Scenario questions at interviews

Tuesday, November 3, 2020

Some government agencies use scenarios as one, or all, of their interview questions.

A scenario question gives you a scene and asks you what you would do in that situation.

A recent example is: “You are appointed supervisor of a team. You find that they display a poor outlook towards understanding and implementing policies and procedures, and they lack motivation, time-management skills or the ability to complete their tasks to the expected standard.

How will you motivate and drive cultural change within your team to improve performance?”

Scenario questions are useful if the interviewer is trying to assess your understanding of a procedure. E.g. “What action would you take if the fire alarm sounded in your office?”,  or “if a staff member claimed sexual assault by a team member, what procedure would you follow?”.  In each case there is a set procedure to follow, and you should be able to provide the answer, provided knowledge of that procedure was a requirement of the position.

Scenarios that ask for performance skills are not useful in assessing an applicant’s ability, because they will always give the “appropriate”, or text-book answer, to impress the interviewer, rather than what might actually do in that situation. The evidence is that interviewees give more honest answers if they are asked, face-to-face, for a specific example of some past behavior, knowing they could be asked follow-up questions to clarify the example, and referees could later be asked to verify the example.

However, you need to be prepared to answer a scenario question in case you get one.

You could tell the panel that the scenario is similar to an actual situation you have experienced, and offer that as an example of how you actually handled it. That should satisfy the panel, but if not, you will have to try the following method.

If you have prepared for the interview with a variety of examples  in note form, expecting to answer a ”behavioural” question, such as “Give me an example of how you have handled an angry client”, you will have to change the way you answer the question.

In your answer you don’t have to set the scene (they have given you that) and you can’t say what you did because it hasn’t  happened to you. What need to do is make some mental adjustments  and say what you would do. Change the tense from past tense to future tense.

In the example notes you have prepared, you might have action like:<br>

Listened to her complaint…   change to  “ I would  listen to her complaint…”<br>

I offered to assist by …  change to    “I would offer to assist her by …”<br>

Describe all the actions you took in your example, to actions you would take.

Of course, you can’t give a positive result, so you can’t claim that what you would do would actually be successful, but that is the nature of scenarios.