Scenario- and Experience-Based Interview Questions


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Whether you're getting started on your career search in criminal justice or you're seeking advancement, there's a good chance you'll face two common forms of questioning during an oral interview along the way. If you really want to shine in your next interview, it's important to recognize the differences between scenario-based and experience-based questions. This will help you prepare well-formulated answers in line with what your potential employers are seeking.

Scenario-based questions are designed to get a glimpse into your decision-making process and how you may react to various situations. Answers should include all the steps you might take to respond to an issue. Experience-based questions gauge how you've responded to relevant issues in the past.

No matter what type of question you're asked, the most important things to remember are to think through your answers and provide thorough, logical, and detailed responses. A thoughtful and structured answer goes a long way toward success in an interview.


When answering scenario-based questions, you are not necessarily expected to know precisely how to react. Employers understand you can’t know everything about specific procedures or expectations for a job you don’t already have. Instead, they want to get a glimpse of how you may approach a situation and what steps you might take to solve a problem.

These types of questions are more about demonstrating your decision-making process, and they provide information about what kinds of insights you might use in accomplishing tasks.

Employers want to see how you might work through a problem, the available resources you identify, whether or not you are able to recognize a problem and identify what information you might need to solve it, and how you might interact with your employees or members of the community.

A well-formulated answer to a scenario-based question should begin with articulating what the issue is and why it is a problem. It then should walk the interviewer, step-by-step, through the measures you would take to resolve it, including follow-up after the fact.


Experienced-based questions often begin with some variation of the phrase, “tell me about a time when ..." These types of questions require you to draw on past experiences to give your employer an idea of how you might perform similarly in the future.

Experience-based questions often feel more difficult to answer than scenario-based questions, perhaps because it's easier to answer a hypothetical situation in a step-by-step fashion than it is to try to retroactively fit a past event into a well-formatted interview answer.

It doesn't have to be as difficult to answer experience-based questions as it may seem, though. First of all, you don’t have to rely solely on work experiences to find answers. Very often, you can draw on experiences from school, family, or volunteer work to provide answers, especially when they touch on issues related to interpersonal communications or getting along with others.

When answering experience-based questions, you need to set the stage. Explain the situation, and then explain why it was a problem. Next, discuss the steps you took to resolve the issue and what the final outcome was.

Remember to discuss what, if anything, you would do differently if faced with a similar situation in the future. This will tell employers whether or not you are introspective and willing to learn from your mistakes.