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6 Hypothetical Questions Interviewers Ask and How to Answer Them

hypothetical questions asked during job interview

Are you preparing for a job interview? Congratulations! Your prospective employer clearly believes you may be a prospective hire. However, they don’t yet know how adaptable you are or whether you respond well to new situations. This is where hypothetical interview questions come in.

What are Hypothetical Questions?

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 quick-thinking, innovation, adaptability, and emotional intelligence 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 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?”

Clearly, 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 technical knowledge and quick-thinking skills. 

6 Common 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. 

To give you a better idea of what to expect in your interview, we’ve put together a list of potential hypothetical questions:

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).

leading a project

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. 

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.    

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!

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.

law compliance and regulations

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.

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.  

Conclusion

So, there you have it – a brief guide to hypothetical questions. While they can be difficult 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 a few reasons why you’re the perfect person to solve them. Hypothetical questions aren’t rocket science, but they require creative thinking. Good luck!

Author

  • Elena runs content operations at Freesumes since 2017. She works closely with copywriters, designers, and invited career experts to ensure that all content meets our highest editorial standards. Up to date, she wrote over 200 career-related pieces around resume writing, career advice... more

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