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Insights Top 4 situational questions to prepare for in a graduate interview

If you’re preparing for an early careers interview, this might be an entirely new experience for you. Interviewers will know this, so they’ll ask situational questions where they’re not always expecting you to have been in that position, but they want to know, hypothetically, how you’d respond. These situations will tease out information about your soft skills, such as problem-solving, conflict resolution and time management.

Here are the top four situational questions you can expect in a graduate interview and how you should answer them.

two females sitting at a table talking

1. You’re asked to complete work you’ve never done before. How do you approach this?

If this is your first job as a graduate, the chances are that you’ll have an array of new tasks sent your way. The interviewer is checking up on your problem-solving skills. You might have listed this on your CV, but how can you show this is a skill you have in your toolbox? You need to use the STAR approach.

S – situation

T – task

A – action

R – result

If possible, draw on a previous experience. Set the scene – the situation - and tell the employer where you were and what you were doing. Next, detail what was asked of you – the task. Now it’s time to impress by explaining how you approached it – the action. Perhaps you got stuck straight in and then had to ask for help. It’s fine to admit this, and the interviewer will appreciate that you gave it a go and then felt comfortable going to someone else for advice. Last but certainly not least, describe the result and don't hold back from singing your own praises.

2. How would you handle criticism from a superior?

No matter if you’re working in a design team, the IT department or within finance, you need to get used to feedback. Criticism can help you improve, so you want to show the interviewer that you welcome constructive feedback. Again, using a genuine example will give the interviewer a clear idea of how you’d act in the situation. Think back to when you received criticism from a superior, whether it was a boss, a teacher or a professor.

Using the STAR approach again, detail a situation where your performance was questioned and what you did with this criticism. Your future employer doesn’t want to hear that you got defensive and were unwilling to adapt your behavior. They want to know that you took it on board as advice and information you could use to grow and learn because this will illustrate whether you can adapt to a continuous learning environment.

3. You’re close to finishing a project and the goals are changed. What do you do?

For this question, let’s use the example of a transportation engineer. They’re designing a new bridge and are close to completing the project. Suddenly, the client informs them that they need a cycle lane. Not only does this change the brief of the project, but they’re also now unable to present a complete design by the initial date they agree on with the client.

If you hear a question like this in an interview, the employer wants to gain insight into your communication skills and adaptability. While it might have been frustrating for the transportation engineer, they want to hear "I explained that while the adjustments could be made to the plans, the presentation date would need to be extended". This shows strong communication skills and that the transportation engineer understood the client’s newly stated needs.

For bonus points, they should explain how they dealt with the situation within their team. Morale may have been low as the team considered the work ‘wasted'. However, if the transportation engineer explains that they rallied the team together, this shows great leadership skills.

4. What would you do if you introduced a new idea to the team and it wasn’t received well?

In an ideal world, you’d come up with a genius new idea, tell your co-workers about it, and they’d immediately grasp its brilliance. Your boss would see the value in it and give you the resources you need to execute it. But that’s not reality as it’s often hard to get people to listen to your ideas, to understand them, and to act.

Put yourself in the interviewer’s shoes. What do you think will make them realize that you would be a great addition to the team? They’re looking for someone willing to accept their teammate’s opinions, even if it means contesting an idea they were proud of. You might have been in this position before, and you took the time to carefully understand why each person was hesitant. Your next approach would be to present the idea again, taking into consideration each person’s reservations.

If you were still met with resistance, don’t be ashamed to share this. What the interviewer wants to know is whether you threw yourself wholeheartedly into the idea that the team eventually decided on.


Think small and gather feedback

  • Make your idea as specific as possible and emphasize how it offers a clear solution to a targeted problem
  • Remember to gather feedback and improve your idea accordingly


  • Insist on getting credit for the initiative — colleagues are less likely to support your idea if they sense you’re only in it for yourself
  • Forget to solicit feedback from your colleagues
  • Give up if your idea doesn’t immediately gain traction — change sometimes takes longer than you’d like

Jump-start your career with AtkinsRéalis

Are you ready to be part of a dynamic, respected and diverse team? If so, then you can learn more about our Canadian Graduate Development Program. Designed to support you into the world of work, this two-year program will allow you to develop your full potential and give the support you need every step of the way.

If you want to know more about what we do, check out our projects in Canada.