This article will teach you how to ask great situational interview questions according to the critical incident technique.
Asking the right questions in a job interview is not easy. Sure there are numerous lists with interview questions, but how can you be sure they fit your specific job requirements? You can’t. An unuseful example would be one question we (unfortunately) all know: “what are your weaknesses?” This question has been proven to be discouraging instead of goal oriented.

Rather, ask questions that match the demands of the every day work that the candidates will be faced with. As a matter of fact, the right questions are vital for assessing whether your candidates will be able to perform well on the job. Fortunately, there is a very powerful method which can assist you in asking the questions accurately: the Critical Incident Technique. Let’s take a closer look at this method. On the example of a concrete situation, I will guide you through the 5 steps to create a situational question according to the critical incident technique. Here we go!

What is the Critical Incident Technique based on?

  • 1. Experts (employees, supervisors, customers) are able to estimate fairly well which situations are critical to professional success. For service staff, for example, a crucial situation may consist of dealing with difficult customers .
  • 2. In these situations, different behaviour leads to very different results: an unfriendly service employee may annoy customers to the point where they will never come back, or clarify the situation and make everybody happy.
  • 3. When we are faced with a situation, we have access to a certain behavioural repertoire and we have to choose how to act. This can be measured.

Please note, however, not to base your questions on situations which require insider knowledge. Also, we recommend combining situational questions with other types of questions in order to get a complete picture of a candidate and their skills.

5 steps to creating situational questions according to critical incident technique

Here we go: you can use situational questions in different interview formats, such as pre-recorded video interviews or face-to-face interviews. Just follow those 5 steps:

1) Look for experts from the respective department (eg. supervisor)

Question 1: “Mr. Smith (Head of Social Media Marketing), we are currently looking for a new Junior Social Media Manager (m/f). What tasks will the future Social Media Manager be expected to fulfil?”

2) Ask them for situations that are particularly critical for the respective position!

  • What were the (external) circumstances (contextual information)?
  • Where did the situation occur?
  • Who was involved?
  • What actions were taken

Question 2: “Can you remember a situation in which there was reputational damage caused by the activity of an employee (m/f) in this position, which could have been prevented? If so, when did this situation take place, what was the initial problem (context), which employees were involved and how did they behave?”

The answer might be: “To introduce a new product that was somewhat troublesome, we wanted to support our “First Level Support Team” via our social media channels. However, the social media manager in charge always responded to posts that dealt with service problems with quite a delay, and after being asked by a colleague. Then, he only answered that the service hotline should be called. Of course, the corporate social media channel is not meant to collect customer requests, but our customers do not know this.”

3) Ask what kind of behavior is effective in these situations, less effective or even counter-productive

With the answers to those questions, you will be able to understand concrete dos and don’ts for the respective position.
For example: “It would have been more effective to respond on time, expressing understanding and immediately offering a solution, such as asking the customer to send us their contact details via private message, so we could forward them to the appropriate service points right away. Then, our service staff would get back to them to deal with their request. Ideally, we are able to solve this problem quickly and make the customer happy, thanks to our quick response.”

4) Repeat steps 1-3 with other experts to verify the desired behavior

Also, asking other experts will give you insights in other perspectives on demands for the same position. Foremost, you should focus on those points that show the greatest overlap as these behaviors appear to be the most universally applicable. But consider mismatches or unique opinions as well. There might be specific demands that only few people see in the first place, even though they have a large though implicit impact.
Example: The social media manager in charge of the career pages fully agrees with the previously collected examples for critical behavior.

5) Turn the situation into a question and the behavioral examples into behavioral anchors

  • good answer: timely responses, express understanding, ask for contact information, forward request internally, public status update to show that there was a quick response to the complaint
  • mediocre: timely response, express understanding, refer to service point
  • bad: “wrong channel: “Please contact our service

So, this is the final question:

“Put yourself in the following situation: You are taking care of one of our social media channels. Although it is not aimed at dealing with service requests, you are repeatedly confronted with customer complaints or service requests, due to a somewhat problematic product launch. What would you do?”

  • good answer: timely responses, express understanding, ask for contact information, forward request internally, public status update to show that there was a quick response to the complaint
  • mediocre: timely response, express understanding, refer to service point
  • bad: “wrong channel: “Please contact our service


We hope this technique can help to improve your interview questions in the future to find the most suiting candidate for your open position.

Here at viasto, we are experts in creating good interview questions and successfull recruiting interviews using modern technology.

Contact us today to book your Demo on how smart video recruiting can boost your channel!