Thinking on your feet can be crucial in a job interview

Q: In a recent job interview the panel asked a scenario question: “what would you do if somebody turned up for work with a smell of drink?” I was going for a job as manager of a retail store and despite working in the sector for almost ten years, I have never encountered this type of situation. I made a bad job of answering it and I didn’t get the job. How was I expected to answer that question? (TR, email)

A: Interviews are not just about what you have experienced, but also what you have learned in terms of thinking on your feet or dealing with the unexpected.

On the job you may face a dozen unusual scenarios per week, and they want to see how you would respond. In response to this scenario question, you could/should have straightaway acknowledged two key points: firstly, the existing procedures the company has, or should have, in place to deal with the crisis; and secondly, ensuring the safety of the individual, customers and work colleagues.

Once you cover those two bases, you are on the right path. The practicalities of what you do beyond that point are important, but if you don’t observe those two early instructions, you are likely to head down the wrong road.

Your answer might then include escorting the individual to a restricted area such as a canteen or staff room, where you could make arrangements – or delegate a colleague – to get the individual home safely. You might also then arrange for somebody to cover their work so that customer service is not unduly disrupted, and you would notify people above you of the unfolding situation.

Duty of care

While you might be annoyed with the staff member in question, you must show maturity in dealing with the situation. You have a duty of care to them as well. It is not the time to ask them if they’re having a problem with drink, or any other problems in their private lives.  However, you may, according to the company’s procedures, set in train a series of movements that would result in the staff member obtaining some help.

You should also emphasise that you would maintain a cool head. Tongues will be wagging around the store and all sorts of disinformation could spread – what’s observed as drunkenness and wobbliness on the ground floor, might have mutated into a violent attack on a customer or a colleague by the time it reaches the third floor. You would likely appraise all department heads about what’s happening and remind them of the need to keep things under control and calm.

In all likelihood, there would be a requirement to document the key steps you took. This is to ensure that you can generate an accurate report for your overall store manager, and to protect the company should the staff member dispute the events on the day, or as can happen, enter into litigation at a later stage.

What I have written here is just one set of circumstances or responses. In a job interview, it is sometimes crucial to be able to step into the real-life situation and to quickly chart what you might do. If you’re going to think on your feet on the floor, you should also display the ability to think on your feet in the job interview.


Featured image courtesy of Pixabay.


Need interview training? Go HERE for all types of interview

Need our help? Complete this form below and we will get back to you


    Your first name (required)

    Your surname (required)

    Your email (required)

    Your phone number (required)

    Work Field / Career (required)

    Your current goal (required + select a few if you wish)

    Make a 180 degree career changeImprove my CV / application formGet ready for job interviewOther - need to talk

    Is this urgent (i.e. deadline in next four days):


    Please upload your CV (optional, but helpful if you can)

    What is 3 x 4 ?