How to Answer Hypothetical Questions during Your Interview
Hypothetical questions can be the most challenging part of the interview as they vary widely, and can become a potential stumbling block to an otherwise, strong IT interview.
Understanding the structure of a hypothetical question and the motive behind why interviewers ask them, will help you greatly in your bid to perfect your interviewing prep.
What is a hypothetical question?
The hypothetical (or situational) questions evaluate how you would handle a challenge you may not have encountered yet.
These questions will assess your thought process; there is no ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ solution with a hypothetical question. The answer of each hypothetical question is unique to each job role scenario.
Interviewers use hypothetical questions instead of the behavioural question when the candidate has not experienced a specific work situation, but will need the capability to handle certain situations in the new role.
Similar to interviewing role-play, the hypothetical scenario will allow the interviewer to assess your problem-solving skills, and your perceived people skills.
IMPORTANT: How you answer a hypothetical question will also display your analytical perception e.g. you understood the question and acknowledge that you are keen to be perform well in these future situations.
How to answer hypothetical questions
If the interviewer has not stated that hypothetical or situational questions will feature, you can identify them easily. The interviewer will ask questions that begin with phrases such as “Imagine that…”, “How would you handle…” or “What would you do if…” followed by a specific imaginary scenario.
Firstly, do not panic. Take your time to answer these questions. It shows that you are being thoughtful by reflecting on the question, and you don’t have the answer prepped. In your answer, you should be highlighting:
Thoughtful problem solving: You are gathering information related to the scenario presented. Think about how you conducted research to amass the details and, and how you got to the core problem.
Analytical thinking: Present how you did your analysis on the information gathered and the core issue presented. Have you weighed the pros and cons of your potential solution or action to the scenario?
Thought Process & Organisation: How you sequence the solution as per importance will display how your thought process works in terms of what you prioritise. Did you highlight other solutions and relate why you chose this solution? Does your solution answer the initial question or solve the initial problem? Did you describe potential success metrics to support your solution?
Strong communication – Are your responses structured and logical? Do you balance brevity and detail? Do you convey confidence in your answer? Moreover, what if the interviewer decides to challenge your solution – are you ready to respond appropriately? Hypothetical questions are, by nature, unpredictable.
Common Hypothetical Questions
- How would you handle it if the priorities for a project you were working on were suddenly changed?
- What would you do if you disagreed with the way a manager handled a situation or problem?
- What would you do if a key team member and colleague recommended a solution that you disapproved?
- Imagine a new team policy has been introduced that you are resisting, or disagree with. What steps do you take to solve the challenge?
- What would you do if you made a strong recommendation in a meeting, but your colleagues disagreed with you?
- How would you handle working closely with a colleague who was acting negatively and wasn’t performing?
- You are working on a key project but it is delayed because of another team. What do you do?
- Imagine you are in charge of a proposal for a key customer, but you have made an error early on in the timeline. You have the option to correct the error but it will put the project behind deadline and it will cost the customer’s satisfaction. What do you do?
TIP: Examine the job spec and pinpoint what key soft skills are required. Then, have a think about potential scenarios the new role could offer. These scenarios could become the hypothetical questions you might be asked, so you can prepare your answers in advance.