8. “What would you do if . . . ”

Watch the great movie, The Martian (2015) to see a memorable reminder for how to answer this interview question. An astronaut is left behind alone on the planet. He faces a series of unexpected problems. Therefore he has to use his creativity and experience to solve them to survive. This question may require you to demonstrate your ingenuity. Because it’s impossible to prepare in advance for every possible question you may face. However, there are some strategies you can follow to shine even with the unexpected.

Good Interview Answers for this Popular Interview Question

To reply to this frequently asked top ten interview question, see the job interview tips below. Here’s the interviewer’s side of what they want to hear (and don’t want to hear) for this question.

Alternate versions of this question include:

  • potential or typical challenges in the job (They are interested in your approach  that you might take – or did – when confronted with a particular circumstance)
  • wild “out of the box” situation (They want to see how you respond to something completely unexpected or how you think on your feet)
  • some questions that don’t won’t make much sense because they want to see how you think on your feet

Unlike predictable questions, there are an unlimited variety of these kinds of “what if” questions you may answer.

Your answer should be:

  • what you did if you have encountered the situation before (optional, but powerful)  OR
  • taking them through a high-level series of steps you would take in your thinking and your actions

Your answer should not be:

  • unorganized
  • too detailed so too long, keep at 3 minutes or less

Here’s How to Create Your Answer:

You may not have the chance to prepare in advance for all of these “what if” questions.  Read the job posting and identify typical situations likely relevant to their interests. Prepare answers in advance. Follow the instructions for the behavioral interview questions such as “tell me about a time when you . . .” See the details with the sample answers with ratings in the Guide #3 “TELL ME A STORY.” See the end of this blog post for access information.

A “what if” question frees you to use your imagination. Share what you think since it doesn’t require you to share an actual incident from your past. However, if you do have experience, use that in your answer as the foundation. Then identify also what you might do differently knowing what you know now.

Just take a very deep breath if your mind goes blank when confronted with a “what if” question. Surprisingly, just breathing will connect both sides of your brain. Your creativity will connect with your logic and something will come to you. Trust yourself and just go ahead and say it.

Example #1

Q:  Tell me what you would do if you identified some improprieties within the accounting transaction.

A:  “That’s a really good question. I think the first thing would be to make sure that I gathered sufficient factual evidence.  So if something looked a little unusual or there were some red flags, I would first delve into it a little bit more.

So I would look back at some documents. Do some analysis of some numbers if it looked unusual. Consider ratios or look for approvals that didn’t seem appropriate, depending on what the issue was.

Then I would discuss the situation with the person.  Before I even got to the person, I would communicate my concern to the appropriate legal counsel within the organization. I would want to make sure that we were doing this completely on the up and up.  If the company has a policy around how you handle these things, then I follow that policy.

Then I would address it with the individual.  I have been involved, in the past, with some interrogations around potential fraudulent activity. So I do know how to ask those kinds of questions. They at first appear like you’re a little ignorant. And then you let the person get their guard down.  Then, all of a sudden, they start to disclose some things that allow you to zero in on it.

But I would be very quick to address it.  I would not let it drag on. Because if you handle it the right way and you’re wrong, you know, you’ve investigated, but hopefully you haven’t created any further issues.  If you’re correct in your assumptions, the quicker you bring this to a head the less exposure you have for your organization.”

Example #2

Q: What would you do if we were not able to recruit new funders to the table for the XXX  Association?

A: “What I would do is sit with the board and the active members of the staff. We would try to think of outside-the-box. Identify ways of potentially doing a public relations or advocacy campaign that attracted the attention of possible funders.

While at the same time, perhaps looking to the families and the young people in the schools that we’ve worked with. See whether or not there could be an alumni association or organization built among those young people and families. That way they would then become the spokespeople and help raise the additional dollars that we needed to continue the program.”

Example #3

Q: Tell me what you would do if a situation at work came up, and you saw a need, but it wasn’t your area of responsibility?

A:” I believe in teamwork. So, if I see I can help out and contribute to a goal, that I see as something you shouldn’t even back down from.

One example would be at my old job at XXX.  I took on some responsibilities as an Account Manager, even though I was just a Service Rep.  An Account Manager has a lot more detailed involvement with the insurance policies and they understand the coverage more.

They just don’t invoice and send certificates or process paperwork. They do a lot of calculating and managing to see if coverage is placed correctly.  I helped out in a lot of that.  Placed coverage with some of the smaller accounts myself and did well in that regard.

Wasn’t asked to do it. I just took over. Because I knew that the Account Managers were struggling and having a hard time keeping up, so I just went for it. They, of course, approved what I did before I sent it on to the customer. So if I saw a situation here where I could jump in and help out even if it wasn’t my responsibility, I would do that.


Finally, to further improve your own answer to this question, get immediate access to the “TELL ME A STORY” Guide in the Hollywood Movie Method Job Winning Series. This Guide includes 12 sample answers given by real people for this question. You will discover ratings for each answer that will help you quickly refine your own answer to be even more effective.

This Guide also includes samples and complete how to answer training for the behavioral interview questions you face.

Give Me Guide Now