Are you preparing for a job interview? Congratulations! Your prospective employer clearly believes you may be a new team member. However, they still need to understand if you can fit well into the new environment. This is why hypothetical interview questions have become increasingly common.
What Are Hypothetical Questions in an Interview?
Hypothetical questions involve putting a candidate in an imaginary situation and asking them to explain how they would handle it in real life. You can spot such interview questions by looking out for phrases such as “what would you do if…?” and “how would you respond to…?”.
Hypothetical interview questions are different from behavioral questions, which test how well candidates responded to situations in the past. Hypothetical prompts ask you to consider future situations and allow you to get a bit more creative. While you may draw inspiration from past experiences, you must display problem-solving, critical thinking, emotional intelligence, and conceptual skills in your answers.
Employers love hypothetical questions as they indicate the strength of candidates’ analytical and interpersonal skills. That’s why hip tech companies such as Google and Facebook often ask probing hypothetical interview questions — to find the most promising, well-rounded talent with a combination of hard and soft skills.
For instance, here’s a sample hypothetical question that a prospective Product Quality Analyst was asked at Google:
“A restaurant opened in Alaska yesterday on Google Maps has got 15 reviews. What do you think about this? How can you make sure the reviews are genuine?”
The interviewers are looking for an answer that provides a step-by-step account of how the respondent would investigate the legitimacy of some (clearly rather dodgy) reviews. In this way, the question offers candidates an opportunity to display their business acumen and quick-thinking skills.
Hypothetical questions at Google Interviews also often include follow-ups, which encourage you to further explain your line of thinking when tackling a particular problem. For example, critical thinking interview questions based on hypothetical scenarios can go like this:
“A competitor started offering a $5 monthly fee for their email product. What recommendations would you make to your team based on your assessment of the situation? Follow-ups: Which factors would you consider in your recommendation? What impact on the company would your suggestions make?”
Overall, hypothetical interview questions are common for managerial and executive roles. But they may also come up for several technical roles, especially in software development. In this case, you may be probed with
How to Answer Hypothetical Interview Questions?
Most hypothetical questions require candidates to provide some kind of narrative or a description of a logical process in this way. The precise nature of the questions will, of course, differ by industry. However, they often follow a narrative formula. First, address the situation by describing your actions. Then explain your rationale for choosing a specific response (aka demonstrate your thought process).
To give you a better idea of what to expect in your interview, we’ve put together a list of potential hypothetical interview questions and answers.
8 Sample Hypothetical Interview Questions With Answers
When preparing for an interview, advanced prep is key to success. Here are eight hypothetical interview questions and some tips on how to answer them:
Q1. You’re Leading A Project Which Requires Input From A Variety Of Teams. One Of The Teams Is Running Late And Claims They’re Snowed Under With Tasks. How Will You Deliver The Project On Time?
If you come across this kind of question, the recruiter wants to test your people skills and ascertain how effectively you handle a heavy workload. They’re not asking you to rant and rave at the offending team (as tempting as that sounds).
Instead, you need to display your managerial skills. How will you convey the urgency of the deadline? Perhaps you will ask a third party to intervene, such as a more senior manager? Whatever way you decide to handle the situation, demonstrate that you understand the importance of stringent planning and solid communication.
“First, I would assess the impact of the delayed team on the overall timeline of the project. If their tasks are critical to the project’s success, I would explore alternative solutions such as reallocating resources or outsourcing to ensure timely delivery. If their tasks are not critical, I would work with them to prioritize their workload and provide extra support if needed”.
Q2. You’ve Noticed A Coworker Harassing Another Employee. How Do You Respond?
This is a tricky question to answer, as it requires you to apply your subjective judgment. Recruiters who ask this question are essentially testing your personality, and there are no correct or incorrect answers.
You could, for example, assertively intervene and stand up for the harassed employee. If you’re concerned about the repercussions, however, you can inform upper management. Try to answer this question as honestly as possible and give reasons for your judgment.
“I would approach the person privately about the issue first. To avoid sounding accusatory, I usually use “I” statements as in, “I noticed your behavior the other day and it made me uncomfortable”. If they do not acknowledge their wrongdoing and continue with the same course, I would escalate the issue to the management and HR. I believe bullying is not acceptable.”
Q3. Your Manager Has Asked You To Work Entirely Remotely For A Few Weeks. How Will You Maintain Strong Lines Of Communication With Colleagues And Clients?
This question is increasingly likely to pop up in interviews as remote working becomes more common. It tests:
- How dependable you are
- If you are good with asynchronous communication
- How comfortable you are using popular communications software.
Make sure you display your knowledge of different channels, including email, Microsoft Teams, Zoom, Slack, and any other relevant software. Just don’t mention your penchant for sending memes to colleagues.
“To keep the comms going, I’d establish a communication plan for regular check-ins. I usually prefer morning stand-ups where I can quickly talk about my plans/goals for the day, plus address the blockers. Afternoons are usually my “deep work” hours, so I’d avoid planning meetings around that time, but I’d respond to async messages via Slack or Microsoft Teams. Likewise, I’ll ensure that all of my client meetings are documented with notes/memos, and shared with other team members”.
Q4. You Find Out That A Colleague Has Been Inadvertently Breaching Compliance Laws By Sharing Customer Data. How Do You Respond?
This problem tests your understanding of compliance laws and your ability to handle urgent situations with care.
Compliance regulations such as GDPR and CCPA carry huge fines for breaches, so you would have to report the situation to your data governance team. At the same time, it is worth mentioning that you would treat the colleague with kindness and compassion rather than stirring up an argument about their negligence.
“I believe that everyone has the right to make an honest mistake. So I’d approach the person privately first to address the situation and brief them on the current policies regarding customer data (that is if the breach/disclosure was minor). I would strengthen the importance of upholding compliance laws and offer to share some of my tips.”
Q5. Your Manager Has Asked You To Deliver An Important Presentation To A Potential Stakeholder. How Do You Ensure It Goes Well?
This answer tests your organizational and planning skills and is relatively easy to answer.
Consider how you start and carry out an important project. Will you use special software to track the process of your project? Who will you reach out to for help? What kind of research will you do to ensure the presentation is as compelling as possible? Provide a comprehensive narrative of your process, and don’t be afraid to toot your own horn.
“My typical strategy is two-step: background stakeholder research (industry interests, affiliation, corporate values, etc). I use LinkedIn and online research to find the person’s public statements and interviews to get a better sense of their personality and professional affiliations. Also, I talk to customer success/service departments to get extra knowledge. Then I customize the presentation, based on the identified pain points and areas of interest, and practice my delivery with the team.”
Q6. You’ve Received Negative Feedback For A Project You Were Initially Proud Of. How Do You Process The News?
We’ve all been there – negative feedback can be soul-crushing and seriously bruise your confidence. Recruiters who ask this question want to discover whether you will crumble under pressure or turn negative situations into positives.
In your answer, acknowledge that you would find the news upsetting (the recruiters aren’t looking for robots!) but that you would attempt to learn from the feedback. Perhaps you would make a development plan or schedule a meeting with your manager to discuss further training sessions.
“I would step back from this for a day to process my emotions. Then once again re-evaluate the feedback holistically to understand in which areas I should improve. If something appears unclear, I’d approach the manager or peers for extra guidance. Overall, I’m open to constructive criticism and treat failure as a learning opportunity. I’d rather fail fast and learn than stay delusional in my beliefs.”
Q7: You’re Introduced to a New Software Product You’ve Never Used Before. How Would You Know That You’re Using It Effectively?
Technology is everywhere in the workplace, so strong digital literacy skills are kind of expected. The purpose of this hypothetical interview question is to gauge your ability to learn new tools on your own.
Your answer should explain how you’re approaching new software adoption. Provide a quick walkthrough. Use a specific example from your last position if you can to give your answer extra validity.
“I’d follow the general onboarding sequence first for the app and check the product documentation. In most cases, this gives me about 70% of the information I need to get started (this was the case with Figma). I’d then give myself a couple of days to play with the features, referring back to the documentation whenever I’m stuck. Also, there are plenty of YouTube tutorials for most software apps. For the most complex questions, I’d approach colleagues or the IT staff to help me progress from a confident to an advanced user.”
Q8: You’re Leading a Sales Demo for a New Client. The Evening Before, Your Team Says an Essential Feature Isn’t Working. What Would You Do?
The purpose of this question is to test your adaptability skills, as well as the ability to come up with creative solutions to unexpected obstacles.
Moreover, the interviewer likely tries to understand what type of risk you’d rather carry: the prospect of losing new business (by postponing a demo) or the prospect of tainting your (and the company’s) reputation during a flopped demo.
Your goal here is to demonstrate a tempered, confident response.
“My first step would be to assess the situation and understand the impact of the missing feature on the overall demo. If it’s critical (i.e., supports the main client use case), I’d reach out to the client and request to reschedule the demo by transparently addressing the issue. If it’s an auxiliary feature, I’d customize the demo and use workarounds to showcase the product’s capabilities without the affected feature. Lastly, I would debrief with my team after the demo to understand what went wrong and how we can prevent similar situations in the future”.
8 More Hypothetical Interview Questions to Practice?
Need some more “training material?” Here are several more hypothetical interview questions to give your brain a workout:
- You’ve noticed that one of your team members isn’t using their time effectively (according to the company productivity dashboard). Yet, they’re delivering on all assigned tasks. How would you approach this situation?
- If you were asked to improve one product in our company portfolio. What would it be, why, and how would you suggest improving it?
- The leadership wants to increase the time-to-market for new software releases. However, they’re on the fence about increasing budgets. What would be your suggestions?
- One of your team members took a personal day off just before an important deadline. The team has a strong dependency on their input. What would you do?
- You’ve noticed that one of the employees always skips some steps in the standard operating procedure. How would you deal with this?
- Imagine you were put in charge of improving the company diversity program. What would be your first steps?
- You’ve received feedback that your team isn’t innovative enough. You disagree with this statement. How would you evaluate and report back on the citation?
- The company leadership pushed for a new team objective. You and your team believe that it would be unrealistic to achieve within the set timeframe. How would you navigate the issue?
So, there you have it – a brief guide to hypothetical questions. While they can be challenging to prepare for, they are commonly asked. So try to practice a few before stepping into your interview. Consider solutions to common problems in your industry and write down why you’re the perfect person to solve them. Hypothetical questions aren’t rocket science, but they require creative thinking. Good luck!