The best way to respond to scenarios in job interviews

The best way to respond to scenarios in job interviews

At some point during the hiring process, a recruiter may ask you to participate in a scenario to see how you respond to situations that may arise in a work environment.

Often, these scenarios are complex and are directly linked to what your responsibilities would be in your new job, if they choose to hire you.

The process of having you engage in a scenario allows the recruiter to observe how you behave in a work situation and to evaluate your skills and aptitudes. Of course, scenario themes can vary widely depending on the nature of the job you’re applying for.

Here’s an example of a scenario a recruiter may present you with:

You’ve recently started your new job. A good client confesses to you that they don’t like the way one of your colleagues interacts with him. Then, the client asks that you not mention what he’s told you to anyone. What do you do?

A well-thought out scenario will propose several opposing options:

  • Will you respect the client’s wishes and not say anything to your team? If so, you won’t be able to help your colleague improve his interactions, and the client will remain unsatisfied.
  • Will you tell everything to your colleague, and admonish him not to mention anything to the client? In this case, you won’t be respecting the client’s desire for confidentiality – and if your colleague spills his guts to the client in a moment of truth, how will that reflect on you?
  • Will you suggest to the client that they share their feelings with your colleague? In this case the client may be offended, and may not confide in you again.

There are many ways to respond to this scenario, but no matter your response, there will always be a downside that you have to assume responsibility for.

For many recruiters, what matters most in the end isn’t the response you give, but rather how you frame your response, and the thought process that brought you to that decision.

How a scenario is evaluated

Before determining the best way to respond to a scenario, it’s a good idea to understand exactly how the recruiter will be evaluating you.

Sometimes, the recruiter may analyze your response in an intuitive way, without using a particular evaluation method. Alternatively, they may use a formal analysis that allows them to attribute “points” to different aspects of your response.

In the example I gave above, the criteria for evaluation of the interviewee could be:  their sense of responsibility; judgment; communication abilities; team spirit and desire to improve the business.

In the “sense of responsibility” field, a recruiter may score a candidate’s response on a scale of 1 to 5:

0 = The candidate doesn’t care about the client, because their happiness is not the candidate’s responsibility.

3 = The candidate is concerned about the present relationship they have with the client, but are not thinking about the rest of their team.

5 = The candidate takes it upon themselves to handle the problem as if they were the owner of the business.

By scoring a job seeker’s responses in this way, a recruiter can gain a general idea how a candidate will behave in a given scenario.

The best way to respond

Of course, in any scenario, there will always be information missing. For example, you may wonder:

Did the client confide in me when we were alone together? How did the client say it: was it deadly serious, or light and inconsequential? How is my relationship with the colleague the client is talking about, on a personal level; how do I feel about them?

Don’t ask the recruiter all of these questions, however; you’ll make it seem as if you didn’t understand the question and may irritate them.

If you really feel the missing information is necessary to answer the question, try saying something like:

To respond to this scenario, I’m going to assume that I’m alone with the client, and that I know my colleague well and like him. I’m going to presume his comment is subjective. Does that work for you?

If, in your reply, you ask a question of the imaginary client, you can’t know how the client will react. You have to operate based on suppositions.

If the client says X, I will say Y. But if he says A, I’ll respond with B and C.

It’s important to keep in mind that you’ll be judged not only on your actions, but also on how you reflect upon the information you’ve been given.

If you say: I pay close attention to the body language of the client when he’s talking to me, your answer doesn’t describe a specific action, but the recruiter will notice: Hey, this person is paying attention.

For this reason, I suggest you divide your answer into two parts:

The first step involves assessing the situation. It’s up to you to share your observations with the recruiter.

“Since it’s an important client, I think the most important thing is that I share this info with my employer, while also making sure the client understands that I take their concerns very seriously. I’m also concerned about how my colleague will feel once they hear what the client had to say about them – could it damage our relationship?”

The second step involves the action you will take.

“Based on my analysis of the situation, I decide to first thank the client for sharing their views with me and for their confidence in me. I assure the client that my colleague is very conscientious and must not be aware that his actions are causing the client to feel the way they do. If my colleague knew how the client felt, he would be in a position to correct his behavior. I ask the client what they believe is the best way to bring this constructive criticism to my colleague’s attention…”

In conclusion

The scenario is a great way to demonstrate the way you work by using concrete examples. When presented with a scenario, try not to answer too quickly, since there are often a number of factors to consider in your decision. At the same time, don’t be too hesitant to reply.

Remember that the goal of the scenario is to not only evaluate your actions, but also to assess how you will respond to challenges you may face if you get chosen for the job.

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Mathieu Guénette

Mathieu Guénette is a self-employed Guidance Counsellor with over 20 years of experience, as well as an author and a lecturer. He has worked with a diverse clientele (teenagers, adults, managers, job hunters). In 2017, he has simultaneously obtained the Ordre des conseillers et conseillères d'orientation du Québec’s Professional Award and the Ordre des conseillers en ressources humaines agréés’ HR Book of the Year Award for his work Le candidat visceral. He provides services in Montreal, Lanaudière and remotely. His website is full of handy resources for you: Les chercheurs de sens.

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