer about your strengths, attitude and personality based on the information you have given instead of having your interviewer probe around trying to discover them, and probably form an incomplete or distorted picture of your abilities.

Remember, there is no such things as a closed ended question in interviews, the ones where you can simply give a yesor noanswer. The answer to the question Are you willing to relocate?can be answered in a simple yes or no, but it is always better to expand upon your answer to include the reasons for your answer as well, as it gives a clearer picture to the interviewer about the background to your answer.       

2. Hypothetical or Situation Based Questions:

Examples: If you were in charge of leading a team, how would you ensure everyone met the work deadlines?or What if there were no fixed guidelines for performing a certain task?

Hypothetical questions are based on What ifpremises, asking you to project your thoughts and ideas from an assumption. You are expected to give your response to certain specific, hypothetical situations that you may face on the job. You are tested here are for your speed and clarity of though, along with the ability to construct a logically convincing response. Most importantly, It tests your ability to apply relevant skills to a hypothetically practical situation which you may face in your prospective job.  Hypothetical or situation based narratives are related using future tenses - "I will be...", "I plan to", "I intend to".

3. Incidental or Behavioral Questions:
Examples: Relate an incident in your life when you had to display your interpersonal skills.or Give an example of your leadership ability.  

The purpose behind such questions is to test your understanding and knowledge of certain job related competencies and in what way you are able to practically apply them in real life situations. The interviewer makes certain assumptions based on your past demonstrated behavior in tackling different types of situations in order to predict your future responses.

Keep concrete specific examples ready for each of the relevant competencies to narrate promptly and smoothly. Do not make it sound rehearsed or artificial. Go into details and give specific time periods and names while you are relating the incident to sound more authentic. You can draw on extracurricular activities such as annual college festivals, competitive activities like debates and sports in which you participated, project work, summer internship, class assignments or any other activity you may have undertaken to base your examples around.  Just remember to use the past tense to describe incidental or behavioral situations, such as "I did...", "I performed...", I managed..."

Answering hypothetical and incidental questions - the best approach:

These kinds of questions are more prevalent in corporate interviews nowadays, as they reveal a great deal about your inherent as well as acquired competencies. The best way to respond to such questions is to structure your response in a STAR framework:

S: What was the Situation?

Describe the background here: During our annual college festival in January last year, I was entrusted with the responsibility of..

In the case of hypothetical or situation based questions, the situation will be given to you by your interviewer, for example How will you lead your project development team to achieve time specific goals. In such cases, you need to elaborate on the following three aspects of the STAR framework here. What you need to do is to reflect on the specific skills which will be required to successfully perform the task., and then build them into your answer. Taking the above example, the skills which you would require for leading your team to achieve time specific goals will primarily be leadership skills, team building, team coordination and time management.

T: What was your Task?

Outline your work responsibilities clearly here: I was entrusted with the responsibility of getting sponsors for various cultural events from companies.or in the case of an hypothetical or situation based question: To get the best results from my team in achieving time specific goals, I will first need to guide my team to establish individual areas of tasks and responsibilities.”  

A: What Actions did you take?

Focus here on your competencies to accomplish the given task: I used my interpersonal skills to build a team of enthusiastic students, and motivated them to visit companies to collect sponsorship. I was able to organize the work according to the ability and resources of the team members, and utilized my personal contacts as well to get the desired sponsorship..
In the case of the hypothetical question given as an example above, your answer could be Once having established the individual goals and responsibilities, I will collaborate with my team to work out an achievable time schedule…”   

Your answer should clearly demonstrate to the interviewer that you are aware of utilizing interpersonal skills, team building, time management and other relevant skills into the given situation to accomplish specific goals in order to get the desired outcomes.

R: What was the Result?

Mention the outcome at the end - what you achieved as a result of your efforts. Give specific figures about the organizations you obtained sponsorship from and the amount collected from each, and maybe include a commendation received from your head of department or teachers appreciating your efforts.

While fresh college students can give an example as the one stated above, it is always a good idea for experienced professionals to chose a recent example, such as previous projects completed, targets achieved in previous job, team building exercise carried out - any recently accomplished area in which you are able to clearly demonstrate the successful application of skills you are asked to give an example of.    


  1. Yes. STAR framework is really cool for answering such types of questions

  2. Good tips on interview questions

  3. Thanks for posting - great tips!

  4. Which question is more difficult to answer - hypothetical or situational?

  5. I was asked situation based q in my interview - didn't go so well. thnx for these tips on how to answer such q's.

  6. very useful article, but i think you need to know about skills they ask for to answer the situation based question.

  7. Hi guys I'm new here. Like all articles posted here. They're very helpful for interview preparation.

    Gaurav Mehra

  8. Really useful article, request more such articles on other interview questions also

  9. pls also post article on question - tell me about yourself

  10. good helpful article. thanks for posting

  11. Star framework seems to be a good structured response to such types of questions. What other q's can it be used on?

  12. appreciate all the articles on this blog. They give very practical tips for improving your skills for interviews

  13. Very good tips on interview questions that are asked nowadays

  14. Highly useful article on behavioural & situational questions as such questions are always asked during interviews

  15. This is good. I always have problem answering such questions