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Problem-solving interview questions and answers
Use these sample problem-solving interview questions to discover how candidates approach complex situations and if they can provide effective solutions.
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Why you should ask candidates problem-solving interview questions
Employees will face challenges in their job. Before you decide on your next hire, use your interview process to evaluate how candidates approach difficult situations .
Problem-solving interview questions show how candidates:
- Approach complex issues
- Analyze data to understand the root of the problem
- Perform under stressful and unexpected situations
- React when their beliefs are challenged
Identify candidates who are results-oriented with interview questions that assess problem-solving skills. Look for analytical and spherical thinkers with the potential for technical problem solving. Potential hires who recognize a problem, or predict one could potentially occur, will stand out. Candidates should also demonstrate how they would fix the issue, and prevent it from occurring again.
These sample problem-solving interview questions apply to all positions, regardless of industry or seniority level. You can use the following questions to gauge your candidates’ way of thinking in difficult situations:
Examples of problem-solving interview questions
- Describe a time you had to solve a problem without managerial input. How did you do it and what was the result?
- Give an example of a time you identified and fixed a problem before it became urgent.
- Tell me about a time you predicted a problem with a stakeholder. How did you prevent it from escalating?
- Describe a situation where you faced serious challenges in doing your job efficiently. What were the challenges, and how did you overcome them?
- Recall a time you successfully used crisis-management skills.
- A new project you’re overseeing has great revenue potential, but could put the company in legal hot water. How would you handle this?
- How do you know when to solve a problem on your own or to ask for help?
Tips to assess problem-solving skills in interviews
- During your interviews, use hypothetical scenarios that are likely to occur on the job. It’s best to avoid unrealistic problems that aren’t relevant to your company.
- Examine how candidates approach a problem step-by-step: from identifying and analyzing the issue to comparing alternatives and choosing the most effective solution.
- Pay attention to candidates who provide innovative solutions. Creative minds can contribute fresh perspectives that add value to your company.
- When problems arise, employees should show commitment and a can-do attitude. Test candidates’ problem-solving skills in past situations. If they were determined to find the best solution as soon as possible, they will be great hires.
- Most complex situations require a team effort. Candidates’ previous experiences will show you how they collaborated with their colleagues to reach decisions and how comfortable they felt asking for help.
- If you’re hiring for a technical role, ask questions relevant to the work your future hires will do. Technical problem-solving interview questions, like “How would you troubleshoot this X bug?” will reveal your candidates’ hard skills and their ability to effectively address problems on the job.
- No answer. If a candidate can’t recall an example of a problem they faced in a previous position, that’s a sign they may avoid dealing with difficult situations.
- Canned answers. A generic answer like “Once, I had to deal with a customer who complained about the pricing. I managed to calm them down and closed the deal,” doesn’t offer much insight about the candidate’s thought process. Ask follow-up questions to get more details.
- Focus on the problem, not the solution. Identifying the problem is one thing, but finding the solution is more important. Candidates who focus too much on the problem may be too negative for the position.
- Feeling stressed/uncomfortable. It’s normal to feel slightly uncomfortable when put on the spot. But, if candidates are so stressed they can’t answer the question, that’s an indicator they don’t handle stressful situations well.
- Superficial answers. Candidates who choose the easy way out of a problem usually don’t consider all aspects and limitations of the situation. Opt for candidates who analyze the data you’ve given them and ask for more information to better dig into the problem.
- Cover up the problem or minimize its significance. Unaddressed problems could quickly escalate into bigger issues. Employees who leave things for later mightn’t be result-oriented or engaged in their jobs.
Related Interview Questions
- Critical-thinking interview questions and answers
- Decision-making interview questions and answers
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- Structured interview questions: Tips and examples for hiring
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Problem-solving Interview Questions
Problem solving interview questions are used to identify, test and measure candidate’s approach to difficult and unusual situations. hiring candidates with strong problem solving skills can be hugely beneficial for your company, so you need to assess their problem solving skills carefully. .
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What do problem solving interview questions test?
Job positions to use problem solving questions for.
What are some common examples of problem solving interview questions?
Here are some of the best practice examples of problem solving interview questions:
- What was the most stressful situation you faced at work? How did you handle it?
- Describe a situation at work when you were faced with a problem you could not solve. What did you do?
- Are you the type of person who will always try to solve the problem on your own before asking for help?
- Describe a time when you used a creative solution to tackle some job-related problem.
- How do you cope when you face a challenge you’ve never previously experienced?
- Give us an example of a situation when you realized that you won’t be able to meet the set deadline. What did you do?
- How do you build a troubleshooting process?
- In your opinion, what makes you a great problem solver?
- What do you do in a situation when you cannot seem to find the right solution to a problem?
- When you are faced with an urgent problem, how do you react? Are you the type of person who jumps right into solving problem, or do you first carefully assess the situation?
Looking for more questions to ask your candidates in an interview?
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December 15, 2022
The Problem-Solving Interview: 16 Questions for Better Hires
We’ve all been there. You hire the wrong candidate, resulting in wasted time, money and energy. You’ve learned the true cost of a bad hire the hard way. And you want to make sure your future interview process is as goof-proof as possible.
That’s where problem-solving interviews can change the game.
Though traditional interviews haven’t gone by the wayside, more companies are taking a practical approach when it comes to vetting candidates based on actual workplace scenarios.
Problem-solving interviews use questions that evaluate how candidates deal with difficult situations they may actually face in a given role. With scenario-based and behavioral questions for all of your problem-solving needs, consider this your totally bookmarkable resource to keep coming back to when prepping for candidate interviews.
Examples of problem-solving interview questions:
- Tell me about a project where you had to manage a cross-functional team.
- Describe a situation where you succeeded in motivating team performance.
- What is the most creative idea or project you've generated in your current role?
- In what ways have you encouraged your work team to be more innovative?
- Have you ever improved project workflows based on your analysis?
- Have you ever had a deadline you weren't able to meet? What happened?
- Give an example of a time when you had to explain something complex to a frustrated client.
- Talk about a time when you worked under extremely loose supervision. How did you handle that?
Help your hiring team get more out of your candidate interviews while still keeping things human for applicants. Breezy is the candidate-friendly applicant tracking system that includes custom interview guides so that every interviewer on your team knows exactly what to ask.
What's the buzz about problem-solving interviews?
Problem-solving interview questions occasionally go by other names.
From behavioral interview questions, scenario-based interview questions, or simply ‘second job interview questions’ — if you’re like most employers, you probably already have an unofficial term for the part of the hiring process where you really lean in and learn how a candidate might act in a given situation.
Whatever you call it, a problem-solving interview is essentially:
A behavioral interview asking questions that provide insight into how a candidate has dealt with challenging workplace issues in the past . The candidate’s answers often reveal their actual level of experience and potential to handle similar situations in the future.
To get a real flavor for what this type of interview will entail, and the types of problems and problem-solving skills we’re considering, we’ve compiled a go-to list of top examples of problem-solving interview questions. Feel free to adjust these questions, the problem-solving abilities and the potential problems these questions address to suit your specific role and employer brand .
15 examples of problem-solving interview questions
Each interviewing situation is unique. Questions for an entry-level position obviously won't get you very far with an executive-level candidate . Similarly the questions you ask for a technical role like software engineer are going to be far different from those you’d ask of a sales candidate.
Before you launch into any problem-solving interview, take time to match your questions to your open role. And remember, the more structured your interview process , the easier it'll be to make the right call.
Here are three of the most common problem-solving interview scenarios, plus our top questions for each.
Question #1: Describe the most difficult team you've had to lead? What made it challenging? How did you go about overcoming the issues?
Why it works: Asking a candidate to rate the difficulty of working with others is a great way to see whether they throw their team under the bus or focus more on the problem/solution aspect of the question. A strong candidate will map out how they overcame the situation and prevented it from becoming a long-term issue within the company.
Question #2: What do you consider your proudest moment or greatest achievement in the workplace? What were the practical steps that got you there?
Why it works: Some leadership skills come naturally — but most require careful planning and the ability to take inspired action. A candidate who doesn’t just regurgitate their resume but gives actual insight into how they achieve the impossible is someone who's willing to think about process and the importance of why they're in a leadership position in the first place.
Question #3: Tell me about a project where you had to manage a cross-functional team to achieve a specific goal or outcome. How did you adapt your leadership style to achieve this objective?
Why it works: The ability to adapt is crucial for strong leaders. No single leadership style matches every work situation. Exceptional leaders know how to tune into their teams and adapt accordingly.
Question #4: Describe a situation where you succeeded in motivating your team to improve their performance. What actions were the most effective?
Why it works: Performance management is a tough nut to crack . You're looking for an executive candidate who has the right mix of diplomacy and energy to get the best work out of every employee.
Question #5: Describe a leadership role you've undertaken outside of work. Why did you choose to commit to this role? How did you benefit from it?
Why it works: Great leaders don’t leave their leadership hats in the office. Knowing your candidate takes on leadership roles in their community — be it volunteering, coaching or running a professional group — helps you get a better understanding of their leadership characteristics both within and outside of the office.
Question #1: What is the most creative idea or project you've generated in your current role? How was it received?
Why it works: Creativity can mean something completely different based on the role and organization — but a true creative will have a unique approach to problem-solving even if they aren’t interviewing for the role of Art Director. A candidate’s ability to take criticism will also shine through in this question.
Question #2: In what ways have you encouraged your team to be more creative and innovative?
Why it works: A truly creative person will help others think outside the box. How your candidate answers this question will give you insight into their teamwork skills and help clue you into how they apply their creativity at the strategic level.
Question #3: Every creative needs an outlet. What creative work do you like to do in your own time?
Why it works: Do those creative juices flow into other areas of life? If your creative candidate lights up when you ask about their hobbies and work outside the office, you know that same energy will flood into the workplace too.
Question #4: What tech tools do you use daily?
Why it works: Creatives tend to love tech and knowing how they keep their tech skills sharp gives you a glimpse into what strategies they'll bring to the table to help keep your company on the cutting edge.
Question #5: What do you think of our creative materials?
Why it works: If your candidate is truly invested in your brand, they probably did their homework. The right person will be eager to offer insight into your marketing, branding or other creative projects. Someone who shows up with their A-game and isn’t afraid to deliver their very own 'like it, love it, leave it' feedback is a keeper.
Question #1: Have you ever improved a project workflow based on your analysis? If so, how did you do this?
Why it works: If there's one thing every great techie should have, it's laser-precise attention to detail. You want a candidate who takes a proactive approach to optimizing workflows and doesn’t hang back hoping for someone else to step in and make things more efficient.
Question #2: Have you ever had a deadline you weren't able to meet? What happened? How did you handle it?
Why it works: In a fast-paced tech environment, deadlines can get pushed back due to things beyond your candidate’s control. If they own up to this and demonstrate that they know how to stay cool under pressure, it’s a good sign they can handle the heat.
Question #3: When you’re working with a large number of clients, it’s tricky to deliver excellent service to them all. How do you go about prioritizing your clients’ needs?
Why it works: Time management skills are crucial in technical roles. A candidate who's not only able to deliver the coding and programming goods but can also manage a tight schedule and full plate of internal and external client requests is a true unicorn.
Question #4: Give an example of a time when you had to explain something fairly complex to a frustrated client. How did you handle this delicate situation?
Why it works: Technical workers usually have their own jargon, but it’s important for your candidate to be able to convey their work to the everyday client or team member. If they can’t explain what they do in simple terms, this could be a red flag for any role with a client-facing or cross-departmental component.
Question #5: Talk about a time you worked under extremely loose supervision. How did you handle that?
Why it works: Many tech employees work remotely or with flex schedules. It’s important for your candidate to be a self-starter. Look for specific insights about the tactics and methods they use to manage their own schedule, meet deadlines and deliver on project expectations.
Questions #6 : What resources do you follow to stay current with changes in technology?
Why it works: Technical roles require candidates to stay current. It’s important to ask the candidate how they keep up with an. Because when you’re hiring for roles like SEO , IT coordinator or software engineer , they need to think outside the box (and into the future).
Red flags to look out for in your problem-solving interviews
While problem-solving interview questions’ answers can help best-fit candidates truly shine, they can also cast a harsh light on people who aren’t fit for the job.
Here are some red flags you should look out for, from possibly ok-ish to definitely not the right fit.
Vague (or nonexistent) answers 🚩
If the interviewee can’t remember a time they thought outside of the box or were challenged in the workplace or handled a stressful situation, it might mean they steer clear of tough situations and difficult decisions. So if they offer up a super vague answer with little to no specifics, try to ask follow-up questions to get some insight into their mentality.
Over-the-top uneasiness 🚩🚩
Problem-solving questions are designed to make candidates think critically about their work style, and being put on the spot like that is bound to be a little uncomfortable. But if candidates are so stressed they can’t give you a straight answer, it’s probably a sign that they don’t deal with pressure well.
Scripted responses 🚩🚩🚩
Candidates who give superficial responses are more likely to choose the easy way out instead of thinking critically about the best way to handle a scenario. Run-of-the-mill answers also show a lack of creativity. Go for candidates who analyze the situation and really dig into the issue at hand to come up with a more thorough answer.
Problem-oriented mindset 🚩🚩🚩🚩
The name says it all: problem-solving interview questions are about solving the problem, not dwelling on the difficulties. So if a candidate answering a problem-solving question seems too hung up on the issue at hand rather than how they rose above and dealt with it, they might not be the culture add you’re looking for.
Tips to ask the right problem-solving interview questions
A problem-solving interview is only as good as the questions you ask. So if you want to identify results-oriented candidates and analytical problem-solvers, here’s how to ask the right questions .
Use hypothetical scenarios with real-world applications
Don’t waste your time on unrealistic scenarios and improbable outcomes. Ask hard-hitting questions with real-life solutions.
Illuminate the candidate’s thought process
Ask questions that give insight into a candidate’s thought process. Pay special attention to how candidates approach a scenario, working through the problem step-by-step and arriving at a clear (and effective) solution. Oh, and keep an eye out for innovative perspectives!
Gauge team spirit
The best solutions are often collaborative ones. Ask questions about a situation that required a team effort, and pay special attention to how they characterize their colleagues and the collective decision-making process. You want candidates who are comfortable asking for help and have a knack for teamwork.
Know what you can (and can’t) ask
Some interview questions are awkward, others are straight-up illegal.
We know you're not out to violate anyone's rights, but even the most well-meaning hiring managers can end up asking lousy interview questions. How lousy, you ask?
These ones top our list of major no-nos:
“Tell me about your biggest weakness.”
Oh, you mean like the time I accidentally disconnected the server and left thousands of customers without service for hours? Get real. No one's going to reveal their Kryptonite during an interview. This question generates the most canned answers imaginable ranging from “I’m a workaholic,” to “I over-deliver and exceed expectations.” 🙄
“If a song described you, what would it be.”
Avoid this and any other overly abstract question asking a candidate to describe themselves in bizarre metaphors. Be direct. Relate the questions to the position and interviewee, not some over the top hypothetical about whether someone sees themself as a shark or a unicorn.
“Tell me about your [sexual orientation, relationship status, ethnicity, race, religion, political affiliation].”
One word: creepy. Oh, and: illegal. (Okay, that's two words but you get the idea...)
Fact is, any question that doesn't jive with the EEOC not only violates the candidate’s rights, it may also have you searching for a new career. Just don't go there.
Avoid the ‘gotchyas’ and keep your interview q’s focused on solving real problems
At the end of the day, no single thread of interview questions will work as a one-size-fits-all.
Human hiring requires human thinking. By analyzing and hand-selecting thoughtful questions, you can ensure a consistent interview flow with all candidates while avoiding generic replies and those dreaded awkward silences.
Just make sure they're interview questions that both you and your candidate can feel good about.
With Breezy’s modern recruitment platform, you can access over 400 free interview guides , schedule interviews with one click, and deliver a first-rate hiring experience candidates love.
Try it yourself totally free.
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How to Answer a Problem-Solving Interview Question
Eight examples of common problem-solving interview questions and answers, interviewing successfully, curveball questions, problem-solving faq.
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Summary. Problem-solving questions are used to focus on a candidates past experience with managing conflicts and overcoming obstacles in the workplace. When answering these questions, be sure to make your answer relevant to the position that you are applying to and be honest about your strengths and weaknesses. Be sure to provide examples from previous experiences. Are you in the process of searching for a new job ? If so, you might be getting ready to meet with a hiring manager or a recruiter for a job interview. And if you’re like the majority of job candidates, this stage of the job search process is probably making you feel a fair bit of trepidation. And no wonder! The interview is a completely necessary step for any job search, but that doesn’t make it any less nerve-wracking to meet with a prospective employer and answer questions about your personality , skills, and professional background. Key Takeaways: Being able to solve problems is a skill that almost all job positions need. Problem-solving questions assess a candidate’s ability to think on their feet, handle pressure, and find creative solutions to complex problems. Make sure your answer to a problem-solving question tells a story of you as an effective team player. What Is a Problem-Solving Interview Question?
A problem-solving interview question is a question that focuses on a candidate’s past experience with managing conflicts and overcoming unexpected obstacles in the workplace.
Problem-solving questions can come up in many different forms. As a general rule, however, they will be aimed at uncovering your ability to handle stress and uncertainty in a wide variety of contexts.
When you’re answering problem-solving interview questions, there are a few important tips to keep in mind:
Make your answers relevant to the position that you’re applying to. Always bear in mind that the fundamental goal of any interview question is to provide a hiring manager with a glimpse inside the mind of a candidate.
By asking you a problem-solving question, your interviewer is trying to understand whether or not you’re the type of person that could be relied upon under pressure or during a crisis. Every role, furthermore, comes with its own particular type of pressure.
Be honest about your strengths ( and weaknesses ). Hiring managers tend to be quite good at reading people. Therefore, if you give them a bogus response, they’re very likely to see through that – and to subsequently consider you to be untrustworthy.
Of course, it can be tempting at the moment to fabricate certain details in your response in the attempt to make yourself seem like a better candidate. But inventing details – however small – tends to backfire .
Tell stories that will portray you as a team player. Hiring managers and employers are always on the lookout for job candidates who will collaborate and communicate well amongst a broader team.
Be sure to provide examples of moments in which you took charge. Leadership skills are another key quality that hiring managers and employers seek out in job candidates. And being presented with a problem-solving question, as it turns out, is the perfect opportunity to demonstrate your own leadership skills.
Now that we understand the basic principles of problem-solving interview questions and how to respond to them, we’re finally ready to break down some real-world examples. So without any further preamble, here are eight examples of common problem-solving interview questions (as well as some examples of how you might answer them):
Can you tell me about a time when you encountered an unexpected challenge in the workplace? How did you go about dealing with it?
Explanation: With this question , your interviewer will be attempting to get a sense of how well you’re able to adapt to unexpected difficulties. The critical thing to remember when you’re answering this question – as we briefly discussed above – is to recall an incident that will be directly relevant to the role and the organization that you’re applying to.
Here’s an example of a high-quality response to this question:
“I remember a particular day at my previous job when an important deadline was pushed up at the very last minute. As the project manager , it was my responsibility to implement the necessary steps that would enable us to meet this new and truncated deadline. “Many of my peers began to hang their heads, resigning themselves to their belief that there was no hope to meet the new deadline. But I’ve always prided myself on my ability to adapt and thrive within a dynamic and quick-paced work environment – and that’s precisely the personal skill set that I channeled on this occasion. In the end, I reorganized my team’s priorities so that we were able to accommodate the new deadline.”
How would you say you typically respond to problems in general, and in the workplace in particular?
Explanation: This question is primarily designed to gauge a candidate’s ability (or lack thereof) to remain cool, calm, and collected under pressure. The ideal response to this question, in other words, will include a brief personal anecdote that illustrates your level-headedness and your ability to make rational, clear decisions during times of uncertainty.
“I would say that one of the primary qualities that sets me apart from the crowd of other candidates is my ability to remain calm and centered when conditions in the workplace become chaotic. “Looking back, I think that I first began to cultivate this ability during my tenure as a product manager working with a major Silicon Valley start-up. That was a particularly stressful period, but it was also quite instructive – I learned a great deal about staying positive, focused, and productive after an unexpected challenge presented itself. “These days, when I’m confronted by an unexpected problem – whether it’s in my personal life or in my professional life – I immediately channel the conflict management skills that I’ve been honing throughout the duration of my career. This helps a great deal, and my skills in this regard are only continuing to improve.”
Can you tell me about a time when you’ve had to settle a workplace dispute between yourself and a manager or colleague?
Explanation: Always keep in mind that one of the fundamental goals of any problem-solving question is to help a hiring manager gain a clearer sense of a candidate’s ability to work with others.
This question, in particular, is designed to give your interviewer a clearer sense of how well you’re able to communicate and compromise with your colleagues. With that in mind, you should be sure to answer this question in a way that will display a willingness to be fair, empathetic, and respectful to your teammates.
“I recall an incident in my last job in which one of my colleagues felt that I had not provided him with adequate resources to enable him to be successful in a particular project. I was acting as team leader for that particular project, and so it was my responsibility to ensure that everyone in my team was equipped for success. Unfortunately, I had to learn through the proverbial grapevine that this particular colleague bore some ill will toward me. I’ve never been one to participate in idle gossip, and so I decided to speak with this person so that we could begin to find a solution and address his grievances. So I crafted an email to him asking him if he would be interested in joining me for coffee the following day. He accepted the invitation, and during our coffee break, we were able to talk at length about the damage that he felt had been done to him. We devised a mutually agreeable solution on the spot. From then on, we had no significant problems between us.”
Are there any steps that you’ll regularly take during the early stages of a new project to ensure that you’ll be able to manage unexpected problems that occur down the road?
Explanation: This question, above all, is designed to test your ability to plan ahead and mitigate risk. These are both essential qualities that employers typically seek out in job candidates, particularly those who are being vetted for a management or leadership role.
When you’re answering this question, it’s important to emphasize your ability to look ahead towards the future and anticipate potential risks. As with the previous examples that we’ve already examined, the best way to communicate this ability is to provide your interviewer with a concrete example from your previous work history.
“I live my life – and I conduct my work – according to a single, incredibly important motto: “Failing to prepare is preparing to fail.” I’m a firm believer, in other words, of the primacy of careful planning. Without it, projects are almost always doomed to fail. “In my previous role as a marketing content writer with a major software company, I strived to apply this motto to my work every single day. “Here’s an example: About a year ago, I was responsible for overseeing and launching a new content strategy aimed at driving up consumer engagement. From the very outset, I understood that that particular project could be run off the rails if we did not take into account a considerable number of factors. “I won’t bore you with all of the nitty-gritty details, but the point is that this was a particularly sensitive project that required diligent and careful risk assessment. “Having realized that, my colleagues and I devised a comprehensive and flexible strategy for managing many risks that we envisioned would be awaiting us down the road. That initial step – looking ahead towards the future and mapping out the terrain of potential hazards – proved to be an essential measure for the success of the project.”
Do you consider your problem-solving capabilities to be above average?
Explanation: Hiring managers are always on the lookout for job candidates that stand out from the crowd. It’s even better when they can find a job candidate who knows that they stand out and who expresses that knowledge by being confident in their abilities.
At the same time, it’s never in a job candidate’s best interests to come across as egotistical or arrogant. When you’re responding to a question like this (that is, a question that’s focused on your ability to assess your own talents), it’s important to do your best to come across as self-assured but not pompous.
“Yes, all things considered, I would say that I have a talent for risk assessment, problem-solving, and risk mitigation. “That said, I can’t claim complete ownership over these abilities. In most cases, my demonstrated success in managing risk and solving problems in the workplace can be attributed at least as much to my team members as it can to me. For me to be able to be a successful problem-solver, it helps to be surrounded by colleagues whom I can trust.”
How would you describe your typical immediate reaction to unexpected challenges? Do you prefer to jump straight into the problem-solving process, or do you more commonly take some time to analyze and assess the problem before you dive in?
Explanation: This question is aimed at gauging your patience levels. This one can be a bit tricky because employers will sometimes prefer different responses – it all depends on the type of position and employer you’re applying for.
If you’re applying for a role in a quick-paced working environment that demands swift action , it will benefit you to describe your problem-solving strategy as unflinching and immediate.
If, on the other hand, the role you’re applying to does not demand such immediate action, it will probably be better to describe yourself as a more removed and relaxed problem solver.
But as always, you should never lie to your employer. Most of us will fall somewhere in the middle of these two types of problem solvers and will thereby have no difficulty painting ourselves honestly as one or the other.
However, if you’re definitely one type or the other, then you should describe yourself as such. This will make it much more likely that you’ll end up in a position that will be maximally rewarding both for you and for your employer.
“In most cases, my response to an unexpected problem will entirely depend on the nature of the problem at hand. If it demands immediate action, then I’ll dive right in without hesitation. “If, however, I determine that it would be more beneficial to take a step back and analyze the nature of the problem before we begin to meddle with it, then that’s exactly what I’ll do. “Generally speaking, I would say that I prefer the latter approach – that is, to take a step back and think things through before I begin to try to find a solution. In my experience, this makes it much easier for everyone involved to arrive at a practical and sustainable solution. “That said, I’m also perfectly capable of jumping straight into a problem if it demands immediate attention.”
Can you tell us about a time in which you had to explain a technically complicated subject to a client or customer? How did you approach that process, and how did it turn out?
Explanation: Strong communication skills are essential in the modern workplace. That means that employers tend to seek out job candidates that communicate well with their colleagues and individuals who have varying professional backgrounds and skill sets, including clients, customers, and third-party professionals.
“I recall an incident from many years ago – while I was working as a software engineer for a prominent robotics company – in which I found myself in the position of having to describe incredibly complex engineering details to a client. “This client had no prior experience in software engineering or artificial intelligence, so I had to relate this esoteric information more or less in layman terms. “Thankfully, I was able to employ some useful metaphors and analogies to communicate the information in a manner that this client could appreciate and understand. We went on to establish a successful collaborative partnership that flourished for four years.”
How would you rate your ability to work and succeed without direct supervision from your managers?
Explanation: Employers always tend to place a high value on job candidates who are self-motivated and can maintain high levels of productivity without constant supervision.
This is especially true now that the COVID-19 pandemic has suddenly made it necessary for so many millions of employers to transition to a remote workforce model. This question is designed to assess a candidate’s ability to stay focused and motivated while working remotely or without supervision.
“I’ve always considered myself – and my resume and references will support this – to be an exceptionally self-motivated individual, even when I’m working from home. “In fact, like many employees, I often find that my productivity levels tend to increase when I’m working remotely. I strive to set a positive example for my colleagues, even when we’re not all working under the same roof.”
Generally speaking, the best strategy for success in interviewing for a new job is doing your research beforehand. That means that you should be intimately familiar with the role, department, and company that you’re applying to before you step into the room (or log on to the Zoom meeting ) on the day of your interview.
When you preemptively take the time to carefully research the organization as a whole – and the responsibilities of the job opportunity in particular – you’ll minimize your chances of being caught off guard by an unexpectedly difficult question .
Still, there is only so much background information that you can uncover about an organization and a role before a job interview. No matter how carefully you prepare and how much background research you conduct, there are very likely going to be curveball questions during your job interview that you can’t predict.
In fact, many employers prefer to ask curveball questions (in addition to more run of the mill job interview questions) because they provide an insightful glimpse into a job candidate’s analytical thinking skills – not just their ability to memorize and recite answers to more common interview questions .
To that end, many hiring managers will ask job candidates to answer one or more problem-solving questions during a typical job interview. In contrast to traditional interview questions (such as: “Why do you think that you would be a good fit for this role?”
Or: “What do you consider to be your greatest professional achievement up to the current moment?”), problem-solving questions are specifically designed to assess a job candidate’s ability to think on their feet, handle real pressure, and find creative solutions to complex problems.
They’re also commonly referred to as analytical skills interview questions because they’re designed to gauge a candidate’s ability to make analytical decisions in real-time.
What are problem-solving skills?
Problem-solving skills include skills like research, communication, and decision making. Problem-solving skills allow for you to identify and solve problems effectively and efficiently. Research skills allow for you to identify the problem.
Communication skills allow for you to collaborate with others to come up with a plan to solve the problem. Decision making skills allow you to choose the right solution to the problem.
Why do interviewers ask problem-solving interview questions?
Interviewers ask problem-solving interview questions to see how candidate will approach and solve difficult situations. Interviewers want to see how you handle stress and uncertainty before hiring you for a position. Problem-solving is an important part of the everyday workday so they need to be sure you are capable of solving problems.
How do you solve a problem effectively?
To solve problems effectively you should first break the problem down and try different approaches. Breaking the problem up into different parts will help you have a better understanding and help you decide what your next step is going to be.
Once you see the different parts of the problem, trying different approaches to solve the problem can help you solve it faster. This will also help you determine the appropriate tools you need to solve the problem.
U.S. Department of Labor – Interview Tips
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Chris Kolmar is a co-founder of Zippia and the editor-in-chief of the Zippia career advice blog. He has hired over 50 people in his career, been hired five times, and wants to help you land your next job. His research has been featured on the New York Times, Thrillist, VOX, The Atlantic, and a host of local news. More recently, he's been quoted on USA Today, BusinessInsider, and CNBC.
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Topics: Common Questions , Interview Questions
10 Problem Solving Interview Questions To Hire the Best Candidates
You can't account for every external factor that occurs, and there won't be a single person that can solve every problem. here, we’ll explore why problem-solving questions are crucial to your interview process and offer ten problem solving interview questions to help you hire the best candidate..
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No matter how perfect or well-thought-out a business plan sounds, unforeseen circumstances will always arise. You can't account for every external factor that occurs, and there won't be a single person that can solve every problem. For a company to be successful, you will need to hire a wide array of capable employees who can identify and resolve almost any issue.
You'll have to employ interview problem solving questions that examine how a candidate solves problems during the interview process. Here, we’ll explore why problem solving questions are crucial to your interview process and offer ten problem solving interview questions to help you hire the best candidate.
What Are Problem Solving Interview Questions?
First, it's important to note what problem solving questions are and why they're essential.
Problem solving interview questions are thought provoking inquiries that analyze a candidate's ability to recognize unexpected complications and their process of solving them. This includes planning on multiple levels (having a plan A and a plan B), implementation, and execution.
These types of questions specifically target an interviewee's critical thinking and creativity. By understanding how a person handles problems, you'll get a clearer idea of how they'll fit in the workplace.
Internally solving problems within a business structure is also vital to the synergy and prolonged survival of a company. If its workers can't discern or ignore problems, they will only worsen.
You'll want to consider a prospective worker's problem-solving capabilities before hiring.
It may be wise to research a more in-depth explanation of why problem-solving skills are critical when hiring in the workplace.
Tips For Using Problem Solving Questions To Screen Candidates
A big part of adequately gauging a candidate's abilities during the screening process is how you utilize interview questions about problem solving.
Here are some helpful tips to optimize your interview questions for problem solving and make the most out of your time:
Look Out For Generic Answers
Many resources help people practice interview responses by giving them generic answers to the standard problem solving interview questions based on "what employers want to hear."
You'll want to be on guard for these answers because they don't reflect a person's actual abilities and are easy to replicate.
You'll want to ask questions drawing from a worker's personal experiences to combat this. Candidates who provide unique and genuine answers give more in-depth insights into their problem solving capacity.
Ask Job Specific Questions
Different jobs have different problems.
Asking a computer programmer how to treat a cramped muscle is the same as asking a fitness trainer how to solve an error in the HTML; you won't be getting any insights into their job-specific skills.
Ask questions that are relevant to the interviewee’s potential position. Use common problems in that field and try to pertain to a specific theme.
It's also a good idea to propose real problems at your workplace . Compare and contrast the candidate's solution to how your company resolved the issue.
Their response may not be the same, but it could be vastly more effective than your resolution.
Ask Different Types of Problem Solving Questions
There are different categories of problems. Technical problem solving interview questions gain one perspective on a candidate’s skill set. A relationship problem solving question or a critical thinking problem solving question offers additional insight.
A technical problem might mean an error in the system or a malfunctioning piece of equipment. A candidate should be able to notice early signs of these problems (if applicable) and take action accordingly.
They should also know when the situation is impossible for them to solve alone and that they should go to a higher authority for help.
A relationship problem is when there is a conflict between two or more employees. Teamwork is critical in some fields and a must for cumulative progress.
HR can't resolve every little argument between workers, so it's often up to the individual to take action and compromise.
Assessing a candidate's relationship problem solving ability is essential, especially in team-based environments.
A critical thinking problem is a more complex problem requiring creativity and innovation to solve.
There isn't a simple fix to these problems, and a person will have to get crafty to solve them. Management, organization, and unanticipated issues usually fall under this category and require the greatest attention to resolve.
Give Candidates Multiple Opportunities To Relay Experiences
Keep in mind that not every exceptional employee is good at interviews. Some people panic and freeze up on the spot; it's a natural reaction.
If your screening process has multiple stages, you'll want to capitalize on this by assessing a candidate's problem solving abilities twice. There should be one time when they are asked unexpectedly and another when they have time to formulate their answer.
By doing this, you won't miss out on highly qualified individuals who may not be the best at interviews, and you'll also get a better idea of each candidate's capabilities.
Incorporate Team Related Problems
People cannot always solve problems on their own. A person shouldn't be entirely dependent on others, but they also have to be able to work on a team efficiently .
The way a candidate tackles team-related issues conveys their ability to get along with co-workers, leadership potential, and capacity for compromise.
People on different wavelengths are going to have other ideas and solutions. If no one can agree, then nothing is ever going to get done. You'll also have to consider a candidate's competence at evenly distributing work and versatility in the planning process.
Yes, a person's solo problem solving capabilities are important, but their teamwork skills and communication are vital. Keep this in mind during the screening process.
Build Off of Interviewee Responses
Don't go through a repetitive hit-and-go questioning process. Once you ask a question, try to build on the candidate's response.
This especially goes for questions that draw on a person's real-life experiences. You may have a limited time to ask your questions, but that doesn't mean you have to go through all of them.
Getting in-depth answers to a few questions will better look at a person's problem solving abilities and work ethic.
If there's something you're curious about or something the candidate says piques your interest, speak up and try to pry as much as possible.
10 Problem Solving Interview Questions To Hire the Best Candidate
Here are some excellent base questions to ask prospective employees. Each job is unique and encounters different issues, so you'll likely have to make some modifications to fit your case better.
Nonetheless, these are ten great problem solving interview questions that'll isolate the best candidates during the screening process:
1. What Is Your Approach To Problem Solving?
One of the first things you'll want to assess in a candidate is their approach to solving problems.
Using inefficient, unorganized, or reckless methods can be more detrimental than good, so be sure to comprehend a person's problem solving strategy deeply.
Try to get them to relay the exact structure of their approach and have them explain their reasoning behind each step. Encourage your candidate to draw on past experiences and successes as well.
The problem solving approach also includes a person's attitude towards an issue. Consider elements such as cautiousness, incentive, and reliance on external factors.
2. How Do You Identify Potential Problems?
Problems cannot be solved if they cannot be seen.
Ask the candidate how they have identified different problems throughout their work and personal history. You'll also want to inquire about frequent issues in your business's workplace and common complaints.
Don't just assess a candidate's ability to realize problems. The time it takes to identify a problem is equally important. Problems become more blatant the longer they are left untouched.
An excellent type of question to use here is a scenario question. Propose a simulated setting based on your company's environment and have them pinpoint the problem.
3. How Do You Evaluate The Impact of Potential Problems?
Another skill prospective employees need is the capacity for foresight. They should be able to evaluate the adverse effects of a particular issue. Otherwise, they'd be able to identify the problem but have no incentive to solve it.
Try to ask questions relating to cause and effect. Ex: If [blank] occurs, then what will happen in the short term and the long run.
4. How Do You Prioritize Problems To Be Solved?
A spilled drink likely won't require as much attention as a corporate-wide virus in the systems.
Recognizing where issues lie and knowing how to distribute time can save large sums of money while avoiding catastrophic scenarios.
A candidate's prioritization of problems also indicates their decision-making and organization skills.
To go further in-depth here, give a candidate a series of problems and have them rank them in the order in which they should be solved.
5. How Do You Develop Solutions To Problems?
Developing solutions is a prominent indicator of planning ability and intuitive thinking. Proposing unique problems will test an individual's creative process and reveal how flexible their logic is.
If a person has a single set strategy for solving every problem, they'll eventually fail. You'll need to hire adaptable workers who can think outside of the box.
There will never be a plan that accounts for everything.
You can modify this question to work with different problems, such as technical problems, relationship problems, and critical-thinking problems. Each of them necessitates a distinctive solution, so you'll inadvertently force a candidate to display their plasticity.
6. How Do You Implement Solutions To Problems?
Having a plan is one thing. Putting it into action is an entirely different matter. If you're familiar with the adage "easier said than done," you can probably infer the purpose of this question.
Unfortunately, you probably won't be able to test candidates firsthand on their ability to implement solutions to problems . The next best thing is closely scrutinizing their personal experiences.
Ask about problems they have solved in the past. Inquire about what may have happened if their solution didn't work.
For any theoretical scenarios, you propose, point out flaws in the candidate's plan of action and have them gauge the practicality of performing it.
Be meticulous here and determine how viable their answers are.
7. How Do You Evaluate The Effectiveness of Solutions?
There should be multiple layers to a person's planning process. A candidate can't just propose a well-thought-out plan without evaluating its efficiency.
The easiest or quickest solutions won't always be the most effective. Yes, simplicity and speed are crucial factors in evaluating effectiveness, but they aren't all-encompassing.
Candidates should also consider the resources used and the longevity of their solution. Identify "bandage fix" answers, and look for long-term results.
A candidate should exhibit the ability to compare the pros and cons of different solutions and determine which one will be the most effective.
8. How Do You Learn From Problem Solving Experiences?
Learning from past problems is essential for solving future ones.
A candidate's ability to draw from previous experiences will suggest their effectiveness at problem solving at your workplace.
You will want to hear about the successes of a candidate's problem solving endeavors and their utter failures. Have them relay their gravest mistakes and how they learned from those experiences.
Remember, while succeeding feels good, a person learns more from failure. If a candidate is confident enough to tell you about their most significant shortcoming, they've moved past it and will likely handle adversity more effectively.
9. How Do You Handle A Situation Where a Colleague Made a Mistake?
It is almost always more comfortable to stay in your lane and mind your own business when it comes to working life. However, interacting with others is a crucial part of teamwork and creating an effective workplace environment.
This question gauges your candidate’s interpersonal skills. You would not like to hear your candidate slandering former colleagues or companies.
Instead, a candidate's ability to exhibit diplomacy within the workplace is a far more desirable response. When people can work together well and solve problems, your business is more likely to run like a well-oiled machine.
10. How Have You Overcome Personal Weaknesses To Improve Work Performance?
When looking to gain insight into a candidate's self-awareness, this is a great leading question to get a conversation started.
While self-awareness may seem more relevant to life outside of work, it procures growth in all aspects of a person’s life, leading to a more well-rounded employee.
A promising candidate will be more than willing to acknowledge their weaknesses, using them as a tool to improve performance. Candidates' answer to this question will also gauge their willingness to learn and adjust to various fluid workplace elements.
More examples of questions to identify Problem Solving skills
- Can you tell me about a time when you overcame a significant challenge?
- What is your problem solving process?
- When you have to solve a problem, what do you think is the most important thing to consider?
The Bottom Line
There will always be unaccounted problems in a company's business structure. There are no amount of preventive measures one can take to avoid them all; it's just not possible.
Hiring intuitive employees who can think broadly and resolve issues independently is essential to every company. This is why problem solving interview questions are so vital.
Evaluating this skill set in prospective candidates may require extra work but is ultimately worth it.
Try this free problem solving advanced test if you're looking for a more in-depth evaluation of an applicant's problem solving abilities for your screening process.
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High Volume Recruitment: What You Need to Know
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Common Hiring Biases to Watch Out For
HR professionals are aware that inherent biases in hiring practices can cause problems. The wrong candidates might get hired and then leave shortly after. What’s worse is that your company could get hit with a lawsuit over hiring biases if they violate equal opportunity laws.
Problem-Solving Interview Questions & Answers
A job interview is a great moment for interviewers to evaluate how candidates approach challenging work situations . They do this by asking problem-solving questions. These types of questions are commonly asked during interviews since problem-solving skills are essential in most jobs. In any workplace, there are challenges, and when hiring new personnel, hiring managers look for candidates who are equipped to deal with this.
Problem-solving questions are so-called behavioral interview questions . Behavioral interview questions are strategic type of questions that require you to provide an answer that includes an example situation that you experienced in your career. These questions focus on specific work situations that you experienced and how you responded.
A basic example of a behavior question about problem-solving is ‘ tell me about a time you solved a problem at work .’ As you can see, the interviewer is looking for you to explain a situation and how you approach it, and how you solved it. Furthermore, the interviewer is interested in what you learned from that experience. Answering behavioral questions requires some work because you need to provide the interviewer with a strong answer to convince them that you’re the right person for the job.
The rationale behind asking problem-solving questions is to discover how you approach complex and challenging situations and if you can provide an effective solution. Interview questions about your past behavior might sound challenging, but they are actually a great opportunity for you to show that you’re a fit for the position. With the right preparation, you can use your answers to problem-solving questions to your advantage.
What Are Problem-solving Interview Questions?
Basically, problem-solving skills relate to your ability to identify problems, issues, obstacles, challenges, and opportunities and then come up with and implement effective and efficient solutions. However, this is a broad definition of problem-solving abilities. Depending on the position and field you’re applying for a position in the interviewer can focus on different aspects of problem-solving.
Examples of problem-solving competencies are:
Taking initiative means that you step up to the plate when needed and that you take action without being asked to do so. People who take the initiative demonstrate that they can think for themselves and take action whenever necessary. Furthermore, you actively look for opportunities to make a difference in the workplace.
Creative thinking means that you’re able to look at something in a new way to find a solution. People who are creative have the ability to come up with new ways to carry out their tasks, solve problems, and meet challenges. Creative people are original thinkers and are able to bring unorthodox perspectives to their work.
Resourcefulness is the ability to find quick and clever ways to overcome challenges in your work. Furthermore, people who are resourceful are original in their ways of thinking to overcome challenges.
Analytical thinking skills
These skills refer to the ability to gather data, break down a complex problem, weigh pros and cons, and make logical decisions. People who possess analytical thinking skills help the company overcome challenges and are able to spot potential issues before they become actual problems.
Determination can be described as the firmness of purpose or resoluteness. Specifically, people who are determined are persistent and do not give up easily or when they have a setback. Determination gives these people the motivation to push through and keep moving forward.
People who are result-oriented have their full focus on getting to the desired outcome.
Problem-solving behavioral interview questions
As discussed in the introduction, problem-solving questions fall into the behavioral category of interview questions . These questions ask you to provide specific examples of past work experiences. For interviewers, understanding your past professional performance is the best way to gauge your future job performance.
Behavioral questions are focused on the desired skills or competency area, such as in this case, problem-solving. Other common competency areas for which behavioral questions are used are teamwork , communication , time management , creative thinking skills , leadership , adaptability , conflict resolution , etc.
Behavioral job interview questions usually start with the following:
- Give me an example of
- Tell me about a time when you
- What do you do when
- Describe a situation where
Examples of problem-solving behavioral interview questions:
- Give me an example of a time you had to solve a difficult problem at work.
- Tell me about a time when you identified and fixed a problem before it became urgent.
- What was the best idea you came up with at your last position?
- Describe a situation where you find a creative way to overcome an obstacle.
As you can see, the questions mentioned above require you to discuss your past behavior in a professional work environment. The reason for asking behavioral job interview questions instead of just asking traditional ones is that the most accurate predictor of future performance is your past performance in similar situations .
The interviewer wants to discuss previous work situations and wants you to elaborate on them to get to know you better. Solid interview preparation will help you give the answers that the interviewer is looking for. This starts with doing your research and thoroughly reviewing the job description . Doing so can help you understand what type of problem-solving skills are required to successfully perform the job you’re interviewing for.
By preparing example scenarios to questions you expect based on your research , you can give exactly the information that he or she is looking for. In other words, you need to relate your answers to the job requirements and company culture of the organization where you’re applying for a position.
To answer behavioral questions about your problem-solving skills, you need to ensure that you provide the interviewer with specific details about the situation you were in, your task in that situation, the action you took, and the specific results that came out of those actions. In short, this is called the STAR-method of providing an answer. The STAR method is discussed in more detail later on in this article.
Why Interviewers Ask Problem-solving Interview Questions
Problem-solving skills are required in most job positions. This means that a lot of hiring managers will try to assess your problem-solving skills during your interview. The main reason for asking you about situations in which you used your problem-solving skills is to get an understanding of how you work.
The interviewers want to get questions answered, such as:
- Are you results-oriented, and are you proactively involved in your work?
- Do you look for different ways to contribute?
- Are you an individual that others can count on to increase team performance?
- Are you a self-starter, or do you need someone to give you instructions?
Most likely, the interviewers look for a self-starting person with general problem-solving skills that can be used in different situations. A proven track record of solving problems such as those required in the position you’re interviewing for will definitely help convince the interviewer. Therefore, make sure you prepare answers to questions you expect in advance.
For example, someone who works as a customer service representative should be able to deal with a frustrated or angry customer . They need to be able to solve these problems and know how to handle such situations. Other examples of positions where problem-solving skills are essential are, for instance, accounts or project managers. They need to be flexible in their approaches and should be able to handle a change in deadlines. Another example is, for instance, a logistic manager who should be able to fix an inefficient logistics process.
The Interviewers’ Goal When Assessing Your Problem-solving Skills
There are several underlying reasons why interviewers use behavioral questions to assess your problem-solving skills. The main one, of course, is that they want to hire a person who’s able to perform the job.
Instead of hiring the person that they ‘like’ they need something better to figure out which candidate is the right fit for the job. By analyzing your behavior in past situations that are similar to the ones that are required in the role that you’re applying for, they try to do just that. Below we discuss a couple of important elements employers consider when making a hiring decision.
Costs of making a bad hiring decision
Employers want to make sure that they hire the right person for the job. For a company, making a bad hiring decision is not only about losing money, but it can also lead to a decrease in productivity and morale. Hiring a bad candidate could lead to leaving a bad impression on customers/clients, but also with coworkers.
Furthermore, time will be lost if the company needs to search for another candidate after a bad hire. Therefore, employers do everything to avoid such situations. Behavioral questions are regarded as a preventative way to make sure that the right person with the right fit for the company is hired .
Specific details of your behavior
By asking behavioral questions about your problem-solving skills, the interviewers try to uncover specific details of your behavior. They want to find out if you are able to clearly identify a problem and if you are able to come up with an efficient and effective solution when needed.
Of course, they got your resume already and maybe even a motivational letter or letter of recommendation . Still, the interviewer can only assess your hard skills and educational levels based on these documents.
Essential soft skills , such as problem-solving, are easier to assess during job interviews with the help of behavioral interview questions. Therefore, include real-life work scenarios in your answers that demonstrate how you have used the skills required for the position that you’re interviewing for. The interviewer wants to assess if you possess the skills required to perform the day-to-day tasks and deal with challenges that you will encounter in the workplace.
Your (past) behavior as a predictor of your future job performance
Questions about your problem-solving skills and the answers you give are used to determine the chances of your future success in the job that you’re interviewing for.
Specific behavioral problem-solving questions such as ‘ tell me about a time you had to solve a problem at work. What steps did you take before deciding on how to solve the problem, and why? ‘ give the interviewer more insight into your professional behavior and in turn, your future job performance .
Another way to assess your behavior is by asking hypothetical questions. If you, for instance, do not have certain experience yet, the interviewer could ask you a question along the lines of ‘ What would you do if you were caught off-guard by a problem that you had not foreseen? Which steps would you take to address the problem? ‘. As you can see, this question is hypothetical in nature. The interviewer wants to hear which steps you would take to address a possible complexity in your work. Based on your answer, the interviewer will assess if your approach is suitable for the position for which you’re interviewing.
It’s therefore important that you prepare for frequently asked interview questions that you can expect during your interview. By preparing the right example answers on how you have solved problems in your previous jobs and how you would solve problems in the job you’re applying for, you can provide a concise answer without missing important details.
Avoid making a wrong hiring decision
Questions that gauge your professional behavior help employers assess your future job performance. In other words, this helps them make a better hiring decision. A perfect resume or cover letter is not enough to impress seasoned interviewers.
By asking behavioral problem-solving questions, the interviewer tries to uncover your previous work patterns. The information in your answers gives them more insight into your approach to critical situations and if this approach matches the ones required for the position you’re applying for.
By preparing the right way, you can make sure that your example answer situations include aspects of the most important job requirements. Of course, the interviewer is looking for candidates that fit the job description , so make sure that your answers relate to the job requirements.
What Interviewers Look for in Successful Candidates
In short, interviewers look for candidates who have the right work approach to succeed within their company and in that particular position. This is also why we can’t emphasize the importance of being able to demonstrate your skills through solid example scenarios enough .
The right preparation will help you get there. Your goal is to demonstrate that you are capable of taking on the day-to-day tasks required for the position and have the potential to grow . For example, if you are able to work in and deal with transitions in fast-paced environments such as financial markets . And can you handle the complex situations that you will encounter? Are you able to deal with such transitions effectively? In this case, you need to show adaptability and problem-solving skills through example scenarios of how you did so in the past.
Problem-solving behavioral questions are used to get insights into how you approach problems at work, if you take the initiative, and if you possess the right creative and critical thinking skills . Basically, the interviewers want to get the following questions answered:
- Do you take the initiative?
- Can you communicate effectively?
- Are you able to adequately respond to problems or issues that occur during your work?
- Can you perform in stressful and unexpected situations?
- Are you able to adjust to changing work environments?
- Can you assist your coworkers or team when needed?
- Are you flexible in your approaches to situations at work?
Red Flags for Interviewers Assessing Your Problem-solving Skills
When answering questions about your problem-solving skills, there are certain things you need to look out for. Below we discuss a couple of warning signs that interviewers consider when you answer their questions. Ensure that you avoid these at all costs to avoid making the wrong impression.
1. Not answering the question or not providing enough detail
If you answer a question with ‘I can’t recall a situation where I encountered such a problem ,’ this is considered a red flag. This could mean that you did not prepare well and that you’re not taking the interview seriously. Furthermore, the interviewer could interpret such an answer as you may avoid dealing with challenging situations.
If you cannot provide specific details or examples about what you claim in your resume or cover letter, this can be considered a red flag too. If you, for instance, claim that you have successfully solved problems and used critical thinking skills in your work, you need to make sure you’re able to back this up through clear examples of times you did so. Failing to do so could lead to a quick elimination of your candidacy for the position. If the interviewer has trouble verifying your employment history, this is considered a warning sign.
2. Canned responses to questions
Preparing answers is key to success for any interview. However, this means preparing original, effective, and relevant answers that are related to the position you’re interviewing for.
Generic answers to behavioral problem-solving questions such as ‘ tell me about a time you had to solve an issue with a customer ‘ are considered warning signs. An example of a generic answer to that particular question is ‘t his one time I had to deal with an angry customer who had complaints about the pricing of a product. I calmed her down and made the sale ‘. As you can see, this answer does not provide much insight into your problem solving skills, thought process, and how you approach the situation.
If you give a generic answer, you can expect more follow-up questions from the interviewer. However, it’s better to prepare strong answers to impress the interviewer that you actually possess the required skills for the job.
3. Answers that focus on problems, not solutions
The reason for asking specific behavioral-problem solving questions is to assess how you approach and solve problems. It’s, therefore, important that your answers focus on the solution, not the problem . Of course, it’s important that you are able to spot and identify problems, but finding a solution is essential. If your answers focus on problems too much, you can come across as too negative for the job.
Negativity, in any form, in your answers, is considered a red flag. This can be talking negatively about a problem you had to solve but also talking inappropriately about previous employers or co-workers. Negative undertones never impress interviewers the right way. Therefore, focus on how you solve problems and put yourself in the best light possible.
4. Too stressed or uncomfortable during an interview
Interviewers know that almost everybody is slightly uncomfortable when put on the spot during a job interview. However, when you’re too stressed to provide a good answer, this can be viewed as an indicator that you do not handle stressful situations well. Of course, remaining calm under pressure while still being able to solve problems is essential for positions in which problem-solving skills are required.
5. Failing to respond effectively
Failing to respond effectively to interview questions comes across weak. It’s therefore important that you prepare for your interview by thoroughly analyzing the job description and try to understand what kind of problems you will be solving in the position that you applied for. This research will help you choose the right examples from your past that are most likely to impress the interviewer.
Therefore, research the job and organization and make notes of the required skills and experiences you think the company values. This allows you to tailor your answers to your situation.
Also, think about possible follow-up questions the interviewer might ask you. Because you already know what examples you will use in your answers to questions you expect , if you prepare the right way, you can figure out which follow-up questions are likely to be asked. For instance, if you’re preparing for the interview question, ‘ tell me about a time you solved a problem at work ,’ you can expect the interviewer to follow up with, ‘ what steps did you take to solve the situation?’.
6. Not taking responsibility or minimizing the significance of a problem
When a problem is identified but not addressed, this could quickly escalate into a bigger problem. Employees who do not take responsibility or those who leave things for later might not be result-oriented and engaged in their work.
Another way of taking responsibility is to show self-awareness. It’s common for interviewers to ask you about a time that you failed, especially in situations where you needed to solve problems. They are interested in what went wrong in a work situation, if you took responsibility for your actions, and what you learned from that situation. Not taking responsibility for, for instance, a project that may have failed , is considered a warning sign.
Self-awareness and being to reflect on situations is an important characteristic to possess in the workplace. Interviewers want to hire candidates that can admit errors or who made thoughtful mistakes trying to solve problems in the past and tried to fix them. Employers know that candidates are human and make mistakes, just like everybody else. It’s important that your answers show that you take responsibility for situations and describe the actions you took to repair any problems or challenges.
Frequently Asked Problem-solving Interview Questions
Below you can find commonly asked behavioral problem-solving questions . These questions are divided into regular questions and hypothetical questions. Learn everything you need to know about common interview questions that are frequently asked during job interviews .
Problem-solving interview questions:
- Tell me about a time you faced an unexpected challenge at work and how you dealt with it.
- Describe a time a customer approached you with a problem or concern. How did you respond?
- Tell me about a time you had to change your planned course of action at the last moment. How did you re-evaluate your priorities?
- What was the best idea you came in in your last position?
- Tell me about a time you had to solve a difficult problem.
- What’s the most significant improvement that you have made in the last year?
- Tell me about the most innovative new idea that you have implemented in the workplace.
- Have you ever improved the workflow of a project based on your analysis? How did you do this?
- Describe a situation in which you anticipated a potential problem and applied preventive measures.
- Tell me about a time you faced a significant obstacle you had to overcome to succeed in a project.
- When you’re working on several projects, it’s tricky to deliver excellent service to all of them. How do you go about prioritizing the needs of a client?
- Describe a situation in which you had to analyze information and make a recommendation.
- What do you consider your greatest achievement in the workplace? Why?
- Describe a situation in which you needed to motivate others to get something done.
Hypothetical problem-solving interview questions:
- How would you approach a situation in which you had to analyze information to make a recommendation to a client?
- Tell me how you would handle a situation in which you have a deadline you cannot meet.
- How would you handle a conflict with a co-worker?
- A frustrated client calls you to discuss a problem. How do you deal with such a situation?
- How would you handle a situation in which you would need to convince someone to change their decision?
Preparing Answers to Problem-solving Interview Questions
There are several steps that you can take to prepare for problem-solving questions. Here you can find a job interview checklist . To get started, you can consider the following steps.
Step 1: Research
Before your interview, it’s important that you thoroughly research the position and company. Read the job description carefully to find specific skills that a candidate needs to possess to successfully perform the job. Think of skills such as adaptability , communication , and problem-solving. Also, read the company website to get more information about their mission statement and who their main clients are. Furthermore, check their LinkedIn pages and other content/news related to the company.
Your research will help you identify the required skills, qualities, and experience for the position. In turn, you can use this information to make an educated guess about what kind of interview questions you can expect .
Step 2: Write down the required skills, competencies, and experience
Behavioral questions such as those about problem-solving skills are a great opportunity for you to show why you’re the perfect candidate for the job. Based on the skills and competencies that you have identified during your research, you can start preparing answers. Rank the skills on importance in relation to the requirements for the position.
Step 3: Create a list of past work experiences related to the position’s requirements
Everybody knows that it’s hard to come up with strong answers when you’re put on the spot during an interview. Therefore, come up with strong examples to questions you expect ahead of your interview.
Create a list of past work experiences and tailor them to the required skills and competencies for the job—highlight successful situations where you demonstrated behavior related to these required skills and competencies . Focus on delivering a concise and to-the-point answer.
Step 4: Prepare successful and challenging answer examples
Effective problem-solving skills are essential in the workplace. Therefore, your answers must demonstrate that you have successfully identified problems, proposed solutions, evaluated several options, and finally implemented a solution. However, it’s also likely that the interviewer will ask you about a time you have failed to solve a problem . Interviewers ask you about failures to assess whether or not you learn from your mistakes and if you’re self-aware enough to acknowledge times you failed. Also, it helps them identify if you take calculated and smart risks.
Step 5: Use the STAR method to structure your answers
The STAR method allows you to concisely provide the interviewer an answer by logically walking them through the situation. STAR is an acronym that stands for a situation ( S ), your task ( T ) in that situation, the actions ( A ) you took, and what results ( R ) you got based on your actions. These are the basic steps you take in your walkthrough.
Below we discuss the STAR interview technique in more detail.
STAR Interview Technique For Problem-Solving Interview Questions & Answers
By using the STAR method, you can give an answer that includes exactly what the interviewer is looking for. Below, the STAR acronym is broken down into each step.
Start your answer by explaining the situation that you faced. The start of your answer ‘story’ should answer questions such as:
- What was the situation/problem?
- Who was involved?
- Why did the situation happen at that time?
It’s important to provide context around what problem needed to be solved. Furthermore, make sure to provide relevant details.
Next, explain your specific role in the task ahead. Include important details, such as specific responsibilities. Focus on giving the interviewer an understanding of your task in solving the problem. This part of your answer should answer questions such as:
- Why were you involved in that specific situation?
- What’s the background story?
After you describe your task, it’s time to specifically discuss the actions you took to solve the problem. Give the interviewer a step-by-step description of the actions you took. This part of your answer should answer questions such as:
- What steps did you take to resolve the situation you were in?
- Why did you choose to complete your tasks this way?
Finish your answer by discussing the results you got from your actions. Detail the outcomes of your actions and ensure to highlight your strengths . Also, make sure to take credit for your behavior that led to the result. Focus on positive results and positive learning experiences. This part of your answer ‘story’ should answer questions such as:
- What exactly happened?
- What did you accomplish?
- How did you feel about the results you got?
- What did you learn from the situation?
- How did this particular situation influence who you are as a professional today?
Sample Answers to Problem-solving Questions
Below you will find some example questions. The examples are already written in STAR format so that you can clearly see how you can structure your answers. However, these are ‘general’ examples. Do not forget to structure your own answers in a way that includes enough detail to convince the interviewer that you’re the right person for the job!
Problem-Solving Example 1: ‘ Tell me about a time you had to resolve a disagreement with a coworker.’
‘Personally, I believe that communication is essential in such a situation to find a way that works for both of us. Finding a compromise is the main goal to get the work done to the best of our ability.
Task & Action
In my current position as a financial consultant, I encountered such a situation recently. A colleague disagreed with the way I wanted to handle an issue that we encountered along the way. To address this issue, I scheduled a meeting with him to discuss the situation. I asked him about his points of view and how he thought we should go about the project.
Even though we had differences in the way we felt like how the project should be approached, we quickly came to the conclusion that our goal was the same; providing our client with a high-quality final product within the set deadline.
We talked about the project and the specific aspect about which we had a difference. I explained my point of view and that I had already encountered a similar issue in the past. Ultimately, my colleague agreed to tackle the issue using my proposed method. His insights gave me a good suggestion which we incorporated into the project. After that, we successfully worked together and finalized the project in time and according to the quality level that we both were proud of.’
Why this is a strong answer:
- The provided example is concise and relevant to the workplace where problem-solving skills are important
- This answer shows important skills such as being proactive, problem-solving, persuasion, and adaptability .
- The answer shows that you’re a team player as well and that you listen to the input of others for the better of a project’s result.
Note : There’s always a chance that interviewers ask you follow-up questions about how you convinced your colleague. Make sure that you are able to answer those questions as well.
Problem-Solving Example 2: ‘ Tell me about a time you had to solve a challenging problem at work .’
‘In my position as a business development manager at ABC Software, I’m responsible for organizing all client events and conferences. ABC Software is a major player in the IT market, and during our events, we invite industry experts to speak on market developments. These events are used to attract new clients but also to maintain our relationship with our existing ones.
Over the last two years, we analyzed our attendee data and found that our event attendance dropped by almost 10%. Furthermore, we discovered that the retention rate of our clients also decreased. When we had to plan the next event, my team and I knew that we had to get our attendance levels back up in order for the events to stay successful. The goal was to get our networking event popular and recurring again.
I had an idea why the attendance levels dropped but to get more information, I interviewed several sales consultants as well. The main feedback was that we should focus more on attracting new clients through social media channels. I communicated this with our marketing team, and we decided to also reach out to our client base and ask them what they would like to see on our future events. This led to interesting new insights on topics and speakers that we could invite, plus we also received input on how to improve networking possibilities during our events. Based on our research and feedback, I created a new plan of action to market our events through our social media channels to increase exposure.
After launching our marketing campaign, we immediately gained online traction, leading to an increase in advance registrations. For that specific event, we saw a total increase in attendance of 20% in comparison to the previous year. An online survey showed that the attendees were happy with how the way the new event was structured, and 80% of respondents said that it would be likely that they would recommend our events within their network.
My approach to increasing attendance at our events did not go unnoticed. I was asked by my department director to make a presentation about how I tackled this problem and present this to the board.’
- This example shows that you can identify issues and understand your responsibility to address them.
- The provided example is related but also relevant to the workplace. It’s also concise, which is perfect.
- This answer shows important skills, such as being proactive, teamwork , adaptability , problem-solving skills, and creativity .
- Taking responsibility to find out why the event attendance dropped and subsequently taking action turned out successful gives more weight to the situation.
Problem Solving Example 3: ‘Describe a time a customer approached you with a problem or concern. How did you respond?’
‘In one instance, a customer came to me with an issue. She had recently purchased a product from our store, which broke shortly after she got it home. She was understandably upset and wanted to know what could be done.
In response, I apologized for any inconvenience and asked her to explain what had happened. After hearing her story, I promised to help her as much as possible. Next, I checked the item’s warranty status in our system.
I was able to offer her a replacement or a refund since the product was still under warranty , and I helped her find an identical item in our store and processed the exchange for her. The customer decided she wanted a replacement, so I explained our return policy to her in case this ever happened again in the future.
My customer thanked me for my help and seemed more satisfied at the end of the transaction; I was glad I was able to turn a potentially negative experience into a positive one.’
- This example shows that you understand what great customer service is.
- The provided example is concise and to the point; it describes a situation and the actions you took to resolve it.
- This answer shows essential skills, such as being proactive, customer service, and problem-solving skills.
Job Interview Topics
- Ask the Interviewer (Questions)
- Career Change
- Career Goals
- Conflict Resolution
- Creative Thinking
- Critical Thinking
- Cultural Fit
- Customer Service
- Graduate / Entry Level
- Growth Potential
- Honesty & Integrity
- Job Satisfaction
- Negotiation Skills
- No Experience / Entry-Level
- Performance Based
- Prioritization & Time Management
- Salary & Benefits
- Situational & Scenario-Based
- Stress Management
- Phone Interview
- Tough Questions
- Uncomfortable Questions
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10 problem-solving interview questions to find the best candidate
Sophie Heatley, Content Writer
| 03 Oct 2018
An interview is a good chance to evaluate how candidates approach difficult situations and by asking problem-solving questions you can separate those that are results orientated from those that crumble under pressure. Asking the right sorts of questions will also reveal a person's suitability for the role and company they are trying to enter.
That being said, this can be hard to assess when you first meet someone, so here are 10 problem-solving competency questions to solve your problem of what to ask:
Problem-solving interview question examples
Question 1: describe a situation where you had to solve a problem. what did you do what was the result what might you have done differently.
This question tests their problem-solving ability. As an employer, you want to hire people that get things done and when faced with a problem actively solve it. There are three steps to solving a problem:
A good answer should show that the applicant took the initiative, didn’t act thoughtlessly and was willing to ask questions and work as a team. Ideally their actions were in that order.
Question 2: Give an example of a situation in which you saw an opportunity in a potential problem. What did you do? What was the outcome?
This question tests if they see opportunities in problems. Every business has problems, both minor and major, and you should be able to trust your employees to identify and solve them. Problems are opportunities for improvement, both for an individual and a company as a whole.
Essentially you are looking for an answer that recognises this. Whether they solved a problem single-handedly or flagged the issue to a superior, you are looking for applicants who played a key part in arriving at a solution.
Question 3: What steps do you take before making a decision on how to solve a problem, and why?
This question tests how they problem solve before making a decision. A strong answer showcases that the candidate is considered in their decision-making and has a formal process of thought, instead of becoming overwhelmed and acting rashly. You should be looking for those that have a formalised process that makes sense, and that shows that they don’t just ask for help the entire time.
Question 4: Give an example of a time that you realised a colleague had made a mistake. How did you deal with this? What was the outcome?
This question tests their interpersonal skills . The best type of employees have great interpersonal skills and help others to succeed. Therefore, a good answer should show the candidate was diplomatic and constructive – someone that helps their colleagues to solve problems and doesn’t just highlight them.
Anyone that proceeds to say unsavoury things about previous co-workers should be treated with caution – respect and kindness are core attributes in the workplace.
This question tests their problem-solving strategies. An impressive answer will showcase awareness of problem-solving strategies, although these may differ from person to person.
You don’t want to hire someone that is constantly asking for help and knowing that a candidate has given some thought to potential strategies will provide you with assurance. Problem-solving strategies could vary from data-driven or logical methods to collaboration or delegation.
Question 6: Describe the biggest work-related problem you have faced. How did you deal with it?
This question tests how they tackle big problems. It reveals three things about a candidate:
1. What they are willing to share about a previous employer.
2. What they consider to be a big problem.
3. How they problem solve.
You want a candidate to be appropriate when discussing their current (or former role) and be positive. Of course what constitutes a big problem is relative, but you should be wary of candidates that sound like they might become overwhelmed by stress or blow things out of proportion.
You’ve found the perfect candidate, what’s next? Check out Perkbox’s administration platform to assist you with onboarding and retaining talent.
Question 7: Tell me about a time where you have been caught off-guard by a problem that you had not foreseen? What happened?
This question tests how they deal with pressure. Even the most careful minds can crash into an unforeseen iceberg, but it is how they deal with it that matters. This question should be a chance for you to catch a glimpse of a candidate’s character and personality. Ideally, you want an answer that shows the following:
- Calmness – They don’t overreact
- Positivity – They don’t complain or blame others
- Solutions – They use problem-solving skills
Question 8: Describe a time where you developed a different problem-solving approach. What steps did you follow?
This question tests their creative problem-solving skills and initiative. If your company was complete you wouldn’t be hiring. Someone that takes initiative and thinks outside of the box can help your business progress and stay ahead of the competition. Creative initiative is a definite bonus as you don’t want an office filled with like-minded people, after all, it’s the new ideas that change the world.
Question 9: Tell me about a time when you became aware of a potential problem and resolved it before it became an issue.
This question tests their ability to identify problems and solve them. Having foresight is important quality and it’s much more than wearing glasses. Foresight is about identifying issues before they actually become issues. Being able to see into the future and red-flagging a problem, is something that you should not only value, but covet – being thoughtful helps avoid disaster.
Question 10: Describe a personal weakness that you had to overcome to improve your performance at work? How did you do it?
This question test their self-awareness and dedication. Self-awareness is crucial to growth and becoming a better employee. A good answer is one that shows a candidates willingness to improve, whether that be learning new skills or honing their talents. This is a hard problem-solving interview question so a successful response is a testament to their ability.
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Top 10 Problem Solving Interview Questions You May Be Asked
Problem-solving questions are common in interviews - you may be asked specific questions related to the job you’ve applied for or about your approach and methodology to solving them.
This useful guide will help you get prepared for common problem-solving questions in your next interview with advice on how to answer them.
1. What are some of the most difficult problems you have solved?
When interviewers ask “What are some of the most difficult problems you have solved,” they usually want to know two things:
- The types of difficult problems you have solved and
- How you coped with or overcame these difficulties.
To answer this question effectively, first, take a few moments to think about and jot down the types of difficult problems you have faced in your work. Then, for each problem, briefly describe the steps you took to solve it. Be sure to highlight a few key learnings or lessons that you took away from overcoming these difficulties.
Some examples of difficult problems that job seekers have solved include:
- Being assigned a project with an impossible deadline
- Having to manage a team member who was not meeting expectations
- Having to come up with an innovative solution to a long-standing problem
2. How do you go about solving problems?
When you are asked how you go about solving problems during an interview, focus on what works for you specifically - there is no one ‘right’ way to solve problems, so don’t try to fit yourself into that mold.
You should have a clear process and some examples to help support your answer.
Remember to keep it positive - interviews are about selling yourself and your skills, so make sure your answer reflects that.
3. Describe the result of a recent problem you solved
For this question, the interviewer is looking to understand the impact you’ve had on solving problems and how important the problems you’ve described are. The bigger the impact the better the example.
4. Give an example of a time when you had to think outside the box to solve a problem.
When answering this question, it’s important to provide a specific example of a time when you had to think outside the box to solve a problem. Avoid generalities or platitudes like “I’m a creative person” or “I always look for new and innovative ways to solve problems.”
Instead, focus on describing a concrete situation where you were faced with a difficult problem and had to come up with an original solution. Be sure to describe the steps you took to solve the problem and what resulted from your efforts.
If you can illustrate that you can think creatively and come up with innovative solutions, you’ll be sure to impress potential employers and set yourself apart from other candidates.
5. What is a time when you went above and beyond to solve a problem?
Be prepared to answer this question with a great story.
Think of a time when you were faced with a difficult situation at work. Maybe there was a big project that needed to be completed or a customer that was particularly challenging. Whatever the situation was, make sure it’s something that you were able to successfully overcome.
Next, describe what steps you took to solve the problem. Did you come up with an innovative solution? Did you put in extra hours to make sure the job got done? Was it a team effort? Whatever it was that you did, be sure to highlight your role in the story.
Lastly, include details of the results and how they impacted others.
6. Tell me about a time when you predicted a problem before it occurred?
This question shows the interviewer your proactiveness and vigilance.
Try to think about a time when you were able to identify a potential issue and take steps to prevent it from happening. It may be a problem that you had anticipated occurring - how did you know it would happen? What would have been the impact if it did?
Showing that you have the ability to think ahead and predict problems before they occur is a strong skill for any potential employee to have, and by providing specific examples of your own experience, you can demonstrate that you possess it.
7. Give an example of a time when you had to use your creativity to solve a problem
When interviewers ask this question, they are looking to see if you have the ability to come up with new and innovative solutions to problems. They want to know if you are able to think outside the box and come up with creative solutions that others may not have thought of.
To answer this well you should:
- Give an example of a time when you had to use your creativity to solve a problem.
- Explain how you were able to come up with a creative solution and what the outcome was.
- Be sure to highlight any challenges that you faced and how you overcame them.
8. How do you know when to solve a problem on your own or to ask for help?
There’s no single answer to this question, as the best course of action will vary depending on the situation. However, here are a few general tips to keep in mind:
First, try to assess the difficulty of the problem and whether you have the necessary skills and knowledge to solve it. If it’s a simple issue that you’re confident you can handle, then go ahead and take care of it yourself.
However, if the problem is more complex or outside of your area of expertise, then it’s probably best to seek out help from someone who knows more about it.
9. How do you know when a problem is solved?
This is a great opportunity to show off your critical thinking skills.
First, take a step back and assess the situation. What are the goals that need to be accomplished? What does “solved” look like? What are the constraints that you’re working within?
Defining success criteria will ultimately determine when the problem is solved.
10. Do you enjoy problem-solving?
Almost all roles require some form of problem-solving. A strategic “yes” is always recommended when answering this question.
If you have experience solving problems in previous roles, be sure to mention that. This will show the interviewer that you have the ability to handle challenges.
For example, you might say something like: “I actually enjoy problem-solving quite a lot. There’s something satisfying about being able to find a solution to something that was once a mystery. One time, I was able to help my team solve a big issue we were having with our website. We were able to identify the problem and put together a plan to fix it.”
This response shows that you not only have the ability to solve problems but that you also enjoy doing so. It also gives the interviewer a specific example of a time when you were successful in this area.
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Top 20 Problem Solving Interview Questions (Example Answers Included)
Mike Simpson 0 Comments
By Mike Simpson
When candidates prepare for interviews, they usually focus on highlighting their leadership, communication, teamwork, and similar crucial soft skills . However, not everyone gets ready for problem-solving interview questions. And that can be a big mistake.
Problem-solving is relevant to nearly any job on the planet. Yes, it’s more prevalent in certain industries, but it’s helpful almost everywhere.
Regardless of the role you want to land, you may be asked to provide problem-solving examples or describe how you would deal with specific situations. That’s why being ready to showcase your problem-solving skills is so vital.
If you aren’t sure who to tackle problem-solving questions, don’t worry, we have your back. Come with us as we explore this exciting part of the interview process, as well as some problem-solving interview questions and example answers.
What Is Problem-Solving?
When you’re trying to land a position, there’s a good chance you’ll face some problem-solving interview questions. But what exactly is problem-solving? And why is it so important to hiring managers?
Well, the good folks at Merriam-Webster define problem-solving as “the process or act of finding a solution to a problem.” While that may seem like common sense, there’s a critical part to that definition that should catch your eye.
What part is that? The word “process.”
In the end, problem-solving is an activity. It’s your ability to take appropriate steps to find answers, determine how to proceed, or otherwise overcome the challenge.
Being great at it usually means having a range of helpful problem-solving skills and traits. Research, diligence, patience, attention-to-detail , collaboration… they can all play a role. So can analytical thinking , creativity, and open-mindedness.
But why do hiring managers worry about your problem-solving skills? Well, mainly, because every job comes with its fair share of problems.
While problem-solving is relevant to scientific, technical, legal, medical, and a whole slew of other careers. It helps you overcome challenges and deal with the unexpected. It plays a role in troubleshooting and innovation. That’s why it matters to hiring managers.
How to Answer Problem-Solving Interview Questions
Okay, before we get to our examples, let’s take a quick second to talk about strategy. Knowing how to answer problem-solving interview questions is crucial. Why? Because the hiring manager might ask you something that you don’t anticipate.
Problem-solving interview questions are all about seeing how you think. As a result, they can be a bit… unconventional.
These aren’t your run-of-the-mill job interview questions . Instead, they are tricky behavioral interview questions . After all, the goal is to find out how you approach problem-solving, so most are going to feature scenarios, brainteasers, or something similar.
So, having a great strategy means knowing how to deal with behavioral questions. Luckily, there are a couple of tools that can help.
First, when it comes to the classic approach to behavioral interview questions, look no further than the STAR Method . With the STAR method, you learn how to turn your answers into captivating stories. This makes your responses tons more engaging, ensuring you keep the hiring manager’s attention from beginning to end.
Now, should you stop with the STAR Method? Of course not. If you want to take your answers to the next level, spend some time with the Tailoring Method , too.
With the Tailoring Method, it’s all about relevance. So, if you get a chance to choose an example that demonstrates your problem-solving skills, this is really the way to go.
We also wanted to let you know that we created an amazing free cheat sheet that will give you word-for-word answers for some of the toughest interview questions you are going to face in your upcoming interview. After all, hiring managers will often ask you more generalized interview questions!
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Top 3 Problem-Solving-Based Interview Questions
Alright, here is what you’ve been waiting for: the problem-solving questions and sample answers.
While many questions in this category are job-specific, these tend to apply to nearly any job. That means there’s a good chance you’ll come across them at some point in your career, making them a great starting point when you’re practicing for an interview.
So, let’s dive in, shall we? Here’s a look at the top three problem-solving interview questions and example responses.
1. Can you tell me about a time when you had to solve a challenging problem?
In the land of problem-solving questions, this one might be your best-case scenario. It lets you choose your own problem-solving examples to highlight, putting you in complete control.
When you choose an example, go with one that is relevant to what you’ll face in the role. The closer the match, the better the answer is in the eyes of the hiring manager.
“While working as a mobile telecom support specialist for a large organization, we had to transition our MDM service from one vendor to another within 45 days. This personally physically handling 500 devices within the agency. Devices had to be gathered from the headquarters and satellite offices, which were located all across the state, something that was challenging even without the tight deadline. I approached the situation by identifying the location assignment of all personnel within the organization, enabling me to estimate transit times for receiving the devices. Next, I timed out how many devices I could personally update in a day. Together, this allowed me to create a general timeline. After that, I coordinated with each location, both expressing the urgency of adhering to deadlines and scheduling bulk shipping options. While there were occasional bouts of resistance, I worked with location leaders to calm concerns and facilitate action. While performing all of the updates was daunting, my approach to organizing the event made it a success. Ultimately, the entire transition was finished five days before the deadline, exceeding the expectations of many.”
2. Describe a time where you made a mistake. What did you do to fix it?
While this might not look like it’s based on problem-solving on the surface, it actually is. When you make a mistake, it creates a challenge, one you have to work your way through. At a minimum, it’s an opportunity to highlight problem-solving skills, even if you don’t address the topic directly.
When you choose an example, you want to go with a situation where the end was positive. However, the issue still has to be significant, causing something negative to happen in the moment that you, ideally, overcame.
“When I first began in a supervisory role, I had trouble setting down my individual contributor hat. I tried to keep up with my past duties while also taking on the responsibilities of my new role. As a result, I began rushing and introduced an error into the code of the software my team was updating. The error led to a memory leak. We became aware of the issue when the performance was hindered, though we didn’t immediately know the cause. I dove back into the code, reviewing recent changes, and, ultimately, determined the issue was a mistake on my end. When I made that discovery, I took several steps. First, I let my team know that the error was mine and let them know its nature. Second, I worked with my team to correct the issue, resolving the memory leak. Finally, I took this as a lesson about delegation. I began assigning work to my team more effectively, a move that allowed me to excel as a manager and help them thrive as contributors. It was a crucial learning moment, one that I have valued every day since.”
3. If you identify a potential risk in a project, what steps do you take to prevent it?
Yes, this is also a problem-solving question. The difference is, with this one, it’s not about fixing an issue; it’s about stopping it from happening. Still, you use problem-solving skills along the way, so it falls in this question category.
If you can, use an example of a moment when you mitigated risk in the past. If you haven’t had that opportunity, approach it theoretically, discussing the steps you would take to prevent an issue from developing.
“If I identify a potential risk in a project, my first step is to assess the various factors that could lead to a poor outcome. Prevention requires analysis. Ensuring I fully understand what can trigger the undesired event creates the right foundation, allowing me to figure out how to reduce the likelihood of those events occurring. Once I have the right level of understanding, I come up with a mitigation plan. Exactly what this includes varies depending on the nature of the issue, though it usually involves various steps and checks designed to monitor the project as it progresses to spot paths that may make the problem more likely to happen. I find this approach effective as it combines knowledge and ongoing vigilance. That way, if the project begins to head into risky territory, I can correct its trajectory.”
17 More Problem-Solving-Based Interview Questions
In the world of problem-solving questions, some apply to a wide range of jobs, while others are more niche. For example, customer service reps and IT helpdesk professionals both encounter challenges, but not usually the same kind.
As a result, some of the questions in this list may be more relevant to certain careers than others. However, they all give you insights into what this kind of question looks like, making them worth reviewing.
Here are 17 more problem-solving interview questions you might face off against during your job search:
- How would you describe your problem-solving skills?
- Can you tell me about a time when you had to use creativity to deal with an obstacle?
- Describe a time when you discovered an unmet customer need while assisting a customer and found a way to meet it.
- If you were faced with an upset customer, how would you diffuse the situation?
- Tell me about a time when you had to troubleshoot a complex issue.
- Imagine you were overseeing a project and needed a particular item. You have two choices of vendors: one that can deliver on time but would be over budget, and one that’s under budget but would deliver one week later than you need it. How do you figure out which approach to use?
- Your manager wants to upgrade a tool you regularly use for your job and wants your recommendation. How do you formulate one?
- A supplier has said that an item you need for a project isn’t going to be delivered as scheduled, something that would cause your project to fall behind schedule. What do you do to try and keep the timeline on target?
- Can you share an example of a moment where you encountered a unique problem you and your colleagues had never seen before? How did you figure out what to do?
- Imagine you were scheduled to give a presentation with a colleague, and your colleague called in sick right before it was set to begin. What would you do?
- If you are given two urgent tasks from different members of the leadership team, both with the same tight deadline, how do you choose which to tackle first?
- Tell me about a time you and a colleague didn’t see eye-to-eye. How did you decide what to do?
- Describe your troubleshooting process.
- Tell me about a time where there was a problem that you weren’t able to solve. What happened?
- In your opening, what skills or traits make a person an exceptional problem-solver?
- When you face a problem that requires action, do you usually jump in or take a moment to carefully assess the situation?
- When you encounter a new problem you’ve never seen before, what is the first step that you take?
Putting It All Together
At this point, you should have a solid idea of how to approach problem-solving interview questions. Use the tips above to your advantage. That way, you can thrive during your next interview.
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His advice and insights have been shared and featured by publications such as Forbes , Entrepreneur , CNBC and more as well as educational institutions such as the University of Michigan , Penn State , Northeastern and others.
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Co-Founder and CEO of TheInterviewGuys.com. Mike is a job interview and career expert and the head writer at TheInterviewGuys.com. His advice and insights have been shared and featured by publications such as Forbes , Entrepreneur , CNBC and more as well as educational institutions such as the University of Michigan , Penn State , Northeastern and others. Learn more about The Interview Guys on our About Us page .
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Problem-solving questions with sample answers · When you are faced with a problem, what do you do? · Describe a time when you faced an unexpected
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