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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
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- Interview process and strategies: a comprehensive FAQ guide
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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
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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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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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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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13 Problem-Solving Interview Questions to Assess a Candidate
Solving problems is something we all do on a daily basis, whether it be in our personal life or at work. The issue is that finding the right solutions to those problems is not always easy for everyone. Some people are simply better at it than others. But how can you determine a candidate’s problem-solving skills by only looking at their resume or motivational letter? You simply cannot. That’s why you should assess candidates’ problem-solving skills during the interview process.
Why? Because it is a good chance for evaluating how different candidates approach challenging situations.
Problem-solving skills: A Definition
A problem can be defined as a gap between the current situation and the desired outcome. To fill this gap, problem-solving abilities are needed. Problem-solving in the workplace describes our way of thinking and the behaviour we engage in to obtain the desired outcome we seek, which could be attaining a certain goal or finding a satisfactory answer to our questions.
Different problem-solving strategies can be based on factors such as the amount of information available about the problem, the time spent on planning, or whether multiple solutions have to be tested before deciding on the optimal one.
Why assess problem-solving when it comes to candidates
You and I both know that there every single business, as well as every single job role consists of people constantly being faced with challenges and a variety of problems. Some smaller, some more drastic. But that is the reality and it’s unavoidable.
Often being faced with a problem in the workplace can become a problem within itself. Especially if you don’t have the right people in your team. That’s why it is important to assess someone’s level of problem-solving skills before you hire them. In positions that involve frequent decision-making or in which you often get confronted with complex business issues, this is an important skill.
In the workplace, employees are expected to solve problems daily, ultimately ensuring the smooth functioning of the company. Therefore, the problem-solving ability is one of the most important aspects which needs to be assessed prior to hiring. Problem-solving ability is associated with several sub-skills depending on the nature of the tasks involved in the profession.
For instance, a successful business consultant might want to be equipped with good communication skills, empathy, and analytical thinking, all of which can be considered sub-skills of problem-solving ability.
People who are very good at problem-solving are more self-reliant, as they need less help. However, they also tend to take their time when solving problems. People who are less good at problem-solving are more likely to try different solutions (trial-and-error approach), but also might ask for help more. Depending on the team, work setting, and type of job, you might prefer one type over another.
Types of problem-solving skills to look for in candidates
Problem-solving skills probably encompass more layers than you might initially think they do, after all, any job role involves a set of challenges that need to be overcome. Other aspects that fall under problem-solving, could also be:
- Listening skills. To solve a problem or a challenge, one must first have a thorough understanding of it. At least if the plan is to solve the problem for the long-term.
- Analytical thinking skills. A crucial component to pinpointing and finding a solution to a problem.
- Creative thinking. Modern problems require modern solutions. What do I mean by that? Creativity can allow to come up with solutions that are exceptional and non-conventional even, yet deliver results.
- Time and workload management skills. The ability to prioritize which problems require more time and effort, and which do not is of utmost importance in the fast-paced environment we live in now.
- Collaboration skills. Sometimes there are problems or challenges we cannot seem to solve on our own, in moments like these it is important to know how to collaborate with others to find the best possible solution together.
What interview structure allows to best assess candidates problem-solving skills?
According to research , a structured interview is more reliable, valid, and less discriminatory than an unstructured interview. When you structure your interview process, the assessment of personality becomes a designed process. Every question should be carefully chosen to assess the candidate’s skills and knowledge.
Guide: How to set up a structured interview process
Get your guide here, 13 interview questions to determine problem-solving abilities.
Problem-solving skills may not be tangible but it shows up in behaviors and conversations, it is visible and you can hear it:
- How do your employees handle stressful situations?
- Do they ask each other questions?
- Do they share their opinions?
- How do they react when challenged with a different perspective?
- Do they focus more on solving problems quickly or thoroughly?
- How do they make decisions or share knowledge?
- How do they speak with your customers when they are facing a problem?
Once you have a full understanding of the above-mentioned, here are some questions you can use throughout interviews with candidates to assess their problem-solving skills.
2 interview questions for assessing listening skills when solving problems
- Describe a time when you had to solve a problem but didn’t have all the necessary information about it in hand. What did you do?
For example, if a candidate says that in such a situation they would be uncomfortable and would prefer someone else to take over coming up with a solution – it’s likely that they possess lower problem-solving skills. In contrast, if a candidate would tell you about their strengths and ability to work independently in such a situation, then that would indicate higher problem-solving abilities.
- Let’s say you had to solve an unexpected problem but didn’t have much information about it. What would you do in order to solve it efficiently?
If a candidate mentions that they would try to gather more information relating the potential causes of the problem to be able to grasp it better, that’s probably a better answer than just stating that they’d just decide to give up.
3 interview questions for assessing analytical thinking skills when solving problems
- Before making a decision, do you outweigh all the alternatives?
Asking this question will help you determine whether this person is more intuitive and fast. Or more analytical and a bit slower. If a candidate were to answer: “I normally make a list of advantages and disadvantages of each solution before deciding which is the most beneficial one” , then this person is likely to be a bit slower when it comes to solving problems than someone who just picks the first solution they come up with.
- Describe a situation where you had to solve a problem. What steps did you take to solve this problem?
The main goal of asking this question during the interview is to be able to determine what steps the person chooses to take when addressing the problem. For example, people who seem to plan less and act more intuitively will likely prefer a more trial-and-error, rather than an analytical approach to solving a problem.
If a candidate answers the following: “When I’m faced with a problem, I typically start by doing research and gathering all the relevant information before proceeding.” Then you can assume that they are more likely to take an analytical approach when solving a problem. Whereas, if someone were to say that they just go with the flow, then this person is more likely to prefer a trial-and-error-based approach.
- Tell me about a time you made a mistake. How did you deal with it?
When asking the candidate this question, you are looking for an honest, self-critical answer. The candidate should also be able to explain how making this mistake led them to become better at their job. Their answer to this question will serve as an indication of how they deal with challenging situations.
For example, if a candidate shows a sense of integrity and understanding of how they could avoid making the same mistake in the future when solving a problem – you’ve found yourself an individual that learns from their mistakes to better themselves.
2 interview questions for assessing creative thinking when solving problems
- Tell me about a situation where you were able to overcome a problem by using a creative approach.
Of course, when hiring new people, we want to hire those who take the most innovative and creative approaches to solving problems, as well as implementing these ideas in reality. In this case, you should be looking for an answer in which the candidate is focusing on explaining the creative approach they took, rather than the problem they were trying to solve. After all, you are looking for someone who can solve problems in a creative way rather than someone who can describe the problem.
- Describe a situation in which you recognized a potential problem as an opportunity. What did you do? What, if anything, do you wish you had done differently?
This is an example of the so-called behavioural interview questions. These questions focus on revealing how individuals act in certain situations. In this case, if you’re looking for someone with high problem-solving abilities, you are looking for someone who will be able to critically assess and explain their problem-solving process. As well as highlight how problems can often be transformed into opportunities for improvement and growth.
3 interview questions for assessing time and workload management when solving problems
- Imagine you’re in a stressful situation at work and you need to come up with a solution quickly. What would you do?
When asking this question to a candidate, you should be on the lookout for an answer that includes all of the following: an example story, placing their focus on how they handled the stressful situation. Basically – focusing more on actions rather than feelings, and highlighting what skills allowed them to deal with the situation successfully.
The answer you are probably not looking for is “I’ve never been stressed, cannot even imagine what that would feel like within a work environment.” Such an answer just indicates straight up that someone is lying because we all know that there is no such work environment in which stress is non-existent (even if you’d work at puppy daycare).
- Are you someone who prefers to solve problems very quickly, or very carefully and slowly?
As human beings, we all have the tendency to want to arrive at a solution as quickly as possible. However, not all solutions will lead to the most optimal outcomes.
Within the startup environment, things are often subject to rapid change. This also means that it’s more likely that various problems can occur quite suddenly. In this case, you are looking for a candidate who prefers a more trial and error-based approach. Why? Because people who have extremely high problem-solving skills tend to take a longer time for a problem. What is the danger of having only people with sharp problem-solving skills in a team? It can take very long to solve problems that are maybe ad-hoc.
- Tell me about a situation where you were faced with multiple problems. How did you choose which problem to prioritize?
This question has everything to do with how the candidate works under pressure. As well as the extent to which they are capable of prioritizing. When faced with multiple problems, the individual should be able to prioritize between tasks that are of high importance and those that are not as urgent.
When answering this question, the candidate should be able to walk you through their prioritization process and rationally argue their choices. While also placing focus on explaining their planning strategies to ensure that no problem is left unsolved.
3 interview questions for assessing collaboration when solving problems
- How do you know when to solve a problem by yourself? And when to ask for help from someone else?
I think the important thing to take into account when asking this question is that asking for help should not be considered a sign of weakness.
What you should be looking for in the answer to this question is someone’s ability to be able to gauge in which situations they should most definitely ask for help. And in contrast, in which situations it’s not really necessary. This way you will be able to tell whether this person is capable of solving a problem independently or is always asking for help even when it comes to the little things.
- What do you do in a situation when you cannot seem to find the right solution to a problem?
A question similar to the previous one, however, in this case it’s all about the phrasing from your side as the interviewer. The answer of the candidate to this question will allow you to grasp whether they feel comfortable asking for help when encountering a road block in terms of solving a problem or rather choose to hand it over to someone else entirely.
- How would you react when your manager tells you to think more before taking action?
Lastly, save the best for last – a question that will show to you how the candidate deals with feedback provided about the process of solving a problem and the solution itself. P.S. Sometimes thinking slow is the best way to go! 😉
Key differences between people with systematic vs. intuitive problem-solving style
Person with more systematic problem-solving style.
- They have a higher tendency to first identify the situation and analytically disentangle problems into several components, then logically evaluate the available alternatives and try to find a rule to solve problems.
- At the end of the process, they may also evaluate the consequence of the whole process to possibly adjust their strategy in the future. However, they might face difficulty when tackling ill-structured or defined problems, whereby they cannot generate a promising plan to act.
- They may also struggle under time constraints when intuitive decisions need to be made.
Person that prefers more intuitive problem-solving style
- They prefer relying on their “gut feeling” when solving problems. While they may rely on their intuition to assess facts, they also often take their feelings and non-verbal cues from their surrounding into consideration.
- They are open to quickly switching to alternative solutions when things do not work out. Using this strategy, they are good at dealing with uncertainty, ill-defined problems or novel problems with no real information.
- However, this kind of thinking pattern might work sometimes but can be less effective with more complex problems and end up being more time-consuming overall than a more systematic approach.
Cons of assessing problem-solving in interviews
Inaccurate and unreliable results.
I dare you to take a second and do a simple google search for “how to answer problem-solving interview questions” or any query similar to that.
I guarantee you will see hundreds of articles pop up regarding the best ways of answering these questions.
Just look at the number of results available out there for just these two queries…
That’s exactly where the danger lies – candidates can prepare their answers to these questions, thus leading to unreliable assessment from your side on whether they have the problem-solving skills you are looking for.
No standardized way of presenting results
Using solely interview questions to assess problem-solving skills allows for no standardized way of presenting results as each candidate you interview will give a different answer to your question and it will become gradually more difficult to compare candidates with each other.
Ultimately, resulting in – hiring decisions made based on gut feeling & influenced by your implicit bias.
If the job posting receives 100 CVs. Now, you not only need to scan 100 CVs, but you also need to decide which candidates out of these 100 will be invited for an interview. And even though that doesn’t sound so bad, it actually is.
Because how can you decide which candidates are the best suited for a role by just taking a short glimpse at their CV? You simply cannot.
So then you’ll probably end up interviewing more people than you should. Just imagine all the time spent interviewing, talking, asking questions, taking notes of the candidate’s answers, and then later on comparing them.
Wrong first impressions, lasting consequences
According to The New York Times, 44% of all job openings online still require a certain educational level/degree. Why is it so? Because education for most of us is perceived as a solid proxy for intelligence. If someone completed higher education – they must possess analytical intelligence, creativity, ability to collaborate and so on. However, science says something else:
This means that someone’s cognitive ability (also called your General Mental Ability, the indicator for human intelligence) is 6.5x as predictive for future job performance than education. So, the habit to link intelligence to education might not be as solid as we’d think.
How does this relate back to assessing problem-solving skills in interviews? Well, even before deciding whom you will be inviting for an interview, you most likely take a look at their CV. This is exactly the very first moment your implicit bias star playing tricks on how you perceive the candidate. Here is what happens:
- You look at the CV of Candidate A – they have completed both their BA and MA degrees, and also have a PhD. Wow! They probably are very intelligent, otherwise they wouldn’t have gotten this far!
- Candidate B completed a BA degree and did a few unpaid internships after completing their studies.
If you really value problem-solving ability and intelligence, and these are crucial skills to perform well at the job you are hiring for – it is (highly) likely that, based on this first gut feeling, you will invite Candidate A to an interview.
However, the thing is – fit for a job and future job performance is so much more than just one or two skills. It is in fact a combination of multiple factors that contribute to the success someone will have in a certain job. There is no one size fits all.
The bottom line..
Knowing what to look for in candidates even before the interview process is a crucial step to setting your hiring process up for success. And that starts with gathering data-backed, objective and science-based insights about your teams and your candidates…
Interviews are often perceived as the ultimate gateway to finding the perfect candidate, however, in reality, it’s littered with many pitfalls:
- Interviewer bias
- Interviews are often inconsistent
- Interview answers are easily manipulable
- Extremely time-consuming & costly
- Interviews can be incredibly stressful for candidates
- Interviews may not showcase an applicant’s true capabilities
Read more about the 6 Major pitfalls when assessing candidates solely based on interviews
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26 Good Examples of Problem Solving (Interview Answers)
300+ Interview Questions Answered.
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Employers like to hire people who can solve problems and work well under pressure. A job rarely goes 100% according to plan, so hiring managers will be more likely to hire you if you seem like you can handle unexpected challenges while staying calm and logical in your approach.
But how do they measure this?
They’re going to ask you interview questions about these problem solving skills, and they might also look for examples of problem solving on your resume and cover letter. So coming up, I’m going to share a list of examples of problem solving, whether you’re an experienced job seeker or recent graduate.
Then I’ll share sample interview answers to, “Give an example of a time you used logic to solve a problem?”
Examples of Problem Solving Scenarios in the Workplace
- Correcting a mistake at work, whether it was made by you or someone else
- Overcoming a delay at work through problem solving and communication
- Resolving an issue with a difficult or upset customer
- Overcoming issues related to a limited budget, and still delivering good work through the use of creative problem solving
- Overcoming a scheduling/staffing shortage in the department to still deliver excellent work
- Troubleshooting and resolving technical issues
- Handling and resolving a conflict with a coworker
- Solving any problems related to money, customer billing, accounting and bookkeeping, etc.
- Taking initiative when another team member overlooked or missed something important
- Taking initiative to meet with your superior to discuss a problem before it became potentially worse
- Solving a safety issue at work or reporting the issue to those who could solve it
- Using problem solving abilities to reduce/eliminate a company expense
- Finding a way to make the company more profitable through new service or product offerings, new pricing ideas, promotion and sale ideas, etc.
- Changing how a process, team, or task is organized to make it more efficient
- Using creative thinking to come up with a solution that the company hasn’t used before
- Performing research to collect data and information to find a new solution to a problem
- Boosting a company or team’s performance by improving some aspect of communication among employees
- Finding a new piece of data that can guide a company’s decisions or strategy better in a certain area
Problem Solving Examples for Recent Grads/Entry Level Job Seekers
- Coordinating work between team members in a class project
- Reassigning a missing team member’s work to other group members in a class project
- Adjusting your workflow on a project to accommodate a tight deadline
- Speaking to your professor to get help when you were struggling or unsure about a project
- Asking classmates, peers, or professors for help in an area of struggle
- Talking to your academic advisor to brainstorm solutions to a problem you were facing
- Researching solutions to an academic problem online, via Google or other methods
- Using problem solving and creative thinking to obtain an internship or other work opportunity during school after struggling at first
You can share all of the examples above when you’re asked questions about problem solving in your interview. As you can see, even if you have no professional work experience, it’s possible to think back to problems and unexpected challenges that you faced in your studies and discuss how you solved them.
Interview Answers to “Give an Example of an Occasion When You Used Logic to Solve a Problem”
Now, let’s look at some sample interview answers to, “Give me an example of a time you used logic to solve a problem,” since you’re likely to hear this interview question in all sorts of industries.
Example Answer 1:
At my current job, I recently solved a problem where a client was upset about our software pricing. They had misunderstood the sales representative who explained pricing originally, and when their package renewed for its second month, they called to complain about the invoice. I apologized for the confusion and then spoke to our billing team to see what type of solution we could come up with. We decided that the best course of action was to offer a long-term pricing package that would provide a discount. This not only solved the problem but got the customer to agree to a longer-term contract, which means we’ll keep their business for at least one year now, and they’re happy with the pricing. I feel I got the best possible outcome and the way I chose to solve the problem was effective.
Example Answer 2:
In my last job, I had to do quite a bit of problem solving related to our shift scheduling. We had four people quit within a week and the department was severely understaffed. I coordinated a ramp-up of our hiring efforts, I got approval from the department head to offer bonuses for overtime work, and then I found eight employees who were willing to do overtime this month. I think the key problem solving skills here were taking initiative, communicating clearly, and reacting quickly to solve this problem before it became an even bigger issue.
Example Answer 3:
In my current marketing role, my manager asked me to come up with a solution to our declining social media engagement. I assessed our current strategy and recent results, analyzed what some of our top competitors were doing, and then came up with an exact blueprint we could follow this year to emulate our best competitors but also stand out and develop a unique voice as a brand. I feel this is a good example of using logic to solve a problem because it was based on analysis and observation of competitors, rather than guessing or quickly reacting to the situation without reliable data. I always use logic and data to solve problems when possible. The project turned out to be a success and we increased our social media engagement by an average of 82% by the end of the year.
Answering Questions About Problem Solving with the STAR Method
When you answer interview questions about problem solving scenarios, or if you decide to demonstrate your problem solving skills in a cover letter (which is a good idea any time the job description mention problem solving as a necessary skill), I recommend using the STAR method to tell your story.
STAR stands for:
It’s a simple way of walking the listener or reader through the story in a way that will make sense to them. So before jumping in and talking about the problem that needed solving, make sure to describe the general situation. What job/company were you working at? When was this? Then, you can describe the task at hand and the problem that needed solving. After this, describe the course of action you chose and why. Ideally, show that you evaluated all the information you could given the time you had, and made a decision based on logic and fact.
Finally, describe a positive result you got.
Whether you’re answering interview questions about problem solving or writing a cover letter, you should only choose examples where you got a positive result and successfully solved the issue.
What Are Good Outcomes of Problem Solving?
Whenever you answer interview questions about problem solving or share examples of problem solving in a cover letter, you want to be sure you’re sharing a positive outcome.
Below are good outcomes of problem solving:
- Saving the company time or money
- Making the company money
- Pleasing/keeping a customer
- Obtaining new customers
- Solving a safety issue
- Solving a staffing/scheduling issue
- Solving a logistical issue
- Solving a company hiring issue
- Solving a technical/software issue
- Making a process more efficient and faster for the company
- Creating a new business process to make the company more profitable
- Improving the company’s brand/image/reputation
- Getting the company positive reviews from customers/clients
Every employer wants to make more money, save money, and save time. If you can assess your problem solving experience and think about how you’ve helped past employers in those three areas, then that’s a great start. That’s where I recommend you begin looking for stories of times you had to solve problems.
Tips to Improve Your Problem Solving Skills
Throughout your career, you’re going to get hired for better jobs and earn more money if you can show employers that you’re a problem solver. So to improve your problem solving skills, I recommend always analyzing a problem and situation before acting. When discussing problem solving with employers, you never want to sound like you rush or make impulsive decisions. They want to see fact-based or data-based decisions when you solve problems. Next, to get better at solving problems, analyze the outcomes of past solutions you came up with. You can recognize what works and what doesn’t. Think about how you can get better at researching and analyzing a situation, but also how you can get better at communicating, deciding the right people in the organization to talk to and “pull in” to help you if needed, etc. Finally, practice staying calm even in stressful situations. Take a few minutes to walk outside if needed. Step away from your phone and computer to clear your head. A work problem is rarely so urgent that you cannot take five minutes to think (with the possible exception of safety problems), and you’ll get better outcomes if you solve problems by acting logically instead of rushing to react in a panic.
You can use all of the ideas above to describe your problem solving skills when asked interview questions about the topic. If you say that you do the things above, employers will be impressed when they assess your problem solving ability.
If you practice the tips above, you’ll be ready to share detailed, impressive stories and problem solving examples that will make hiring managers want to offer you the job. Every employer appreciates a problem solver, whether solving problems is a requirement listed on the job description or not. And you never know which hiring manager or interviewer will ask you about a time you solved a problem, so you should always be ready to discuss this when applying for a job.
Related interview questions & answers:
- How do you handle stress?
- How do you handle conflict?
- Tell me about a time when you failed
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Biron Clark is a former executive recruiter who has worked individually with hundreds of job seekers, reviewed thousands of resumes and LinkedIn profiles, and recruited for top venture-backed startups and Fortune 500 companies. He has been advising job seekers since 2012 to think differently in their job search and land high-paying, competitive positions.
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- Behavioral Interviews
Answering Behavioral Interview Questions About Problem Solving Like a Pro
Many candidates prepare for interviews by focusing on highlighting soft skills like leadership, teamwork, and communication. They tend to ignore getting ready for problem-solving interview questions and that could prove to be a huge mistake.
If interviewers ask you about your problem-solving skills, it’s tough to wing it, especially if improv is not your strong suit. You’ll definitely want to be prepared, or you’ll end up mumbling your way through a weak answer. Even worse, you might just say nothing.
In this article, you’ll learn how to properly answer interview questions about problem-solving. Let’s begin!
What Are Problem-Solving Skills?
Before we define problem-solving skills, we’ll first need to remind ourselves what a behavioral interview question is.
Behavioral interview questions are the ones that ask you for specific examples of past work experiences. Studies have shown that the best way for hiring managers to predict future job performance is by understanding past performance.
These behavioral questions typically start with “Tell me about a time…” or “Give me an example of…” Each question focuses on a desired competency area (a few examples: communication skills, time management, creativity).
Read our Behavioral Interview Questions 101 Guide for more.
“ Problem-solving skills” relate to your ability to identify issues, obstacles, and opportunities and then develop and implement effective solutions.”
Clearly, there are many different types of problem-solving — and different fields and types of companies prize different aspects of problem-solving. This is why some candidates stumble when trying to answer this question.
Here are just some of the competency areas that can be considered part of “problem-solving:”
- Initiative — You step up and take action without being asked. You look for opportunities to make a difference.
- Creativity — You are an original thinker and have the ability to go beyond traditional approaches.
- Resourcefulness — You adapt to new/difficult situations and devise ways to overcome obstacles.
- Analytical Thinking — You can use logic and critical thinking to analyze a situation.
- Determination — You are persistent and do not give up easily.
- Results-Oriented — Your focus is on getting to the desired outcome — solving the problem.
As always, it’s important to thoroughly review the job description and try to understand what types of problems you would be solving in the role . This analysis will help you choose the examples from your past that are most likely to wow your interviewer.
Behavioral Questions About Problem Solving
Here are some popular behavioral questions related to the competency of problem-solving:
- Tell me about a situation where you had to solve a difficult problem.
- Describe a situation in which you found a creative way to overcome an obstacle.
- Tell me about a time that you identified a need and went above and beyond the call of duty to get things done.
- Tell me about a time when you came up with a new approach to a problem.
- What’s the most innovative new idea that you have implemented?
- Tell me about two improvements you have made in the last six months.
- What was the best idea you came up with at your last job?
- Describe a time when you anticipated potential problems and developed preventive measures.
- Please describe a time when you faced a significant obstacle to succeeding with an important work project or activity.
- Tell me about a time when you had to analyze information and make a recommendation.
How to Answer Behavioral Questions About Problem Solving
You probably solve many problems in a typical week on the job. If you haven’t prepared in advance, this type of behavioral question can throw you off because it can be hard to pull up a strong example (and all of the relevant details) on the fly.
I highly recommend preparing a few stories about your greatest problem-solving hits. Think of the most impressive challenges that you’ve overcome, the most creative approaches, and the solutions that made the biggest difference for the organization. These can be job-specific problems or higher-level strategic issues.
As always, use the STAR format as a framework for your story. The STAR format will help you focus your thoughts and turn your example into an interesting (non-rambling) and convincing (impressive) story.
Keep in mind that you don’t want to write and memorize a script. With the STAR format, you can simply capture a few bullet points for each of the key aspects of your story (Situation/Task, Approach, and Results). This will allow you to keep your example concise while still hitting all of the key points that make you look good.
Sample Answer — “Tell Me About a Time You Had to Solve a Challenging Problem.”
Here’s an example that shows how the STAR format can be used specifically to detail a problem-solving experience
Give a brief overview of the project or situation. Provide only enough background to give context and help your interviewer understand the difficulty and importance.
Example Situation/Task Bullets
- In my role as Business Development Manager at XYZ Inc., I was responsible for a team of five tasked with organizing all of our client events.
- As you may know, XYZ Inc. is a top provider of enterprise security software.
- Our client events are key to driving revenue. We host conferences and other events that feature expert speakers on key issues in the industry.
- These events help us to attract prospective new clients and also to retain our existing top clients.
- Unfortunately, we noticed that event attendance dropped by almost 15% from 2011 to 2012 and that customer retention also dropped during that time period.
Why We Like Them
This is a nice concise overview of the candidate’s role, what the business problem was, and why it was important to the organization.
Notice that the candidate included a brief description of the company’s business and her team’s area of responsibility. This may not always be necessary, but don’t assume that the hiring manager knows all about your former company if it’s not a household name. I see this a lot with my coaching clients — they don’t provide enough information about the context of the problem and lose the listener.
Tip: Don’t give in to the temptation to pile on the details. You don’t need to fill the interviewer in on all of the different events and locations and agendas and speaker line-ups. You don’t have to share the history of the business development team or the detailed methodology behind tracking attendance. Stick to what’s relevant.
— Once you’ve set up the problem, it’s time to walk through the key actions that you took to address it. What exactly did you do and why?
Example Approach Bullets
- When I sat down to start planning the 2013 event schedule, I knew that it would be critical to get attendance back to at least 2011 levels.
- I sat down with my team members and I also interviewed our top sales representatives. I had some ideas about why attendance had dropped, but I wanted to look at it from all angles. Our sales reps felt like we could do a better job marketing the events through social media.
- We also sent out a questionnaire to past attendees and partners and asked for their input on how we could improve our events. In the feedback, we saw some key themes emerging — our clients had great ideas for new topics and speakers and we also saw a clear desire for more structured networking as part of the events.
- Based on this internal and external feedback, I was able to revamp the event agendas to include additional topics and additional opportunities for networking.
- I then created a whole new marketing plan, including a social media marketing component, to promote the new and improved agendas for 2013. We brought in a social media consultant to help us amp up exposure on both LinkedIn and Twitter.
He gives us a step-by-step breakdown of how he analyzed the problem and how he came up with solutions. He makes it clear that he took initiative to understand the causes of the issue, listened to constructive feedback, made decisions, and took action.
Remember that a good STAR interview story always features a happy ending. The last part of your answer should describe the positive result(s) of the actions that you took. Hard numbers are always especially impressive (increased revenue by 41%, came in 20% under budget or 2 weeks ahead of schedule) , but anecdotal results can also be powerful (My client said I was a hero, my VP gave me a raise based on my stellar performance).
Example Results Bullets
- We saw the impact of our changes right away. We saw a lot of buzz on LinkedIn and Twitter and had a record number of advance registrations for our first big event of 2013.
- For that event, we saw increased attendance of more than 25% over the previous year. We also saw a huge improvement in our event evaluation scores.
- In particular, attendees really enjoyed the new networking component and over 75% said they would be very likely to recommend the event to a colleague.
- Internally, we got lots of great feedback from sales and from senior management. I was actually singled out by the CEO and asked to present an overview of my approach to his senior staff meeting.
This is indeed a happy ending. The candidate covers a couple of different positive outcomes:
- Increasing event attendance by 25%. The candidate exceeded his goal of turning around falling attendance.
- Improving client evaluations of the event. It is particularly impressive that more than 75% said they would recommend the event.
- Impressing the CEO and the senior team.
Tip: It’s nice to have specific metrics around increased attendance and client evaluations, but the anecdotal results are also strong in this example. The CEO’s recognition shows that the project was important and that the results were valued by the company.
If you’d like to learn more about behavioral interview questions, we’ve made an awesome video that contains some super helpful advice. Check it out!
This is only one of the lessons you’ll have access to if you want to join Big Interview .
Also, you’ll be able to spruce up your answers with the Answer Builder. It’s a great tool if you’re looking to answer problem-solving questions like a pro and it’s extremely user-friendly.
Select Behavioral and you’ll be well on your way to crafting amazing answers.
It’s time to name your story. If you’re unsure how there’s a video on the page to help you.
You’ll want to describe your situation next. You could check out some more sample answers and learn how to outline the problem.
After you’ve described your situation, give a detailed account of your approach, and mention the results and the competencies you’ve demonstrated. You’ll then be able to review your answers and improve them until you’re pleased.
Why Interviewers Ask About Problem Solving
Hiring managers ask behavioral questions about problem-solving to get a better understanding of how you work.
Are you a go-getter who proactively looks for ways to contribute? Are you someone who can be counted on to help the team perform better? Will you step up to improve things or sit around waiting for instructions?
The interviewer is likely looking for a general problem-solving orientation to your personality. For many jobs, the hiring manager is also looking for a proven track record in addressing the types of challenges that are common in the role.
For example, a customer service representative should be able to deal with an upset customer. A project manager should be able to handle a deadline change. A senior-level operations person should be able to fix an inefficient process.
Remember that you are probably competing for the job with many other qualified candidates . You probably all look pretty good on paper.
But which of you is most likely to step up and excel — to make the hiring manager look good and make her job easier? I’d always prefer to hire the proven problem solver — often even over someone with more education or experience.
More Tips for Handling Behavioral Questions About Problem Solving
1) select a strong example:.
Choose an example that truly demonstrates your problem-solving skills at their best. Don’t settle for a lame or boring problem — or one that makes you look bad. (“I kept oversleeping and getting to work late, so I decided to buy a better alarm clock.”)
Go with examples that are relevant for the job description. If you are interviewing for a job with a project management component, choose a time when you overcame an obstacle on an important project. If the posting stresses analytic skills, go with that time you used your Excel macro skills to save the day.
Don’t try to skate by with generalities like, “I consider myself a great problem solver. I solve problems every day in my job.” You’re not answering the question. Pick an example to illustrate your point.
Avoid raising red flag s by talking about problems that you caused or negatively contributed to. Remember that you want to be the hero in your interview stories whenever possible (we’ll talk about responding to behavioral questions about negative experiences in a future post).
2) Be Specific About Your Actions
To stand out from the crowd, you need to provide enough detail to give a sense of who you are and how you think. Many of my coaching clients have made the mistake of rushing through their stories and leaving out the most interesting and memorable details. Good stories offer an opportunity to connect with your interviewer. Give them some details that they can relate to.
Of course, you must also keep your story concise. It is easy to wander off into extraneous details if you haven’t prepared your stories in advance. The goal is to find a nice balance between interesting detail and conciseness. The beauty of the STAR format is that it keeps you focused .
Reminder: The STAR format isn’t about scripting and memorizing stories (and it’s certainly not about fiction writing). The example above is more scripted than you want or need. We did it this way to illustrate how the final delivery might sound.
When preparing your own STAR stories, it’s not necessary to write complete sentences with clean transitions. Just jot down the rough bullet points for each section. You want to create a framework that ensures you hit your key points, but your delivery will likely be a little bit different each time.
If you’re a regular reader, you know how we feel about the practice. Over several years of working with thousands of job seekers, I have seen the magic of practicing for the job interview , especially when it comes to answering behavioral questions.
I know that practice interviewing can feel awkward, but please don’t skip this step. It really does make a difference. Academic studies and my own experience consistently show that the candidates who practice land more job offers. Practice makes you more eloquent and more confident and will considerably increase your odds of getting hired.
Need a hand? There are 2 ways we can help you:
1. Learn how to turn more job interviews into job offers here . (Rated with 4.9/5 by 1,000,000 users) 2. Learn how to successfully negotiate a better salary. (Take a sneak peek of one lesson for free here )
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