4 Tips for Answering Hypothetical Questions

interview tips May 04, 2022

Hypothetical questions can be a challenging component of any interview. The good news is you can be better prepared to answer these questions. I have put together 4 simple steps to help you with your interview preparation.

First, we will start with a sample question to give us a foundation for this exercise. Let’s imagine our interviewer, Sue, asks the following question:

A large retail client would like to do a cloud migration. How would you help them?

Item #1—Wearing the Hat of the Role

Unless otherwise directed, you want to answer like you are already in the position. Following this structure will greatly increase your chances of success. If you do not use this approach, you are making it more difficult on yourself. Remember the person who is interviewing you is likely in a similar role. If you answer wearing the hat of the role, it will be very helpful.

EXAMPLE: Let’s imagine you are interviewing at Google for a customer engineering role focused on infrastructure modernization for the Google Cloud Platform (GCP). In this situation, you should keep it simple and focus on a few key items:

  • Collaboration with clients (meetings, concept approval, presentations, etc.)
  • Internally focused best practices
  • Cloud technologies, specifically GCP 

Item #2—One Framework Concept at a Time

Frameworks are powerful organizational tools. The key with hypothetical questions is to focus on one framework concept at a time. You will structure your total answer within a 30-second framework or less. You should introduce three or more concepts you plan to focus on in your solution. By picking one at a time, it allows you to get much more specific. When you attempt to talk about everything all at once, you may end up talking about nothing. 

You need to go in depth on one key concept at a time to help your interviewer visualize you in the role. You’ll be able to dig deeper and provide more depth for that one critical area. In addition, you can lead with your biggest strengths. I want you to have a strong connection to any concept you mention. Each one should relate to your most prominent skills.

EXAMPLE: Let’s go back to our original question about cloud migration and assume you have already asked your clarifying questions. Maybe you then introduce a number of simplistic framework concepts such as ease of use, cost, security, scalability, reliability and automation. We would introduce all of these high-level concepts to our interviewer. Then, you would utilize a very powerful transition statement, such as: 

“I’d like to focus on ease of use, but is there an area you would like to focus on?” 

Remember you lead with your strengths, all of the concepts you introduce should reflect those strengths. That way, you are still in good shape, even if the interviewer pivots you to a different concept. 

Item #3—The Power of Assumptions

There are two common missteps here. Either there are no assumptions or the assumptions are incredibly vague. You have to bring in specific assumptions at this stage. I like to use the pepperoni pizza analogy when thinking about assumptions. Why? Because it’s easy to remember the four main ingredients: dough, sauce, cheese and pepperoni. The key item to keep in mind is that if they cannot picture it, they will not picture you doing it. Create strong visuals with specific assumptions!

EXAMPLE: Maybe you assume it’s a domestic retailer focused on sports and athletic clothing. This gives you a nice visual to start with. Let’s also assume they are completely on-prem and have made the decision to move forward with GCP. This establishes where you are in the process. Lastly, assume you would like to move forward with a lift and shift approach. This connects you directly back to your audience, who is in a similar role. You are creating a number of useful visuals to keep yourself and your audience focused. 

Item #4—Past Experience (Kinda)

Don’t try to solve everything from scratch. That will only put more pressure on you to deliver a great answer. Remember to keep it simple. A good way to do this is to think about the last time you did a cloud migration for an on-prem client. Literally walk through those steps in your head.

However, instead of using this past experience as your solution, use it as the foundation for answering the hypothetical question in front of you. Apply the key steps you took to this new situation. It is not going to be apples for apples, so there are some details you will need to change and nuances you want to adjust. It just gives you a great outline to utilize as you draw from past experience rather than trying to come up with a solution from scratch.

EXAMPLE: Go back to the pepperoni pizza analogy and build your answer one layer at a time.

Watch my full video on this topic below:

For more helpful interview tips and information, check out my YouTube channel, follow my blog or sign up on Practice Interviews.


Jeff H. Sipe

Jeff has interviewed over 1000 people in his career and previously spent five years working at Google headquarters in Silicon Valley. You likely found Jeff through YouTube and you will find the same level of dedication in his one on one practice interview sessions.

Recent Posts

Google Non-Technical Interview Tips

May 19, 2022

Turn Your Biggest Strengths into Better Interview Frameworks

May 12, 2022

4 Tips for Answering Hypothetical Questions

May 04, 2022

Services

Interview Coaching

Offer(s) Negotiation

Resources

Interview Courses

Slack Community

LinkedIn Guide

Resume Guide

Company

Contact Us

Partnerships