August 24

Hire Better with Situational Interview Questions

Get a better idea of who you’re hiring by implementing situational questions in your interview process.

Employee turnover is rampant in the food and drink industry, so when you’re hiring, it’s incredibly crucial to take time with the interview process — because employee retention starts with who you’re hiring. In an in-person interview, it’s not enough to simply have a conversation with someone about their availability; you need to develop thoughtful questions that allow the candidate to open up and expose their thoughts and instincts on hospitality. The best way to gain this insight is to start creating situational interview questions. If this is a new term for you, don’t fret — we have the answers to help you get started.

What are situational interview questions?
Situational interview questions are hypothetical questions that ask the candidate to describe how they would act or what they would do in a specific scenario or facing a particular obstacle.

These types of questions are a great way to gain insight into how a candidate thinks and works. Because situational interview questions are a bit unexpected, they cause the candidate to think on the spot and are more likely to encourage genuine answers rather than rehearsed. Plus, in our industry, dealing with the unexpected is a given. Watching someone answer a curveball interview question can say a lot about how well they’ll fit in the role they’re interviewing for.

How do I formulate situational questions?
As you start formulating your questions, treat each role you are hiring for separately. Write out what responsibilities the job has and what qualities and values you think would make someone an excellent fit for this role at your establishment. Once you have some ‘must have’ keywords, make up some challenging scenarios that would put pressure on anyone, and where you have a general idea of how you’d prefer someone to respond in that type of scenario.

A couple of examples could be, “What would you do if you noticed a co-worker is continuously late to work?” or “You see a table’s food is still in the window, and it’s been 3-5 minutes — what do you do?” How a candidate responds can show you how that person takes responsibility or how hospitable they genuinely are in the face of a demanding situation.

What do I look for when a candidate is answering a situational question?
Refer to the list of ‘must haves’ you created when building the interview questions. This documentation will help explain why you ask a specific question and what characteristics you are looking for. Then, in the interview, genuinely listen to the candidate and determine if their answer reveals what you’re looking for. Did their response portray a candidate who is resourceful, graceful, or who shows a level of customer service you agree with?

Keep an open mind because while someone might not answer the question exactly how you would answer, they can still reveal the characteristics you are looking for. It’s best to keep a note of their response so that you can review it after the interview. Also, pay attention to the candidate’s word choice when answering — if they can remain positive or put a positive spin on a challenging situation, they could be a great fit.

How do I train my hiring managers to start using situational interview questions?
Once you have some situational interview questions, create documentation. Then, set up a meeting with your hiring managers to discuss the questions, receive feedback, and explain what you are looking for by asking these questions. Collaborating will help you fine-tune the situational questions and create a document that can be repeated by each hiring manager and built on over time. An interview process is also crucial to successfully hiring — so if you don’t have one in place, make this the time to start one.

We’ve all interviewed before, so you know it’s common for candidates to rehearse a generic response to more traditional interview questions. Throwing in some situational interview questions forces the candidate to think outside the box and develop a more instinctual and genuine answer, giving you better insight into what type of employee they’d be. Making the right hire is essential for good employee retention, and right now, with a tight labor market. Take time with your interview questions so that you make the right hire the first time.

About the author


Ashley McNally likes to cook, loves to bake, and is always dreaming of her next meal. With over 13 years of experience working in various roles within a restaurant — McNally has made a home in hospitality.


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