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10 What If Questions: [With Sample Answers]

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Have you ever blown an interview because the hiring manager asked you a bizarre “what if” question that caught you off guard?

It happens to everyone at some point or other. Don’t let it get you down, instead, prepare for those types of interview questions to do better next time.

We’ve got everything you need to know about “What if” interview questions, including tips, tricks, and examples to help you create stellar responses that impress interviewers.

10 Common What-if Interview Questions

“What if” questions have increasingly become one of the most popular interview questions to ask candidates.

They inspire the candidate to think on their feet, demonstrate their creativity, and convey whether a candidate’s approach to a situation aligns with the role they’re after.

  1. What if you made an error at work and nobody noticed?
  2. What if a client wants to speak to the boss, but yours is unavailable?
  3. What if your boss asked you to do something you didn’t know how to do?
  4. What if we hired you today, then changed our minds tomorrow?
  5. What if a customer was upset and took out their anger on you?
  6. What if your manager told you to lie to a potential client?
  7. What if you were feeling overworked and overwhelmed?
  8. What if you were responsible for making a decision that would impact the entire team?
  9. What if you could pick only one focus area for this upcoming month; what would it be?
  10. What if you noticed your coworker needed help with a task?

The interviewer will often tack on a clarifying question to encourage a lengthier response, like asking how you would respond or what you would do.

What Should I Say for What if Questions?

Understanding what an interviewer wants can only get you so far. You’ll need to customize a truthful, authentic response that sounds organic at the moment.

What Skills Are Interviewers Looking For in a Candidate?

Interviewers who ask what-if questions are looking for several specific attributes that let them know if you’re the right fit for the role and their organization.

  • Problem-solving skills: Can you address any issue that comes up and solve it head-on?
  • Decision making: Having the resolve to settle an issue quickly, efficiently, and effectively.
  • Critical thinking: Considering and analyzing various factors at play before moving forward.
  • Communication: Understanding the importance of saying what needs to be communicated to all parties involved.
  • Honesty: Being trustworthy, open, and transparent, even when you have the opportunity not to be.
  • Creativity: Thinking quickly on your feet and providing effective yet unique and inventive solutions.
  • Leadership: You take it upon yourself to use your skills to solve the problem if possible.
  • Teamwork: Knowing that it’s okay, and often required, to ask for assistance.

What Traits Are Interviewers Looking to Avoid in a Candidate?

As much as an interviewer seeks specific traits when they ask what-if questions, they also look for disqualifying responses.

  • Dishonesty: Coming off as untruthful or closed off in your answer.
  • Rudeness: Answering the what-if question with a disrespectful or jaded attitude.
  • Lack of leadership: Not taking ownership of the hypothetical circumstance or problem presented.
  • Lack of responsibility: Trying to shift the blame onto someone else in the organization.
  • Laziness: Admitting that you will always take the easiest way out instead of the most effective way.
  • Passivity: Not taking action or responding to what needs to be done.
  • Insensitivity: Not considering the feelings and perspectives of all parties involved in the what-if scenario.

Sample What if Interview Questions and Answers

Now that you understand the specific traits that interviews are looking for, let’s dig into some samples for inspiration.

What if You Made an Error at Work and Nobody Noticed?

Why This Question Is Asked

This question gives the interviewer an idea of your ethics. Doing something wrong in front of someone leaves little wiggle room, but if you make a mistake in private, you have an ethical dilemma on your hands.

Your answer can demonstrate how honest and accountable you are as a potential employee.

What to Focus on When Answering This Question

It’s imperative to focus on answering this question honestly while presenting the “right” thing to do in the situation. An employer would not want an employee to hide an impactful mistake, which could cause inefficiencies, confusion, and delays for the whole team.

What To Avoid When Answering This Question

Avoid the urge to try and twist the truth to appear more impressive, such as stating that you would immediately turn yourself in without a second thought or solve the issue without hesitation, as that might come off as too fabricated.

Example Answer

“I believe that I would alert my supervisor to my error if I made one, even if nobody else noticed.

To be honest, I might feel a little hesitant about ratting myself out at first, but if it is a mistake that could impact my work or the work of anyone else on my time, I would swallow my pride and confess, then ask for help if need be.”

What if a Client Wants To Speak to the Boss, but the Boss Is Not Available?

Why This Question Is Asked

The interviewer wants to know how you would handle yourself and the client in this situation. It’s clear the client is asking for something they cannot have but you need to ensure you address their needs and make them feel valued.

What to Focus on When Answering This Question

You should focus on what you would tell the client in this instance to make them feel okay with the situation.

What To Avoid When Answering This Question

Avoid any answer to this question that demonstrates a lack of care, accountability, leadership, and quick thinking.

Example Answer

“If the client wanted the boss, but the boss was not available, I would be clear that the boss isn’t available but immediately ask what the client’s needs are and say that I would be glad to assist them.

I might say, ‘ The boss is currently occupied; may I help you with anything specific?’ And once the client replies, I will address their concern or figure out the best next steps for getting her or him the information they need.”

What if Your Boss Asked You To Complete a Task That You Didn’t Know How To Do?

Why This Question Is Asked

Interviewers pose this question because they want to know how a candidate operates under the pressure of such a tricky question with multiple valid answers. It also tells them about how honest you are and if you will ask for help when you need it.

What to Focus on When Answering This Question

Honesty is crucial for every interview answer, but it’s vital in this question. Focus on stating step-by-step how you would respond to your boss in a clear, confident, yet humble manner.

What To Avoid When Answering This Question

It’s easy to sound full of yourself when answering this question by stating that you would not know what to do or would simply figure out any task yourself. You should be cautious about answering this way, as it seems disingenuous.

Example Answer

“If my boss assigned me a task I didn’t know how to complete, I would first thank her for giving me the opportunity, especially if it was notably challenging.

I would also be honest with them about my shortcomings and propose how I might go about handling the task, like asking for help or clarifying aspects with my supervisor to ensure I understand the parameters.”

What if We Hired You Today, Then Changed Our Mind Tomorrow?

Why This Question Is Asked

This question is another tricky one that tends to shock candidates because of how left-field it is. Like the question above, an interviewer might ask this to see how a candidate operates under unique pressures.

What to Focus on When Answering This Question

You should calmly demonstrate what you would do if your hiring process was suddenly interrupted, such as how you might respond and your next steps in pursuing other job opportunities.

What To Avoid When Answering This Question

Avoid any answer that is too emotional, as it can make you seem unprofessional, immature, or irrational.

Example Answer

“If I was hired today and the employer changed their mind tomorrow, I admit that I would be confused and probably a bit upset. However, I would take a breath and thank the hiring manager for considering me. That doesn’t mean I wouldn’t ask for clarification because if I could fix something to save my job, I would.

But ultimately, I will respect their final decision, move forward with finding other opportunities, and wish them the best in hiring someone else.”

What if a Customer Was Upset and Was Taking Out Their Anger on You?

Why This Question Is Asked

It’s a great question to ask in an interview because it demonstrates two key skills. The hiring manager can gauge how customer-service-oriented the candidate is and how well they can handle challenging, stress-inducing customers.

What to Focus on When Answering This Question

If you’re applying for a job in which you’ll have to communicate with customers, it’s imperative that you take this question seriously. Focus on what you would say to ease the customer’s concerns and how you will not let their negativity get to you.

What To Avoid When Answering This Question

It’s important to avoid saying anything mean or disrespectful as a response to this hypothetical client. It’s also best to avoid making any jokes about this customer.

Example Answer

“If a customer was yelling at me, I start by de-escalating the situation. I know enough to avoid asking them to calm down and would make sure I used a calm but not patronizing tone.

I would let them know that I hear what they are saying and understand the concerns followed by an apology and an offer to do my best to rectify the issue.”

What if Your Manager Told You To Lie to a Potential Client?

Why This Question Is Asked

Another tricky what-if question is similar to the first one on this list in that it speaks to an ethical dilemma.

You may want to listen to what your manager says, but you might also be against lying regardless of the circumstance. This question poses a challenge to the interviewee that will demonstrate both their character and communication skills.

What to Focus on When Answering This Question

It’s helpful to focus on clearly communicating which route you would take and what you would say to your hypothetical manager, then explaining why you made your choice.

What To Avoid When Answering This Question

Avoid overcomplicating the answer, and clearly state how you would respond to your boss.

Example Answer

“If my boss suggested I lie, I would thank them for their suggestion but respectfully turn it down. I would then ask my boss what the objective of the lie is in their perspective and discuss a way to meet the same objective while still maintaining honesty with the client.”

What if You Were Feeling Overworked and Overwhelmed?

Why This Question Is Asked

Interviews often ask this question to gauge a candidate’s approach if they have too much on their plate.

What to Focus on When Answering This Question

Since the interviewer wants to get an idea of what the candidate would do if they felt like their workload was too much for them to handle, focus on being honest by communicating how you would address those emotions and what specific action steps you would take.

What To Avoid When Answering This Question

Avoid answers that are riddled with complaints, blame, and signs of being overly annoyed or frustrated with the idea of this situation.

Example Answer

“If I were in this position, I would first acknowledge and validate how I feel. Feeling overwhelmed is common, and ignoring it will only worsen the feeling.

Then, I would try to solve the problem by looking at how I manage my time and organize my tasks. If there’s nothing wrong there, I would ask to set up a meeting with my manager to see which tasks I can delegate to other team members so I can be efficient with my primary duties.”

What if You Were Responsible for Making a Decision That Would Impact the Entire Team?

Why This Question Is Asked

An interviewer might ask this what-if question to see the applicant’s approach in a leadership role, especially if they are applying for a higher role in the company.

What to Focus on When Answering This Question

Focus on the steps you would take to ensure the entire team understands what is happening and how the decisions will affect them while appreciating their input.

What To Avoid When Answering This Question

Avoid any answer that makes it seem like you would make all of the final decisions with zero input from your team members or anyone else.

Example Answer

“If I were responsible for making a decision that impacts the entire team, I would take it very seriously and incorporate research, analysis, and team feedback into the final decision.

In communicating the decision, I would set up a meeting to discuss the goal and the potential outcomes, then open the discussion for any additional feedback, questions, or concerns.”

What if You Could Pick Only One Focus Area for This Upcoming Month; What Would It Be?

Why This Question Is Asked

An interviewer might pose this question to get clarity on the candidate’s major priorities coming into this role and then to see if those priorities align with the role’s responsibilities.

What to Focus on When Answering This Question

Make sure to answer the question accurately and provide only one focus area, as the employer is also looking to see how you might prioritize tasks and set up a focused game plan.

What To Avoid When Answering This Question

Avoid listing off all the tasks under the “roles and responsibilities” section of the job application. They know you read the application but want to see if you can choose a specific focus area that aligns with the goals of the company.

Example Answer

“I know that the company is looking to increase customer engagement and maximize retention rates, so if I could focus on only one area for this upcoming month, it would be increasing our level of customer service.”

What if You Noticed Your Coworker Needed Help With a Task?

Why This Question Is Asked

An interviewer might be curious about your instinctive reaction if your coworker needed help and to see whether you’re a team player.

What to Focus on When Answering This Question

Focus on providing a straightforward, confident answer that acknowledges your duties but that working as a team is the most efficient way of growing as an organization.

What To Avoid When Answering This Question

Avoid any answer that implies you would simply turn a blind eye to your coworker’s problems or wait for them to figure it out on their own.

Example Answer

“If my coworker needed help, I would ask them if they needed a hand. If they say yes, I will reorganize my schedule to make sure I am able to get the key things I need to do for that day while still assisting them in what they need help with.”

Other Questions You Could Be Asked

In this section, we’ll share other questions you might be asked in the interview so you’re fully prepared.

Additional Tips for Interviews With What-if Questions

Here are some additional tips for interviews that might have what-if questions.

How Do You Prepare for an Interview With What if Questions?

The key to preparing for an interview with what-if questions is to practice remaining calm, even-keeled, and professional in your responses, even when the question seems strange, annoying, or jarring.

These questions are ideal for employers who want to assess a candidate’s potential reactions to stressful situations, so keeping calm shows that you’ll keep cool in an actual situation as well.

What Should You Wear to an Interview With What if Questions?

You should plan to wear an outfit suitable for the type of job you’re applying for and the company’s brand. Research whether employees wear business, business casual, or casual clothes to work and dress one step up from there.

How Should You Introduce Yourself in a What if Interview?

When introducing yourself in a what-if interview, it’s crucial to come off confident, open, and honest.

What if questions are about seeing how a candidate might react in various scenarios, it’s helpful if the interviewer automatically sees you as someone who can confidently carry themselves at all times.

What Questions Should You Ask at the End of a What if Interview?

  • What would a normal day in this role look like?
  • How do you prefer to delegate tasks?
  • How would you characterize the company’s culture?

Frequently Asked Questions

Here are a few frequently asked questions around what-if questions.

What is the “What If” game?

“What If” is a fun game in which players ask each other unique, funny, or weird “what if” questions and see how each player responds.

Why are “What If” questions good?

“What if” questions are good for interviewers to ask because they can help determine a candidate’s problem-solving, creativity, critical thinking, leadership, and other skills.

Wrapping Up

Interviews can be incredibly nerve-wracking, but “what if” questions don’t have to be. “What if” questions allow you to get creative and demonstrate varying skills you can bring to the role.

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