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26 Good Examples of Problem Solving (Interview Answers)
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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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10 Examples of Problem Solving for Job Candidates
- Early Career
What is one good example of problem-solving that a candidate can reference in a job interview?
It’s common interview advice you’ve likely heard before: provide specific examples of your past accomplishments. Need some help narrowing down just which accomplishment you should share during an interview? Try referencing a time when you provided a solution to a tricky business-oriented problem.
This is sure to impress any interviewer, but don’t take our word for it. Here are 10 recruiters weighing in with examples they’d love to hear when interviewing candidates.
Sold reluctant team members on a new process, rescued the team from a website crash, got creative with a limited, tight budget, discovered & corrected their own mistake, delivered on a time-crunch deadline with limited resources, a comeback from a lagging project to on-time delivery, didn’t let conflict indefinitely stall a project, thought outside of the box for an innovative solution, used a competitor’s mistake as a learning opportunity, sought external partnership to address a budget crunch.
A good example of problem-solving is when a candidate I was interviewing for a position told me about the situation in which he was working with a team, and he wanted to implement a new process, but the whole team was against it. The candidate was able to go around and talk to each person on the team individually, work out their concerns and then present that information in a way that everyone could understand and agree with. This allowed the team to progress on the project, which helped them meet deadlines and ultimately implement the new process.
This is a great example, and especially so with how he described it in an engaging and convincing storytelling fashion. It shows that the candidate can work with people from all different backgrounds and personalities. It also shows that he has the ability to listen, understand, and communicate effectively in order to get a problem solved while working in a team.
Shaun Connell, Connell Media
Discuss an unexpected challenge that you handled without managerial input. For example, maybe the website crashed or some site assets were delayed for a new product launch. How did you come to the rescue for your team and use your problem-solving skills to find a resolution? This shows that you can take initiative and don’t panic at the sight of conflict.
Natália Sadowski, Nourishing Biologicals
One great example of problem-solving a candidate can reference in a job interview is a time they worked through a limited budget. Finding creative solutions to money problems is always a desired characteristic, even outside accounting. It shows a candidate knows how to make use of what they have. Specific examples of resourcefulness will also go a long way in an interview.
Sasha Ramani, MPOWER Financing
Problem-solving requires multiple reasoning stages—from recognizing the problem, analyzing it, looking for a solution, and finding the winning one. Sharing how you fixed your own mistake is probably the best way to include all of those elements. If you talk about your own experience, you can describe how you discovered your error and your step-by-step journey to finding the appropriate solution. This story is double-beneficial. Besides showing your problem-solving skills, it shows that you are an ambitious, independent employee.
Karolina Zajac, PhotoAiD
A job candidate can reference an instance where they resolved a time-management problem. While this is specific to each applicant, it can be a situation where a deadline was crucial and resources were lacking. Describe how you resolved the resource issue to meet the product or service deadline along with the results afterward. Your answer should describe the steps you took to resolve the problem as well as how you came up with the solution to meet the need.
Tanya Klien, Anta Plumbing
The interviewer likes to hear a story that demonstrates you can face obstacles under pressure while working well with others. Speak briefly to a project and what proved challenging. For example, you can talk about a specific social media campaign that required involvement from many different departments. You realized that some of the departments were behind the deadline, so you arranged one-on-one meetings with them. You heard these workers out on how you can help them get the job done on time and scheduled follow-up meetings to check their progress. The project was delivered on time.
Monte Deere, Kizik
A fantastic problem-solving example to use in a job interview is conflict resolution. Tackling disagreements between others whether they include you or not can show off valuable skills that an employer would be interested in. It shows that you are adaptable and have excellent negotiation skills, making yourself that much more attractive as a candidate. Think of any kind of disagreement that could have stalled the progress of work and explain how you went about efficiently addressing everyone’s grievances and how the conflict was ultimately resolved.
Adrien Dissous, Babo Botanicals
Refer to a situation where, thanks to thinking out of the box, you were able to come up with a new, innovative solution never used before. Be specific about the problem in question and explain why solving it mattered. Don’t forget to mention how proud you felt once your idea turned out to be successful. The given example covers a wide range of aspects worth noting by potential employers.
Actually, you indirectly show that you are determined, creative, and willing to improve your work environment. An action-driven approach, not standing still, and willingness to find the “ways out” are precious. Therefore, they should be valued and appreciated in all workplaces as the benefits they may bring are universal.
Agata Szczepanek, Resume Now
You don’t have to be an expert to give a generic problem-solving example. Such as, you might explain your approach to a problem by pointing out a mistake made by a competitor and how you would have handled the situation differently. If the same situation occurs at your new company, mention what you learned from the mistake and how you plan to handle it.
Jon Torres, Jon Torres
To showcase your problem-solving skills, the best example is about saving money for the organization. You can think of a situation where the lack of funds could drop or decrease the company’s profits. You can start by giving the background about how the lack of funds occurred and how you solved the issue. A typical example can be as simple as a department facing a money crunch due to previous delayed payments.
This is an especially difficult time as new projects often need new and costly pieces of equipment. But the lack of funds resulted in you digging up and finding a collaborative partner for an organization that helped complete the work with minimum investments. A situation like this will make the current recruiter aware of your management skills and dedication to saving money, allowing the organization to prosper.
Nathan Hughes, Art Ignition
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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
Problem Solving Skills & Examples
Updated January 11, 2023
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There are many definitions of problem-solving – but at a basic level, it focuses on the ability to accurately assess a situation and arrive at a positive solution.
Solving problems is an analytical skill that many employers look for when reviewing candidate application forms.
This particular skill isn’t restricted to a single sector, industry or role, though employers in the engineering and legal industries, in particular, tend to look for proficiency.
Consequently, questions about your problem-solving ability are commonplace in interviews.
Strong problem-solving skills can be hugely beneficial for your career. In every sector, problems are inevitable and will arise in one form or another as you go about your day-to-day duties.
When problems do occur, employees are expected to use their initiative and develop suitable solutions to avoid the situation escalating into something more serious.
What Kind of Problems Typically Arise in a Professional Context?
There are many situations where problems could present themselves in the workplace, from a client's concern through to assisting a technical team resolve a website or database error.
The issues that you come across will often vary in complexity, with some situations requiring a simple solution and others demanding more thought and skill to overcome.
Business managers will spend a lot of their time solving problems and consequently require their employees to be creative and intuitive when it comes to addressing them.
Being confident in your approach is really important, and as you learn which processes are most effective to overcome obstacles, so your confidence will grow.
Without suitable processes in place, your solutions may fail or they could even create additional problems.
A good problem-solving process involves four fundamental stages: problem definition , devising alternatives , evaluating alternatives and then implementing the most viable solutions .
Managers are looking for recruits who can be creative and intuitive when it comes to addressing business problems.
How to Improve Problem-Solving Skills
There are several ways you can improve problem-solving skills. It helps to approach each problem through a series of logical steps.
First, identify what the problem is. This requires examining a particular situation to determine what specifically is causing the problem.
Rather than looking at a problematic situation as a whole (for example, a customer is upset), try to break it down and determine the cause of the problem (why is the customer upset?).
The Five Whys (or 5 Whys) technique can be helpful here, which essentially involves asking 'why' five times to determine the root of a problem.
There may be several elements causing the problem or one specific element. Either way, breaking a problem down into smaller parts makes it much easier to solve each of the elements or issues contributing to the problem.
Next, come up with a range of potential solutions. Techniques such as problem tree analysis and mind mapping can help to lay out problem elements and potential solutions.
Some of the potential solutions won't be as effective as others, and that's okay. The goal at this stage is to evaluate each potential solution and determine which one is likely to be the most effective at solving the problem. You may require several different solutions to solve different elements of the problem as a whole.
Once you have decided on a solution, follow a step-by-step plan to implement that solution. Just as breaking down a problem into key elements makes it easier to identify solutions, an action plan with various steps makes it easier to implement those solutions.
What Are Problem-Solving Questions?
Questions about problem-solving will typically arise within a competency -based interview and will require you to demonstrate your particular approach.
Questions about problem-solving can be asked in a range of different ways, but some common examples of problem-solving are:
- How do you solve problems?
- Give me an example of a problem you have faced in the past, either as part of a team or as an individual. How did you solve the problem?
- What do you do when you can't solve a problem?
Why Are Employers Interested in Testing Your Problem-Solving Skills?
Effective problem-solving requires a combination of creative thinking and sound analytical skills . Employers look for hires who can demonstrate each of these skills in the workplace to deliver positive outcomes.
Managers would far rather employ a member of staff who can take action to resolve a problem than someone who doesn't act and relies on someone else to think of a solution. Even if it isn't outlined as a requirement in a job description, many employers will still be evaluating your problem-solving ability throughout the application process.
Effective problem solvers are those who can apply logic and imagination to make sense of the situation and develop a solution that works. Even if it doesn't prove as successful as you had hoped, resilience is important, so you can reassess the situation and try an alternative.
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What Form Do Problem-Solving Questions Take?
If problem-solving skills are an integral part of your role, it is likely that you will have to complete some kind of assessment during the application process. There are a number of forms that a problem-solving question can take, but the majority of them will be scenario-based .
Employers may base problem-solving questions around three main areas:
- How you have approached situations in the past
- How you would manage a problem that would arise as part of the job
- How you handle problems throughout the application process
Some employers believe that the way you approached a situation in the past is a good indicator of how you will approach a challenging situation in the future. Therefore the best way to understand how someone would respond to a specific scenario is to ask a question such as 'explain an occasion when…’
As the employer wants to assess your problem-solving skills, they may ask you to outline a situation where something went wrong and what happened. This could be an example of a time when you faced something unexpected, or you were approached by a client about a concern.
Situations Specific to the Job
Managers will often relate one or more questions to the role you are applying for. Sometimes this may take the form of a question about what the applicant would do if they had too much or too little work to complete.
These types of questions usually begin with the recruiter asking how you would deal with a specific situation followed by some kind of challenge. For example, how you would deal with a colleague who was relying on you to do all of the work or falling short of a target.
Questions Throughout the Application Process
Although these aren't questions as such, they may be used by some recruiters to see how you handle unexpected changes. This could be rearranging the time of your interview or sending an email without attaching something important. Both of these - even if they are unintentional - could be used as a way to assess how you approach something that is unforeseen.
How to Answer Problem-Solving Questions
If you know that you are likely to face problem-solving questions in the application process, it’s good practice to research the typical questions and scenarios that candidates are presented with.
This will not only increase your confidence but also help you to refine your answers and provide a stronger response.
In this section we provide three examples of common questions and suitable responses:
You have been asked to schedule in a rush project but you cannot complete the piece of work you need to, since you require information from another colleague who is not currently available. How would you deal with the situation?
You are working on a project and halfway through you realise that you have made a significant mistake that may require you to restart the project to resolve it. How would you approach this so you still met the deadline?
How would you deal with a customer who wasn't happy with your service, even though you haven't done anything wrong and it is the customer who has made the mistake?
Tips, Common Mistakes and Further Practice
When it comes to answering questions about problem-solving skills, we recommend the following;
Select a strong example that truly demonstrates your problem-solving ability in a positive manner.
Choose examples that are relevant to the job you are applying for . If you are applying for a project-based position, give an example of how you resolved a problem with a work or academic project.
Be specific with your responses and use an example with enough detail to show how you approach situations and the way you think. Take the time to come up with possible answers and scenarios before the interview .
Make sure the problem is unique . If you have a problem, simply calling someone else to solve it is not impressive. The best answers will show tailored solutions to tasks that may seem mundane.
Make sure the problem is simple . If you have switched from a legal career to an engineering career and your problem is legal in nature, ensure your problem is easy to understand and explain it to your interviewer without using jargon.
Choose a weak or boring problem , or one that reflects you in a negative way.
Generalise your answers with responses such as ‘you consider yourself to be a great problem solver’ or ‘you regularly solve problems’. You need to demonstrate how you solve problems effectively.
Raise any areas of concern by giving examples of negative situations that were a result of your own actions , even if you solved a problem successfully.
No matter how interesting the story that you have to tell is, don’t spend too much time providing too much detail , because the recruiter will soon get bored. Keep your answer short and to the point.
How to Demonstrate Problem-Solving in Your CV or Cover Letter
During your written application and at interview, employers will expect you to evidence your problem-solving skills. In your written application you should demonstrate them via relevant keywords, statements and achievements. If you solved a problem and it had a positive impact on the business – such as improved customer service standards or resource savings – say so on your CV.
If you are invited to an interview try to use the STAR technique to structure your answers. This technique focuses your responses on a Situation, Task, Action and Result. Following this process will help your answers to be focused, concise and strong.
Where problem-solving is a main element of your role, an employer may incorporate a relevant psychometric test and/or an activity to carefully assess your problem-solving skills.
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How to Nail your next Technical Interview
You may be missing out on a 66.5% salary hike*, nick camilleri, how many years of coding experience do you have, free course on 'sorting algorithms' by omkar deshpande (stanford phd, head of curriculum, ik).
What are problem-solving skills? (Examples included!)
Life in the 21st century is all about efficiency and development. The unending quench of discovering the unknown, materializing one dream after another, has helped push the limits through the sky. But have you ever thought what the key to all of these astronomical successes is?
It is the zeal to solve a problem with the resources available to generate the best possible results.
Here's what this article will cover:
What are problem-solving skills, how do problem-solving skills help or act as your pillars of success, how do employers assess your problem-solving skills.
- Steps to execute problem-solving skills
Skills to hone for an apt solution-finder
Examples of problem-solving techniques.
Dos and Don'ts in interviews
How to improve your problem-solving skills?
How to highlight problem-solving skills.
Problem-solving is hunting; it is a savage pleasure, and we are born to it." –Thomas Harris .
The truth is, problem-solving skills are acquirable for some people while others adapt to it like fish in the water. Working in IT, web development, coding, machine learning, and the likes demand the ability to make decisions at a moment's notice.
So, do you want to back off when the time comes or take it up as a challenge?
Brush up your problem-solving skills or better, enhance them, and make them your forte by reading this article. No technical interview preparation guide is complete without tips to improve such problem-solving skills.
Also read: Why do FAANG companies test for problem-solving skills in their interviews.
Larry and his team suddenly face a major crisis. Not a single developer in his team who is good with String is coming to the office, but there is an urgent client requirement. Larry asks his team if anybody is confident enough to pull it through, and surprisingly, he sees one solitary hand of Jim in the mix. But it is a 4-men job, at least. Realizing that there is no way out other than working with another team(s), he wastes no time. He sends out emails to other teams asking for at least two more developers, counting himself and Jim. 4 more fellow coders came to the rescue and delivered the project before the deadline!
Problem-solving skills enable you to observe the situation and determine the contributing factors of the issue. Identifying the root cause and the ability to take necessary steps with available resources are integral in finessing your problem-solving ability.
All technical interview preparation courses , therefore, cover this crucial aspect.
Employers seek problem-solving skills in their employees. And why not?
Who wouldn't want to have an efficient employee like Larry? The knack of not backing down from a challenge is the perfect catalyst for business expansion.
Problem-solving skills help you attain insight into the source of the problem and figuring out an ideal solution. However, several skills and their correct implementation are essential, which are listed below.
- Patient listener : To identify a problem, you must first be all ears to gain information about the situation.
- Eye for detail : Once you start listening minutely, you now need to identify the data's discrepancies and have an intuitive eye for detail.
- Thorough research : Background research and data verification is bread and butter for efficient problem-solvers.
- Innovative approach : It is not just about getting it done. It's about taking a challenging approach in a mission to maximize results.
- Communication skills: Flawless communication skills are necessary to negate any misunderstanding and ensure conveying the message with clarity. You can indeed consider this as a great time saver!
- Composure : Your ability to remain calm even in a demanding situation will always earn you dividends in the path to success. It is not a quality that you can imbibe easily, but rigorous practice can do the trick for you.
- Decision-making ability : Having a knack for making the right decisions under pressure is a highly sought-after attribute by employers when hiring people. Taking quick decisions in dire straits is the reason why the company is paying you the big bucks.
- Team player : Understanding the strengths and weaknesses of your team is instrumental in maintaining team spirit. Higher the team spirit, the better the performance!
Employers today prioritize hiring people with soft skills like problem-solving abilities to maximize business output even when the going gets tough. Your problem-solving ability is judged based on:
- If you have accomplished any remarkable feat in a taxing situation. This gives an insight into the upper benchmark of your performance.
- Presenting hypothetical problems for the interviewee to solve is another commonly used trick to ascertain your productivity metrics and creative problem-solving techniques in tough conditions.
- Some organizations may even line up some challenging tests and exercises to have a firsthand look at the execution and effectiveness of your technical skills in the approach to problem-solving.
Steps to execute problem-solving skills
"We cannot solve a problem with the same level of thinking that created them." – Albert Einstein
- Analyze contributing factors
James was getting an error code during the execution of specific UI updates. He started analyzing the code and rechecking the repository for any possible mistake. To his delight, his hunch turned out to be accurate. He immediately made the necessary changes, and the updates were successfully executed.
Analysis of contributing factors and its repercussions in the ebb and flow of the task is a preliminary attribute of an able problem-solver. To acquire perfection in analysis and problem-solving skills, you must ensure a thorough:
- Gathering of data
- Diligent study of the collected data
- Scrutiny to filter relevant data
- Historical analysis
- Generate interventions
Working at a software development firm, Donald is perturbed by the lack of advancement in the deep learning project. Lack of idea and innovation is leading to nowhere. He decided that enough is enough. He asked for a group session to brainstorm in the hope of generating some leads. The session was a huge success, and Donald was finally able to catch a breather.
It is not an unknown fact that 'we' is always more productive than 'I' under any circumstance.
Utilizing the versatility of your available resources with the help of various sessions can work miracles. Such sessions can be for:
- Creative thinking
- Planning a project
- Forecasting future trends
- Prediction of possible outcomes
- Designing your project with originality, etc.
- Evaluate solutions
This is more up the alley for managers and team leads. To become adept at evaluating solutions, one must gain prolonged experience in corporate decision-making. The evaluation process needs to consider potential costs, available resources, and possible hurdles of project completion.
Yes, he is a team lead, and therefore, he had the authority to initiate a brainstorming session with multiple teams to bring in new ideas.
The secret to evaluating solutions?
- Identifying change in trends
- Implement a plan
Choosing the right course of action is the preliminary step to solve the problems. The success of the execution is streamlined with the help of quality benchmarks to indicate its effectiveness.
"A problem is a chance for you to do the best!" – Duke Ellington .
Knowing the right people to do it for you is essential for successful implementation. It is also crucial that you are accustomed to your organization's operating procedures before you formulate the best possible strategy.
Skills you need are:
- Project management
- Implementation of project strategy
- Time management
- Developing appropriate quality benchmark
- Assess the solution's effectiveness
An ideal way to detect whether a solution is effective or not is to check if the problem still exists after applying the solution. Benchmarks need to be set as per organizational standards to help them assess the situation and if any further changes are required in the interim.
- Data analysis
- Close follow-ups
"A problem well stated is a problem half solved." –John Dewey
- Research: Problem-solving is not complete without extensive research. It is otherwise impossible to identify the problem without gathering enough data on the errors and their analysis. Consulting with your team gives you an edge to find the solution quicker.
- Analysis: Analysis of the situation is a must. Analytical skills further assist you in identifying the discrepancies and the possible actions which can resolve the issue.
- Decision-making: The ability to make decisions in hours of need defines your mettle. The onus is on you to be proactive and choose the right course of action.
- Communication: Are you great at conversations? If so, communication skills can help you garner much-required assistance for the project. Communication of the issues and how you want the project done are critical for the problem-solving process's smooth flow.
- Dependability: Having dependable members boosts the morale of the team. If you are a problem-solver, taking responsibility and taking it on the chin to solve the issues needs to be your forte.
- Select an example or situation that you can handle without any issue.
- Do not stray off topic and stay on track.
- Do not use jargon in your interview. So, choose your example and words wisely.
- Do not choose a redundant issue.
Sam has come to an interview for a team-lead profile. The recruiter asks a situation-based problem in regards to machine learning software. Though tricky, Sam knew the exact way around for the problem and answered it precisely to the point. The recruiter is delighted and hires Sam for the position.
- Thirst for knowledge : An insatiable thirst for knowledge is the secret door to success in problem-solving skills. If Sam was unaware of the tweaks needed to solve the problem, do you think the manager would have been impressed? No, managers at companies like Google and Facebook are looking for people who can act independently with their available resources. The question is, are you the problem solver who can be a catch to any company?
- An intuition for challenge : You need to be intuitive and have a sharp nose for challenges. The more you take up difficult situations and handle them with panache and ease, the more you can hone your problem-solving skills.
- Practice and more practice: Practice makes a man perfect – truer words have never been said. Effective problem solving is achieved not by slacking off but by acquainting yourself with various situations and applying your skills to resolve them. Remember, experience can never be substituted, and you have to take the long route to success!
- Keen and observant eyes : Do you have an eye for detail, and are you quick to point out discrepancies in data analysis? If yes, you are already one step towards becoming a valued problem solver in your company. Also, if you are a person who observes closely what is being done and why others do it, it helps develop your decision-making skills in future. Don't forget to mention this in your resume.
Tom has been applying frantically for a job since he moved to Arizona but seemed unable to find just the right one. When he sees his attempts are futile, he decides to add some of his previous company's achievements, thinking it might help. Oh, boy, did it help! Tom writes about when he was asked to handle a team of 12 single-handedly while his manager suddenly went on a sabbatical. Tom had no prior experience of leading a team but appeared to come out of this fix with flying colors.
Megan is currently looking for a step up in her career. She carefully drafts a cover letter that entails her achievements with clarity. The cover letter explained her contributions in reviving team spirit in the office after her predecessor, with his poor man-management, had successfully built a wall of distrust among the employees.
- Problem-solving skills for resume : You can convey your achievements or even your hobbies to the person sitting in front of you, or not, depending on his/her nature. But you cannot afford to miss the chance to showcase your best achievement. It is in your best interest to build your CV around the achievements to give it maximum traction and attention. Mention the problem you faced and jot down the course of action you took to nullify the situation. Nobody can stop you if this is done right!
- Problem-solving skills for cover letter : Use it as an opportunity to let the company delve into your success story so far and the factors leading to it. If you have done your research on the organization you're applying for, it will not hurt your chances of identifying some challenges of the company and suggesting some solutions. It goes down a long way if you indeed join forces!
If you are adequately seasoned with problem-solving skills with dedication and practice, you're already almost there. Proper interview preparation tips can further help you in this regard.
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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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Problem-Solving Interview Questions & Answers
A job interview is a great moment for interviewers to evaluate how candidates approach challenging work situations . They do this by asking problem-solving questions. These types of questions are commonly asked during interviews since problem-solving skills are essential in most jobs. In any workplace, there are challenges, and when hiring new personnel, hiring managers look for candidates who are equipped to deal with this.
Problem-solving questions are so-called behavioral interview questions . Behavioral interview questions are strategic type of questions that require you to provide an answer that includes an example situation that you experienced in your career. These questions focus on specific work situations that you experienced and how you responded.
A basic example of a behavior question about problem-solving is ‘ tell me about a time you solved a problem at work .’ As you can see, the interviewer is looking for you to explain a situation and how you approach it, and how you solved it. Furthermore, the interviewer is interested in what you learned from that experience. Answering behavioral questions requires some work because you need to provide the interviewer with a strong answer to convince them that you’re the right person for the job.
The rationale behind asking problem-solving questions is to discover how you approach complex and challenging situations and if you can provide an effective solution. Interview questions about your past behavior might sound challenging, but they are actually a great opportunity for you to show that you’re a fit for the position. With the right preparation, you can use your answers to problem-solving questions to your advantage.
What Are Problem-solving Interview Questions?
Basically, problem-solving skills relate to your ability to identify problems, issues, obstacles, challenges, and opportunities and then come up with and implement effective and efficient solutions. However, this is a broad definition of problem-solving abilities. Depending on the position and field you’re applying for a position in the interviewer can focus on different aspects of problem-solving.
Examples of problem-solving competencies are:
Taking initiative means that you step up to the plate when needed and that you take action without being asked to do so. People who take the initiative demonstrate that they can think for themselves and take action whenever necessary. Furthermore, you actively look for opportunities to make a difference in the workplace.
Creative thinking means that you’re able to look at something in a new way to find a solution. People who are creative have the ability to come up with new ways to carry out their tasks, solve problems, and meet challenges. Creative people are original thinkers and are able to bring unorthodox perspectives to their work.
Resourcefulness is the ability to find quick and clever ways to overcome challenges in your work. Furthermore, people who are resourceful are original in their ways of thinking to overcome challenges.
Analytical thinking skills
These skills refer to the ability to gather data, break down a complex problem, weigh pros and cons, and make logical decisions. People who possess analytical thinking skills help the company overcome challenges and are able to spot potential issues before they become actual problems.
Determination can be described as the firmness of purpose or resoluteness. Specifically, people who are determined are persistent and do not give up easily or when they have a setback. Determination gives these people the motivation to push through and keep moving forward.
People who are result-oriented have their full focus on getting to the desired outcome.
Problem-solving behavioral interview questions
As discussed in the introduction, problem-solving questions fall into the behavioral category of interview questions . These questions ask you to provide specific examples of past work experiences. For interviewers, understanding your past professional performance is the best way to gauge your future job performance.
Behavioral questions are focused on the desired skills or competency area, such as in this case, problem-solving. Other common competency areas for which behavioral questions are used are teamwork , communication , time management , creative thinking skills , leadership , adaptability , conflict resolution , etc.
Behavioral job interview questions usually start with the following:
- Give me an example of
- Tell me about a time when you
- What do you do when
- Describe a situation where
Examples of problem-solving behavioral interview questions:
- Give me an example of a time you had to solve a difficult problem at work.
- Tell me about a time when you identified and fixed a problem before it became urgent.
- What was the best idea you came up with at your last position?
- Describe a situation where you find a creative way to overcome an obstacle.
As you can see, the questions mentioned above require you to discuss your past behavior in a professional work environment. The reason for asking behavioral job interview questions instead of just asking traditional ones is that the most accurate predictor of future performance is your past performance in similar situations .
The interviewer wants to discuss previous work situations and wants you to elaborate on them to get to know you better. Solid interview preparation will help you give the answers that the interviewer is looking for. This starts with doing your research and thoroughly reviewing the job description . Doing so can help you understand what type of problem-solving skills are required to successfully perform the job you’re interviewing for.
By preparing example scenarios to questions you expect based on your research , you can give exactly the information that he or she is looking for. In other words, you need to relate your answers to the job requirements and company culture of the organization where you’re applying for a position.
To answer behavioral questions about your problem-solving skills, you need to ensure that you provide the interviewer with specific details about the situation you were in, your task in that situation, the action you took, and the specific results that came out of those actions. In short, this is called the STAR-method of providing an answer. The STAR method is discussed in more detail later on in this article.
Why Interviewers Ask Problem-solving Interview Questions
Problem-solving skills are required in most job positions. This means that a lot of hiring managers will try to assess your problem-solving skills during your interview. The main reason for asking you about situations in which you used your problem-solving skills is to get an understanding of how you work.
The interviewers want to get questions answered, such as:
- Are you results-oriented, and are you proactively involved in your work?
- Do you look for different ways to contribute?
- Are you an individual that others can count on to increase team performance?
- Are you a self-starter, or do you need someone to give you instructions?
Most likely, the interviewers look for a self-starting person with general problem-solving skills that can be used in different situations. A proven track record of solving problems such as those required in the position you’re interviewing for will definitely help convince the interviewer. Therefore, make sure you prepare answers to questions you expect in advance.
For example, someone who works as a customer service representative should be able to deal with a frustrated or angry customer . They need to be able to solve these problems and know how to handle such situations. Other examples of positions where problem-solving skills are essential are, for instance, accounts or project managers. They need to be flexible in their approaches and should be able to handle a change in deadlines. Another example is, for instance, a logistic manager who should be able to fix an inefficient logistics process.
The Interviewers’ Goal When Assessing Your Problem-solving Skills
There are several underlying reasons why interviewers use behavioral questions to assess your problem-solving skills. The main one, of course, is that they want to hire a person who’s able to perform the job.
Instead of hiring the person that they ‘like’ they need something better to figure out which candidate is the right fit for the job. By analyzing your behavior in past situations that are similar to the ones that are required in the role that you’re applying for, they try to do just that. Below we discuss a couple of important elements employers consider when making a hiring decision.
Costs of making a bad hiring decision
Employers want to make sure that they hire the right person for the job. For a company, making a bad hiring decision is not only about losing money, but it can also lead to a decrease in productivity and morale. Hiring a bad candidate could lead to leaving a bad impression on customers/clients, but also with coworkers.
Furthermore, time will be lost if the company needs to search for another candidate after a bad hire. Therefore, employers do everything to avoid such situations. Behavioral questions are regarded as a preventative way to make sure that the right person with the right fit for the company is hired .
Specific details of your behavior
By asking behavioral questions about your problem-solving skills, the interviewers try to uncover specific details of your behavior. They want to find out if you are able to clearly identify a problem and if you are able to come up with an efficient and effective solution when needed.
Of course, they got your resume already and maybe even a motivational letter or letter of recommendation . Still, the interviewer can only assess your hard skills and educational levels based on these documents.
Essential soft skills , such as problem-solving, are easier to assess during job interviews with the help of behavioral interview questions. Therefore, include real-life work scenarios in your answers that demonstrate how you have used the skills required for the position that you’re interviewing for. The interviewer wants to assess if you possess the skills required to perform the day-to-day tasks and deal with challenges that you will encounter in the workplace.
Your (past) behavior as a predictor of your future job performance
Questions about your problem-solving skills and the answers you give are used to determine the chances of your future success in the job that you’re interviewing for.
Specific behavioral problem-solving questions such as ‘ tell me about a time you had to solve a problem at work. What steps did you take before deciding on how to solve the problem, and why? ‘ give the interviewer more insight into your professional behavior and in turn, your future job performance .
Another way to assess your behavior is by asking hypothetical questions. If you, for instance, do not have certain experience yet, the interviewer could ask you a question along the lines of ‘ What would you do if you were caught off-guard by a problem that you had not foreseen? Which steps would you take to address the problem? ‘. As you can see, this question is hypothetical in nature. The interviewer wants to hear which steps you would take to address a possible complexity in your work. Based on your answer, the interviewer will assess if your approach is suitable for the position for which you’re interviewing.
It’s therefore important that you prepare for frequently asked interview questions that you can expect during your interview. By preparing the right example answers on how you have solved problems in your previous jobs and how you would solve problems in the job you’re applying for, you can provide a concise answer without missing important details.
Avoid making a wrong hiring decision
Questions that gauge your professional behavior help employers assess your future job performance. In other words, this helps them make a better hiring decision. A perfect resume or cover letter is not enough to impress seasoned interviewers.
By asking behavioral problem-solving questions, the interviewer tries to uncover your previous work patterns. The information in your answers gives them more insight into your approach to critical situations and if this approach matches the ones required for the position you’re applying for.
By preparing the right way, you can make sure that your example answer situations include aspects of the most important job requirements. Of course, the interviewer is looking for candidates that fit the job description , so make sure that your answers relate to the job requirements.
What Interviewers Look for in Successful Candidates
In short, interviewers look for candidates who have the right work approach to succeed within their company and in that particular position. This is also why we can’t emphasize the importance of being able to demonstrate your skills through solid example scenarios enough .
The right preparation will help you get there. Your goal is to demonstrate that you are capable of taking on the day-to-day tasks required for the position and have the potential to grow . For example, if you are able to work in and deal with transitions in fast-paced environments such as financial markets . And can you handle the complex situations that you will encounter? Are you able to deal with such transitions effectively? In this case, you need to show adaptability and problem-solving skills through example scenarios of how you did so in the past.
Problem-solving behavioral questions are used to get insights into how you approach problems at work, if you take the initiative, and if you possess the right creative and critical thinking skills . Basically, the interviewers want to get the following questions answered:
- Do you take the initiative?
- Can you communicate effectively?
- Are you able to adequately respond to problems or issues that occur during your work?
- Can you perform in stressful and unexpected situations?
- Are you able to adjust to changing work environments?
- Can you assist your coworkers or team when needed?
- Are you flexible in your approaches to situations at work?
Red Flags for Interviewers Assessing Your Problem-solving Skills
When answering questions about your problem-solving skills, there are certain things you need to look out for. Below we discuss a couple of warning signs that interviewers consider when you answer their questions. Ensure that you avoid these at all costs to avoid making the wrong impression.
1. Not answering the question or not providing enough detail
If you answer a question with ‘I can’t recall a situation where I encountered such a problem ,’ this is considered a red flag. This could mean that you did not prepare well and that you’re not taking the interview seriously. Furthermore, the interviewer could interpret such an answer as you may avoid dealing with challenging situations.
If you cannot provide specific details or examples about what you claim in your resume or cover letter, this can be considered a red flag too. If you, for instance, claim that you have successfully solved problems and used critical thinking skills in your work, you need to make sure you’re able to back this up through clear examples of times you did so. Failing to do so could lead to a quick elimination of your candidacy for the position. If the interviewer has trouble verifying your employment history, this is considered a warning sign.
2. Canned responses to questions
Preparing answers is key to success for any interview. However, this means preparing original, effective, and relevant answers that are related to the position you’re interviewing for.
Generic answers to behavioral problem-solving questions such as ‘ tell me about a time you had to solve an issue with a customer ‘ are considered warning signs. An example of a generic answer to that particular question is ‘t his one time I had to deal with an angry customer who had complaints about the pricing of a product. I calmed her down and made the sale ‘. As you can see, this answer does not provide much insight into your problem solving skills, thought process, and how you approach the situation.
If you give a generic answer, you can expect more follow-up questions from the interviewer. However, it’s better to prepare strong answers to impress the interviewer that you actually possess the required skills for the job.
3. Answers that focus on problems, not solutions
The reason for asking specific behavioral-problem solving questions is to assess how you approach and solve problems. It’s, therefore, important that your answers focus on the solution, not the problem . Of course, it’s important that you are able to spot and identify problems, but finding a solution is essential. If your answers focus on problems too much, you can come across as too negative for the job.
Negativity, in any form, in your answers, is considered a red flag. This can be talking negatively about a problem you had to solve but also talking inappropriately about previous employers or co-workers. Negative undertones never impress interviewers the right way. Therefore, focus on how you solve problems and put yourself in the best light possible.
4. Too stressed or uncomfortable during an interview
Interviewers know that almost everybody is slightly uncomfortable when put on the spot during a job interview. However, when you’re too stressed to provide a good answer, this can be viewed as an indicator that you do not handle stressful situations well. Of course, remaining calm under pressure while still being able to solve problems is essential for positions in which problem-solving skills are required.
5. Failing to respond effectively
Failing to respond effectively to interview questions comes across weak. It’s therefore important that you prepare for your interview by thoroughly analyzing the job description and try to understand what kind of problems you will be solving in the position that you applied for. This research will help you choose the right examples from your past that are most likely to impress the interviewer.
Therefore, research the job and organization and make notes of the required skills and experiences you think the company values. This allows you to tailor your answers to your situation.
Also, think about possible follow-up questions the interviewer might ask you. Because you already know what examples you will use in your answers to questions you expect , if you prepare the right way, you can figure out which follow-up questions are likely to be asked. For instance, if you’re preparing for the interview question, ‘ tell me about a time you solved a problem at work ,’ you can expect the interviewer to follow up with, ‘ what steps did you take to solve the situation?’.
6. Not taking responsibility or minimizing the significance of a problem
When a problem is identified but not addressed, this could quickly escalate into a bigger problem. Employees who do not take responsibility or those who leave things for later might not be result-oriented and engaged in their work.
Another way of taking responsibility is to show self-awareness. It’s common for interviewers to ask you about a time that you failed, especially in situations where you needed to solve problems. They are interested in what went wrong in a work situation, if you took responsibility for your actions, and what you learned from that situation. Not taking responsibility for, for instance, a project that may have failed , is considered a warning sign.
Self-awareness and being to reflect on situations is an important characteristic to possess in the workplace. Interviewers want to hire candidates that can admit errors or who made thoughtful mistakes trying to solve problems in the past and tried to fix them. Employers know that candidates are human and make mistakes, just like everybody else. It’s important that your answers show that you take responsibility for situations and describe the actions you took to repair any problems or challenges.
Frequently Asked Problem-solving Interview Questions
Below you can find commonly asked behavioral problem-solving questions . These questions are divided into regular questions and hypothetical questions. Learn everything you need to know about common interview questions that are frequently asked during job interviews .
Problem-solving interview questions:
- Tell me about a time you faced an unexpected challenge at work and how you dealt with it.
- Describe a time a customer approached you with a problem or concern. How did you respond?
- Tell me about a time you had to change your planned course of action at the last moment. How did you re-evaluate your priorities?
- What was the best idea you came in in your last position?
- Tell me about a time you had to solve a difficult problem.
- What’s the most significant improvement that you have made in the last year?
- Tell me about the most innovative new idea that you have implemented in the workplace.
- Have you ever improved the workflow of a project based on your analysis? How did you do this?
- Describe a situation in which you anticipated a potential problem and applied preventive measures.
- Tell me about a time you faced a significant obstacle you had to overcome to succeed in a project.
- When you’re working on several projects, it’s tricky to deliver excellent service to all of them. How do you go about prioritizing the needs of a client?
- Describe a situation in which you had to analyze information and make a recommendation.
- What do you consider your greatest achievement in the workplace? Why?
- Describe a situation in which you needed to motivate others to get something done.
Hypothetical problem-solving interview questions:
- How would you approach a situation in which you had to analyze information to make a recommendation to a client?
- Tell me how you would handle a situation in which you have a deadline you cannot meet.
- How would you handle a conflict with a co-worker?
- A frustrated client calls you to discuss a problem. How do you deal with such a situation?
- How would you handle a situation in which you would need to convince someone to change their decision?
Preparing Answers to Problem-solving Interview Questions
There are several steps that you can take to prepare for problem-solving questions. Here you can find a job interview checklist . To get started, you can consider the following steps.
Step 1: Research
Before your interview, it’s important that you thoroughly research the position and company. Read the job description carefully to find specific skills that a candidate needs to possess to successfully perform the job. Think of skills such as adaptability , communication , and problem-solving. Also, read the company website to get more information about their mission statement and who their main clients are. Furthermore, check their LinkedIn pages and other content/news related to the company.
Your research will help you identify the required skills, qualities, and experience for the position. In turn, you can use this information to make an educated guess about what kind of interview questions you can expect .
Step 2: Write down the required skills, competencies, and experience
Behavioral questions such as those about problem-solving skills are a great opportunity for you to show why you’re the perfect candidate for the job. Based on the skills and competencies that you have identified during your research, you can start preparing answers. Rank the skills on importance in relation to the requirements for the position.
Step 3: Create a list of past work experiences related to the position’s requirements
Everybody knows that it’s hard to come up with strong answers when you’re put on the spot during an interview. Therefore, come up with strong examples to questions you expect ahead of your interview.
Create a list of past work experiences and tailor them to the required skills and competencies for the job—highlight successful situations where you demonstrated behavior related to these required skills and competencies . Focus on delivering a concise and to-the-point answer.
Step 4: Prepare successful and challenging answer examples
Effective problem-solving skills are essential in the workplace. Therefore, your answers must demonstrate that you have successfully identified problems, proposed solutions, evaluated several options, and finally implemented a solution. However, it’s also likely that the interviewer will ask you about a time you have failed to solve a problem . Interviewers ask you about failures to assess whether or not you learn from your mistakes and if you’re self-aware enough to acknowledge times you failed. Also, it helps them identify if you take calculated and smart risks.
Step 5: Use the STAR method to structure your answers
The STAR method allows you to concisely provide the interviewer an answer by logically walking them through the situation. STAR is an acronym that stands for a situation ( S ), your task ( T ) in that situation, the actions ( A ) you took, and what results ( R ) you got based on your actions. These are the basic steps you take in your walkthrough.
Below we discuss the STAR interview technique in more detail.
STAR Interview Technique For Problem-Solving Interview Questions & Answers
By using the STAR method, you can give an answer that includes exactly what the interviewer is looking for. Below, the STAR acronym is broken down into each step.
Start your answer by explaining the situation that you faced. The start of your answer ‘story’ should answer questions such as:
- What was the situation/problem?
- Who was involved?
- Why did the situation happen at that time?
It’s important to provide context around what problem needed to be solved. Furthermore, make sure to provide relevant details.
Next, explain your specific role in the task ahead. Include important details, such as specific responsibilities. Focus on giving the interviewer an understanding of your task in solving the problem. This part of your answer should answer questions such as:
- Why were you involved in that specific situation?
- What’s the background story?
After you describe your task, it’s time to specifically discuss the actions you took to solve the problem. Give the interviewer a step-by-step description of the actions you took. This part of your answer should answer questions such as:
- What steps did you take to resolve the situation you were in?
- Why did you choose to complete your tasks this way?
Finish your answer by discussing the results you got from your actions. Detail the outcomes of your actions and ensure to highlight your strengths . Also, make sure to take credit for your behavior that led to the result. Focus on positive results and positive learning experiences. This part of your answer ‘story’ should answer questions such as:
- What exactly happened?
- What did you accomplish?
- How did you feel about the results you got?
- What did you learn from the situation?
- How did this particular situation influence who you are as a professional today?
Sample Answers to Problem-solving Questions
Below you will find some example questions. The examples are already written in STAR format so that you can clearly see how you can structure your answers. However, these are ‘general’ examples. Do not forget to structure your own answers in a way that includes enough detail to convince the interviewer that you’re the right person for the job!
Problem-Solving Example 1: ‘ Tell me about a time you had to resolve a disagreement with a coworker.’
‘Personally, I believe that communication is essential in such a situation to find a way that works for both of us. Finding a compromise is the main goal to get the work done to the best of our ability.
Task & Action
In my current position as a financial consultant, I encountered such a situation recently. A colleague disagreed with the way I wanted to handle an issue that we encountered along the way. To address this issue, I scheduled a meeting with him to discuss the situation. I asked him about his points of view and how he thought we should go about the project.
Even though we had differences in the way we felt like how the project should be approached, we quickly came to the conclusion that our goal was the same; providing our client with a high-quality final product within the set deadline.
We talked about the project and the specific aspect about which we had a difference. I explained my point of view and that I had already encountered a similar issue in the past. Ultimately, my colleague agreed to tackle the issue using my proposed method. His insights gave me a good suggestion which we incorporated into the project. After that, we successfully worked together and finalized the project in time and according to the quality level that we both were proud of.’
Why this is a strong answer:
- The provided example is concise and relevant to the workplace where problem-solving skills are important
- This answer shows important skills such as being proactive, problem-solving, persuasion, and adaptability .
- The answer shows that you’re a team player as well and that you listen to the input of others for the better of a project’s result.
Note : There’s always a chance that interviewers ask you follow-up questions about how you convinced your colleague. Make sure that you are able to answer those questions as well.
Problem-Solving Example 2: ‘ Tell me about a time you had to solve a challenging problem at work .’
‘In my position as a business development manager at ABC Software, I’m responsible for organizing all client events and conferences. ABC Software is a major player in the IT market, and during our events, we invite industry experts to speak on market developments. These events are used to attract new clients but also to maintain our relationship with our existing ones.
Over the last two years, we analyzed our attendee data and found that our event attendance dropped by almost 10%. Furthermore, we discovered that the retention rate of our clients also decreased. When we had to plan the next event, my team and I knew that we had to get our attendance levels back up in order for the events to stay successful. The goal was to get our networking event popular and recurring again.
I had an idea why the attendance levels dropped but to get more information, I interviewed several sales consultants as well. The main feedback was that we should focus more on attracting new clients through social media channels. I communicated this with our marketing team, and we decided to also reach out to our client base and ask them what they would like to see on our future events. This led to interesting new insights on topics and speakers that we could invite, plus we also received input on how to improve networking possibilities during our events. Based on our research and feedback, I created a new plan of action to market our events through our social media channels to increase exposure.
After launching our marketing campaign, we immediately gained online traction, leading to an increase in advance registrations. For that specific event, we saw a total increase in attendance of 20% in comparison to the previous year. An online survey showed that the attendees were happy with how the way the new event was structured, and 80% of respondents said that it would be likely that they would recommend our events within their network.
My approach to increasing attendance at our events did not go unnoticed. I was asked by my department director to make a presentation about how I tackled this problem and present this to the board.’
- This example shows that you can identify issues and understand your responsibility to address them.
- The provided example is related but also relevant to the workplace. It’s also concise, which is perfect.
- This answer shows important skills, such as being proactive, teamwork , adaptability , problem-solving skills, and creativity .
- Taking responsibility to find out why the event attendance dropped and subsequently taking action turned out successful gives more weight to the situation.
Problem Solving Example 3: ‘Describe a time a customer approached you with a problem or concern. How did you respond?’
‘In one instance, a customer came to me with an issue. She had recently purchased a product from our store, which broke shortly after she got it home. She was understandably upset and wanted to know what could be done.
In response, I apologized for any inconvenience and asked her to explain what had happened. After hearing her story, I promised to help her as much as possible. Next, I checked the item’s warranty status in our system.
I was able to offer her a replacement or a refund since the product was still under warranty , and I helped her find an identical item in our store and processed the exchange for her. The customer decided she wanted a replacement, so I explained our return policy to her in case this ever happened again in the future.
My customer thanked me for my help and seemed more satisfied at the end of the transaction; I was glad I was able to turn a potentially negative experience into a positive one.’
- This example shows that you understand what great customer service is.
- The provided example is concise and to the point; it describes a situation and the actions you took to resolve it.
- This answer shows essential skills, such as being proactive, customer service, and problem-solving skills.
Job Interview Topics
- Ask the Interviewer (Questions)
- Career Change
- Career Goals
- Conflict Resolution
- Creative Thinking
- Critical Thinking
- Cultural Fit
- Customer Service
- Graduate / Entry Level
- Growth Potential
- Honesty & Integrity
- Job Satisfaction
- Negotiation Skills
- No Experience / Entry-Level
- Performance Based
- Prioritization & Time Management
- Salary & Benefits
- Situational & Scenario-Based
- Stress Management
- Phone Interview
- Tough Questions
- Uncomfortable Questions
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Problem solving: the mark of an independent employee
Problem-solving abilities are essential in virtually any graduate role you can think of. Discover how to develop your problem-solving skills and demonstrate them to eagle-eyed recruiters.
Interviewers will be interested to discover how you'd approach problems that could arise in the workplace.
Problem solving is all about using logic, as well as imagination, to make sense of a situation and come up with an intelligent solution. In fact, the best problem solvers actively anticipate potential future problems and act to prevent them or to mitigate their effects.
Problem-solving abilities are connected to a number of other skills, including:
- analytical skills
- innovative and creative thinking
- a lateral mindset
- adaptability and flexibility
- resilience (in order to reassess when your first idea doesn’t work)
- teamworking (if problem solving is a team effort)
- influencing skills (to get colleagues, clients and bosses to adopt your solutions).
Identifying a problem is often the kernel for a new business or product idea – and, as such, problem solving is an essential ingredient of entrepreneurialism . It is also a key component of good leadership .
Short on time? Watch our one-minute guide to problem solving
- how to answer problem-solving interview questions
- how to think of examples of your problem-solving skills
- a problem-solving technique you can use in any work or life situation.
Our targetjobs careers expert gives you a quick guide to showing off your problem-solving skills in a job interview.
Why all graduates require problem-solving skills in the workplace
Some graduate careers revolve around finding solutions – for example, engineering , management consulting , scientific research and technology . Graduates in other careers, meanwhile, will be expected to solve problems that crop up in the course of their jobs: for example, trainee managers should deal with operational problems (such as delays in the supply chain) or resolve conflict between team members.
In fact, the ability to solve problems is an essential part of any employee’s skill set, even if it isn’t specified on the job description.
Get the insights and skills you need to shape your career journey with Pathways. Learn and practise a selection of simple yet effective reasoning strategies to take your problem solving to the next level.
How will employers assess your problem-solving skills?
Your problem-solving abilities can be assessed in three ways: by asking for examples of times when you previously solved a problem; by presenting you with certain hypothetical situations and asking how you would respond to them; and by seeing how you apply your problem-solving skills to different tests and exercises.
Competency-based application and interview questions about problem solving
You may be asked for an example of when you solved a problem on an application form – for instance, an engineering firm’s application form has previously included the question ‘Please tell us about a time when you have used your technical skills and knowledge to solve a problem’. But these questions are more likely at interview. Typical problem-solving competency-based questions include:
- Give me an example of a time when you ran into a problem on a project. What did you do?
- Give me an example of a difficult problem you had to solve outside of your course. How did you approach it?
- Tell me about a time you worked through a problem as a team.
- Have you ever had a disagreement with a team member? How was it resolved?
- Give me an example of a time when you spotted a potential problem and took steps to stop it becoming one.
- Give me an example of a time when you handled a major crisis.
- Give me an example of your lateral thinking.
Hypothetical interview questions about problem solving
Interviewers will also be interested to know how you would approach problems that could arise when you are in the workplace. The precise interview questions will vary according to the job, but common ones include:
- How would you deal with conflict in the workplace? (This is especially likely to be asked of trainee managers and graduate HR professionals.)
- What would you do if there is an unexpected delay to one of your projects because of supply chain issues? (This is particularly likely to be asked in construction, logistics or retail interviews).
- What would you do if a client or customer raised a complaint?
- What would you do if you noticed that a colleague was struggling with their work?
- How would you react if given negative feedback by a manager on an aspect of your performance?
- How would you judge whether you should use your own initiative on a task or ask for help?
Problem-solving exercises and tests for graduate jobs
Different tests that employers could set to gauge your problem-solving skills include:
- Online aptitude, psychometric and ability tests . These are normally taken as part of the application stage, although they may be repeated at an assessment centre. The tests that are most likely to assess your problem-solving skills are situational judgement tests and any that assess your reasoning, such as inductive reasoning or diagrammatic reasoning tests.
- Video ‘immersive experiences’ , game-based recruitment exercises or virtual reality assessments. Not all of these methods are widely used yet but they are becoming more common. They are usually the recruitment stage before a face-to-face interview or assessment centre.
- Case study exercises. These are common assessment centre tasks. You’d be set a business problem, typically related to the sector in which you’d be working, and asked to make recommendations for solving it, either individually or in groups. You’ll also usually be asked to outline your recommendations in either a presentation or in written form , a task that assesses your ability to explain your problem-solving approach.
- In-tray (or e-tray) exercises. These always used to be set at an assessment centre but nowadays can also be part of the online testing stage. In-tray exercises primarily test your time management skills, but also assess your ability to identify a potential problem and take actions to solve it.
- Job-specific or task-specific exercises, given at an assessment centre or at an interview. If set, these will be related to the role you are applying for and will either require you to devise a solution to a problem or to spot errors. Civil and structural engineering candidates , for example, will often be required to sketch a design in answer to a client’s brief and answer questions on it, while candidates for editorial roles may be asked to proofread copy or spot errors in page proofs (fully designed pages about to be published).
How to develop and demonstrate your problem-solving skills
Here are some tips on how to develop the problem-solving techniques employers look for.
Seek out opportunities to gain problem-solving examples
Dealing with any of the following situations will help you gain problem-solving skills, perhaps without even realising it:
- Sorting out a technical problem with your phone, device or computer.
- Resolving a dispute with a tricky landlord in order to get your deposit back.
- Carrying out DIY.
- Serving a demanding customer or resolving a complaint.
- Finding a way round a funding shortfall in order to pay for travel or a gap year.
- Turning around the finances or increasing the membership of a struggling student society.
- Organising a student society’s trip overseas, overcoming unforeseen difficulties on the way.
- Acting as a course rep or as a mentor for other students.
There should also be opportunities for you to develop problem-solving skills through your studies. Many assignments in subjects such as engineering and computer science are explicitly based around solving a problem in a way that, for example, essay topics in English literature aren’t. But, then, English literature students may also encounter academic problems, such as difficulties in tracking down the best source material.
Some professional bodies (for example, those in construction) run competitions for students, which often ask students to suggest solutions for problems facing the industry; entering these can provide good evidence of your problem-solving skills.
Games such as Sudoku and chess can also strengthen your ability to think strategically and creatively.
Practise recruitment exercises beforehand
Any candidate, no matter how high-flying, may be thrown by undertaking an online test or attending an assessment centre for the first time, so do everything you can to practise beforehand. Access our links to free and paid-for practice tests. Contact your careers service and book in for a mock-interview or mock-assessment centre.
Keep in mind this problem-solving technique
If you’re provided with a scenario or a case study during the graduate recruitment process, you could try using the IDEAL model, described by Bransford and Stein in their book Ideal Problem Solver . It breaks down what you need to do to solve a problem into stages:
- Identify the issue
- Define the obstacles
- Examine your options
- Act on an agreed course of action
- Look at how it turns out, and whether any changes need to be made.
Give detail in your answers
You will need to explain how you identified the problem, came up with a solution and implemented it. Quantifiable results are good, and obviously the more complex the situation, the more impressive a successful result is. Follow the STAR technique outlined in our article on competency-based interview questions .
If you tackled a problem as part of a team, explain how your role was important in ensuring the positive solution, but also explain how your group worked together. This could be an opportunity to promote your teamworking skills as well.
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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.
Are you a candidate?
Why you should ask candidates problem-solving interview questions
Employees will face challenges in their job. Before you decide on your next hire, use your interview process to evaluate how candidates approach difficult situations .
Problem-solving interview questions show how candidates:
- Approach complex issues
- Analyze data to understand the root of the problem
- Perform under stressful and unexpected situations
- React when their beliefs are challenged
Identify candidates who are results-oriented with interview questions that assess problem-solving skills. Look for analytical and spherical thinkers with the potential for technical problem solving. Potential hires who recognize a problem, or predict one could potentially occur, will stand out. Candidates should also demonstrate how they would fix the issue, and prevent it from occurring again.
These sample problem-solving interview questions apply to all positions, regardless of industry or seniority level. You can use the following questions to gauge your candidates’ way of thinking in difficult situations:
Examples of problem-solving interview questions
- Describe a time you had to solve a problem without managerial input. How did you do it and what was the result?
- Give an example of a time you identified and fixed a problem before it became urgent.
- Tell me about a time you predicted a problem with a stakeholder. How did you prevent it from escalating?
- Describe a situation where you faced serious challenges in doing your job efficiently. What were the challenges, and how did you overcome them?
- Recall a time you successfully used crisis-management skills.
- A new project you’re overseeing has great revenue potential, but could put the company in legal hot water. How would you handle this?
- How do you know when to solve a problem on your own or to ask for help?
Tips to assess problem-solving skills in interviews
- During your interviews, use hypothetical scenarios that are likely to occur on the job. It’s best to avoid unrealistic problems that aren’t relevant to your company.
- Examine how candidates approach a problem step-by-step: from identifying and analyzing the issue to comparing alternatives and choosing the most effective solution.
- Pay attention to candidates who provide innovative solutions. Creative minds can contribute fresh perspectives that add value to your company.
- When problems arise, employees should show commitment and a can-do attitude. Test candidates’ problem-solving skills in past situations. If they were determined to find the best solution as soon as possible, they will be great hires.
- Most complex situations require a team effort. Candidates’ previous experiences will show you how they collaborated with their colleagues to reach decisions and how comfortable they felt asking for help.
- If you’re hiring for a technical role, ask questions relevant to the work your future hires will do. Technical problem-solving interview questions, like “How would you troubleshoot this X bug?” will reveal your candidates’ hard skills and their ability to effectively address problems on the job.
- No answer. If a candidate can’t recall an example of a problem they faced in a previous position, that’s a sign they may avoid dealing with difficult situations.
- Canned answers. A generic answer like “Once, I had to deal with a customer who complained about the pricing. I managed to calm them down and closed the deal,” doesn’t offer much insight about the candidate’s thought process. Ask follow-up questions to get more details.
- Focus on the problem, not the solution. Identifying the problem is one thing, but finding the solution is more important. Candidates who focus too much on the problem may be too negative for the position.
- Feeling stressed/uncomfortable. It’s normal to feel slightly uncomfortable when put on the spot. But, if candidates are so stressed they can’t answer the question, that’s an indicator they don’t handle stressful situations well.
- Superficial answers. Candidates who choose the easy way out of a problem usually don’t consider all aspects and limitations of the situation. Opt for candidates who analyze the data you’ve given them and ask for more information to better dig into the problem.
- Cover up the problem or minimize its significance. Unaddressed problems could quickly escalate into bigger issues. Employees who leave things for later mightn’t be result-oriented or engaged in their jobs.
Related Interview Questions
- Critical-thinking interview questions and answers
- Decision-making interview questions and answers
- Analytical interview questions and answers
- How to assess soft skills in an interview
- Interview process and strategies: a comprehensive FAQ guide
- Structured interview questions: Tips and examples for hiring
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Problem Solving Examples for Recent Grads/Entry Level Job Seekers · Coordinating work between team members in a class project · Reassigning a missing team
Problem-solving questions with sample answers · 1. When you are faced with a problem, what do you do? · 2. Tell me about a time when you faced an
What is one good example of problem-solving that a candidate can reference in a job interview? · Rescued the Team from a Website Crash · Got
Where Do You See Yourself In 5 Years? What Are Your Career Goals? When Can You Start? How Do You Define Success? ... Where Are Your Current Duties
Select a strong example that truly demonstrates your problem-solving ability in a positive manner. · Choose examples that are relevant to the job
Examples of problem-solving techniques · Research: Problem-solving is not complete without extensive research. · Analysis: Analysis of the situation is a must.
Behavioral Questions About Problem Solving · Tell me about a situation where you had to solve a difficult problem. · Describe a situation in which you found a
Tell me about a time you faced an unexpected challenge at work and how you dealt with it. Describe a time a customer approached you with a problem or concern.
Seek out opportunities to gain problem-solving examples · Sorting out a technical problem with your phone, device or computer. · Resolving a dispute with a tricky
Examples of problem-solving interview questions · Describe a time you had to solve a problem without managerial input. · Give an example of a time you identified