Top 20 Problem Solving Interview Questions (Example Answers Included)

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problem solving questions during interview

By Mike Simpson

When candidates prepare for interviews, they usually focus on highlighting their leadership, communication, teamwork, and similar crucial soft skills . However, not everyone gets ready for problem-solving interview questions. And that can be a big mistake.

Problem-solving is relevant to nearly any job on the planet. Yes, it’s more prevalent in certain industries, but it’s helpful almost everywhere.

Regardless of the role you want to land, you may be asked to provide problem-solving examples or describe how you would deal with specific situations. That’s why being ready to showcase your problem-solving skills is so vital.

If you aren’t sure who to tackle problem-solving questions, don’t worry, we have your back. Come with us as we explore this exciting part of the interview process, as well as some problem-solving interview questions and example answers.

What Is Problem-Solving?

When you’re trying to land a position, there’s a good chance you’ll face some problem-solving interview questions. But what exactly is problem-solving? And why is it so important to hiring managers?

Well, the good folks at Merriam-Webster define problem-solving as “the process or act of finding a solution to a problem.” While that may seem like common sense, there’s a critical part to that definition that should catch your eye.

What part is that? The word “process.”

In the end, problem-solving is an activity. It’s your ability to take appropriate steps to find answers, determine how to proceed, or otherwise overcome the challenge.

Being great at it usually means having a range of helpful problem-solving skills and traits. Research, diligence, patience, attention-to-detail , collaboration… they can all play a role. So can analytical thinking , creativity, and open-mindedness.

But why do hiring managers worry about your problem-solving skills? Well, mainly, because every job comes with its fair share of problems.

While problem-solving is relevant to scientific, technical, legal, medical, and a whole slew of other careers. It helps you overcome challenges and deal with the unexpected. It plays a role in troubleshooting and innovation. That’s why it matters to hiring managers.

How to Answer Problem-Solving Interview Questions

Okay, before we get to our examples, let’s take a quick second to talk about strategy. Knowing how to answer problem-solving interview questions is crucial. Why? Because the hiring manager might ask you something that you don’t anticipate.

Problem-solving interview questions are all about seeing how you think. As a result, they can be a bit… unconventional.

These aren’t your run-of-the-mill job interview questions . Instead, they are tricky behavioral interview questions . After all, the goal is to find out how you approach problem-solving, so most are going to feature scenarios, brainteasers, or something similar.

So, having a great strategy means knowing how to deal with behavioral questions. Luckily, there are a couple of tools that can help.

First, when it comes to the classic approach to behavioral interview questions, look no further than the STAR Method . With the STAR method, you learn how to turn your answers into captivating stories. This makes your responses tons more engaging, ensuring you keep the hiring manager’s attention from beginning to end.

Now, should you stop with the STAR Method? Of course not. If you want to take your answers to the next level, spend some time with the Tailoring Method , too.

With the Tailoring Method, it’s all about relevance. So, if you get a chance to choose an example that demonstrates your problem-solving skills, this is really the way to go.

We also wanted to let you know that we created an amazing free cheat sheet that will give you word-for-word answers for some of the toughest interview questions you are going to face in your upcoming interview. After all, hiring managers will often ask you more generalized interview questions!

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Top 3 Problem-Solving-Based Interview Questions

Alright, here is what you’ve been waiting for: the problem-solving questions and sample answers.

While many questions in this category are job-specific, these tend to apply to nearly any job. That means there’s a good chance you’ll come across them at some point in your career, making them a great starting point when you’re practicing for an interview.

So, let’s dive in, shall we? Here’s a look at the top three problem-solving interview questions and example responses.

1. Can you tell me about a time when you had to solve a challenging problem?

In the land of problem-solving questions, this one might be your best-case scenario. It lets you choose your own problem-solving examples to highlight, putting you in complete control.

When you choose an example, go with one that is relevant to what you’ll face in the role. The closer the match, the better the answer is in the eyes of the hiring manager.

EXAMPLE ANSWER:

“While working as a mobile telecom support specialist for a large organization, we had to transition our MDM service from one vendor to another within 45 days. This personally physically handling 500 devices within the agency. Devices had to be gathered from the headquarters and satellite offices, which were located all across the state, something that was challenging even without the tight deadline. I approached the situation by identifying the location assignment of all personnel within the organization, enabling me to estimate transit times for receiving the devices. Next, I timed out how many devices I could personally update in a day. Together, this allowed me to create a general timeline. After that, I coordinated with each location, both expressing the urgency of adhering to deadlines and scheduling bulk shipping options. While there were occasional bouts of resistance, I worked with location leaders to calm concerns and facilitate action. While performing all of the updates was daunting, my approach to organizing the event made it a success. Ultimately, the entire transition was finished five days before the deadline, exceeding the expectations of many.”

2. Describe a time where you made a mistake. What did you do to fix it?

While this might not look like it’s based on problem-solving on the surface, it actually is. When you make a mistake, it creates a challenge, one you have to work your way through. At a minimum, it’s an opportunity to highlight problem-solving skills, even if you don’t address the topic directly.

When you choose an example, you want to go with a situation where the end was positive. However, the issue still has to be significant, causing something negative to happen in the moment that you, ideally, overcame.

“When I first began in a supervisory role, I had trouble setting down my individual contributor hat. I tried to keep up with my past duties while also taking on the responsibilities of my new role. As a result, I began rushing and introduced an error into the code of the software my team was updating. The error led to a memory leak. We became aware of the issue when the performance was hindered, though we didn’t immediately know the cause. I dove back into the code, reviewing recent changes, and, ultimately, determined the issue was a mistake on my end. When I made that discovery, I took several steps. First, I let my team know that the error was mine and let them know its nature. Second, I worked with my team to correct the issue, resolving the memory leak. Finally, I took this as a lesson about delegation. I began assigning work to my team more effectively, a move that allowed me to excel as a manager and help them thrive as contributors. It was a crucial learning moment, one that I have valued every day since.”

3. If you identify a potential risk in a project, what steps do you take to prevent it?

Yes, this is also a problem-solving question. The difference is, with this one, it’s not about fixing an issue; it’s about stopping it from happening. Still, you use problem-solving skills along the way, so it falls in this question category.

If you can, use an example of a moment when you mitigated risk in the past. If you haven’t had that opportunity, approach it theoretically, discussing the steps you would take to prevent an issue from developing.

“If I identify a potential risk in a project, my first step is to assess the various factors that could lead to a poor outcome. Prevention requires analysis. Ensuring I fully understand what can trigger the undesired event creates the right foundation, allowing me to figure out how to reduce the likelihood of those events occurring. Once I have the right level of understanding, I come up with a mitigation plan. Exactly what this includes varies depending on the nature of the issue, though it usually involves various steps and checks designed to monitor the project as it progresses to spot paths that may make the problem more likely to happen. I find this approach effective as it combines knowledge and ongoing vigilance. That way, if the project begins to head into risky territory, I can correct its trajectory.”

17 More Problem-Solving-Based Interview Questions

In the world of problem-solving questions, some apply to a wide range of jobs, while others are more niche. For example, customer service reps and IT helpdesk professionals both encounter challenges, but not usually the same kind.

As a result, some of the questions in this list may be more relevant to certain careers than others. However, they all give you insights into what this kind of question looks like, making them worth reviewing.

Here are 17 more problem-solving interview questions you might face off against during your job search:

  • How would you describe your problem-solving skills?
  • Can you tell me about a time when you had to use creativity to deal with an obstacle?
  • Describe a time when you discovered an unmet customer need while assisting a customer and found a way to meet it.
  • If you were faced with an upset customer, how would you diffuse the situation?
  • Tell me about a time when you had to troubleshoot a complex issue.
  • Imagine you were overseeing a project and needed a particular item. You have two choices of vendors: one that can deliver on time but would be over budget, and one that’s under budget but would deliver one week later than you need it. How do you figure out which approach to use?
  • Your manager wants to upgrade a tool you regularly use for your job and wants your recommendation. How do you formulate one?
  • A supplier has said that an item you need for a project isn’t going to be delivered as scheduled, something that would cause your project to fall behind schedule. What do you do to try and keep the timeline on target?
  • Can you share an example of a moment where you encountered a unique problem you and your colleagues had never seen before? How did you figure out what to do?
  • Imagine you were scheduled to give a presentation with a colleague, and your colleague called in sick right before it was set to begin. What would you do?
  • If you are given two urgent tasks from different members of the leadership team, both with the same tight deadline, how do you choose which to tackle first?
  • Tell me about a time you and a colleague didn’t see eye-to-eye. How did you decide what to do?
  • Describe your troubleshooting process.
  • Tell me about a time where there was a problem that you weren’t able to solve. What happened?
  • In your opening, what skills or traits make a person an exceptional problem-solver?
  • When you face a problem that requires action, do you usually jump in or take a moment to carefully assess the situation?
  • When you encounter a new problem you’ve never seen before, what is the first step that you take?

Putting It All Together

At this point, you should have a solid idea of how to approach problem-solving interview questions. Use the tips above to your advantage. That way, you can thrive during your next interview.

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problem solving questions during interview

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Co-Founder and CEO of TheInterviewGuys.com. Mike is a job interview and career expert and the head writer at TheInterviewGuys.com. His advice and insights have been shared and featured by publications such as Forbes , Entrepreneur , CNBC and more as well as educational institutions such as the University of Michigan , Penn State , Northeastern and others. Learn more about The Interview Guys on our About Us page .

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Problem-Solving Interview Questions And Answers (With Examples)

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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.

Problem Solving Interview Questions And Answers (With Examples)

What Is a Problem-Solving Interview Question?

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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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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Top 30 Problem Solving Interview Questions for 2024

problem solving questions during interview

As a job seeker, you might anticipate facing different types of interview questions that test your skills, qualifications, and personality. One of the most common types of interview questions is related to problem-solving skills. The employer’s main objective behind asking such questions is to determine the candidate’s ability to analyze, evaluate, and resolve workplace issues successfully.

In this article, we will shed light on the top 30 problem-solving interview questions that you might encounter during the hiring process. We will outline each question’s context and direction to assess your problem-solving abilities.

Overview of problem-solving interview questions

Problem-solving interview questions assess your ability to identify, understand, and resolve workplace problems. These questions are usually open-ended and thought-provoking, with the intention of gauging your thought process and analytical skills. Additionally, these questions aim at highlighting whether you can work effectively under pressure and whether you can apply theoretical knowledge in practical situations.

Importance of problem-solving skills

In today’s fast-paced business world, problem-solving is a vital skill to have for any employee. Employers look for those who can identify issues and generate solutions quickly and efficiently. A strong problem solver is one who can cut through vague information and arrive at an actionable plan. Demonstrating problem-solving skills during an interview can make you stand out from other candidates and increase the chances of landing the job.

Tips for answering problem-solving interview questions

While answering problem-solving interview questions, it’s essential to articulate a clear thought process, present realistic solutions, and demonstrate your ability to apply theoretical knowledge to practical situations. Here are some tips to aid you in your preparation:

  • Start by understanding the problem.
  • Assess and analyze the situation in detail.
  • Break the problem down into smaller sub-problems.
  • Generate feasible solutions and evaluate their potential effectiveness.
  • Choose the solution you think is the best and provide clear reasoning as to why you chose it.
  • Additionally, ensure that you remain professional, positive, and calm throughout the interview.

By following these tips, you’ll be able to showcase your problem-solving abilities effectively and leave a lasting impression on your potential employer.

problem solving questions during interview

Preparing for a Problem-Solving Interview

As a candidate, preparing for a problem-solving interview is essential. Here are three steps you can take to prepare for a successful interview:

A. Researching the Company

Before going to the interview, research the company to learn about their mission, values, culture, and current projects. This information can help you better understand the organization and its needs, and it can also help you tailor your responses to match the company’s goals and values.

To research the company, visit its website, read its latest press releases, and browse its social media channels. You can also try reaching out to current or former employees to get a better sense of the company’s culture and work environment.

B. Reviewing the Job Description

Be sure to carefully review the job description to understand the position’s requirements and expectations. This will help you better prepare for specific problem-solving questions that may be relevant to the role.

Make a list of the skills and experiences you possess that match the job description. Then, think about specific examples from your current or past work experience that demonstrate how you have successfully used those skills or solved similar problems.

C. Anticipating Common Problem-Solving Questions

Finally, anticipate common problem-solving questions that may come up during the interview. Here are a few examples of question types that often require problem-solving skills:

  • Situational questions:  These questions ask you to imagine a scenario and describe how you would respond. For example, “How would you handle a difficult client who is dissatisfied with your work?”
  • Brain teasers:  These questions are designed to test your critical thinking skills. For example, “If you were given a jar of marbles, what would be the best way to determine how many marbles are in the jar?”
  • Behavioral questions:  These questions ask you to describe a specific situation from your past work experience and explain how you solved a problem. For example, “Tell me about a time when you had to make a difficult decision at work.”

To prepare for these types of questions, practice framing your responses in a clear and concise way. Use specific examples, and highlight your problem-solving skills and creative thinking abilities.

By researching the company, reviewing the job description, and anticipating common problem-solving questions, you’ll be well prepared for your problem-solving interview. Good luck!

Sample Problem-Solving Interview Questions

When it comes to problem-solving interview questions, there are three main types that employers tend to ask: Behavioral-based questions, situational-based questions, and critical thinking questions. Let’s take a closer look at each of these categories.

A. Behavioral-based questions

Behavioral-based questions are designed to help the interviewer gain insight into how you have handled specific situations in the past. These questions typically begin with phrases like “Tell me about a time when…” or “Describe a situation where…”. Here are some sample behavioral-based questions:

  • Tell me about a time when you had to think creatively to solve a problem.
  • Describe a situation where you had to make a tough decision.
  • What’s the most difficult problem you’ve ever had to solve, and how did you go about solving it?

B. Situational-based questions

Situational-based questions are similar to behavioral-based questions, but they focus on hypothetical scenarios rather than past experiences. Employers use these questions to evaluate your problem-solving skills and your ability to think on your feet. Here are some sample situational-based questions:

  • If you were working on a project with a tight deadline and your team was falling behind, what steps would you take to get back on track?
  • What would you do if you received conflicting instructions from two different supervisors?
  • How would you handle a situation where a customer was upset and demanding a refund, but company policy stated that refunds are not allowed?

C. Critical thinking questions

Critical thinking questions are designed to test your ability to analyze and evaluate information, and to come up with logical solutions to complex problems. These questions often begin with phrases like “How would you…” or “What steps would you take to…”. Here are some sample critical thinking questions:

problem solving questions during interview

  • How would you determine the root cause of a recurring problem in a manufacturing process?
  • What steps would you take to evaluate the effectiveness of a new marketing campaign?
  • How would you handle a situation where you needed to make a decision with incomplete information?

Each type of problem-solving interview question serves a different purpose. Behavioral-based questions help employers gain insight into your past experiences, situational-based questions evaluate your problem-solving skills, and critical thinking questions assess your ability to analyze and evaluate information. By preparing for all three types of questions, you’ll be better equipped to showcase your problem-solving abilities during your next interview.

Using the STAR Method in Problem-Solving Interview Answers

When it comes to problem-solving interviews, the STAR method is a useful tool for structuring your answers. The STAR acronym stands for Situation, Task, Action, and Result.

  • Situation: This refers to the context or background of the problem you were facing. It’s essential to provide enough detail to paint a clear picture of the issue you were dealing with.
  • Task: In this step, you explain what you needed to accomplish or solve. It’s helpful to be specific and highlight the key objectives that you set for yourself.
  • Action: Here, you describe the actions you took to address the problem. This is where you demonstrate your problem-solving skills and showcase your ability to think creatively and strategically.
  • Result: Finally, you need to describe the outcome of your actions. It’s essential to quantify and qualify the results to demonstrate the impact you had and the value you added to the organization.

B. Sample STAR method answer.

Situation: In my previous role as a marketing manager at XYZ Company, I was given the task of increasing lead generation and improving the sales conversion rate for our e-commerce platform. I quickly realized that the website was outdated, unresponsive, and lacked clear calls to action, making it challenging for users to navigate and make purchases.

Task: My primary objective was to redesign the website and implement a sales funnel to increase conversions. I needed to set clear goals and timelines for the project to ensure that we could launch before peak shopping season.

Action: To accomplish our objectives, I started by conducting market research to understand our target audience and identify the pain points that were causing them to abandon the site. I worked closely with our development team and UX designers to come up with a new design and user interface that was tailored specifically for our target audience. I also implemented tools such as heat mapping software, user testing, and A/B testing to optimize our sales funnel and ensure maximum conversions.

Result: The new website and sales funnel were launched three weeks ahead of schedule, just in time for peak shopping season. The bounce rate decreased by 25%, and the conversion rate increased by 40%. We also saw a 50% increase in lead generation, which resulted in higher revenue and profits for the company.

This STAR method answer showcases my problem-solving skills and ability to think creatively and strategically to solve complex business problems. By using the STAR method, I was able to structure my answer in a clear, concise, and organized way, highlighting the Situation, Task, Action, and Result components of my solution.

Demonstrating Analytical and Creative Problem-Solving Skills

Problem-solving interview questions are designed to assess a candidate’s ability to solve complex issues and think critically. Employers seek individuals who display analytical and creative problem-solving skills, which are essential traits for succeeding in any organization.

A. Explaining Analytical Skills

Analytical thinking is the process of breaking down a problem into smaller, more manageable components and analyzing each component to create a solution. Individuals who possess analytical skills are highly methodical and objective in their approach to problem-solving. Such individuals are cautious about their decisions, and they embark on anything with a systematic approach to achieve the best possible outcome.

Analytical thinking requires a breakdown of a problem into its component parts, analyzing the problem with data and statistics, and drawing a conclusion from the analysis. People with excellent analytical thinking skills tend to approach problems systematically, factoring in the relevant data to solve problems accurately.

Recruiters use analytical mindset interview questions to test candidates’ abilities to examine, critique, and prioritize multiple perspectives.

B. Explaining Creative Skills

Solving problems creatively means thinking outside of the box, making connections and developing solutions that are not necessarily evident at first glance. Creativity is a highly sought-after attribute in today’s workplace, with organizations increasingly looking for imaginative and versatile problem-solvers.

Individuals who possess highly creative skills tend to be highly adaptable, innovative, and open to new ways of thinking. Such individuals can conceptualize alternatives, approaches, and possibilities that others might not see.

Creativity relies heavily on human instinct, imagination, and the ability to embrace change. Creative thinking involves measuring and identifying hidden opportunities, which are not seen through a logical lens. Creative problem-solving requires developing an understanding of the problem, shifting perspectives, and exploring multiple alternatives.

C. Examples of Analytical and Creative Problem Solving

Analytical problem-solving

An example of using analytical problem solving is when an analytics team is tasked with improving the UX of an existing website. The team would begin by breaking down the problem into its component parts, analyzing the existing data, customer feedback and technology, and drawing a conclusion from the analysis to offer improvements.

The team would develop and implement alternative steps alongside the data acquired, factoring in the user experience statistics, design trends, and customer’s preferences. The team would examine the feedback after implementing changes to identify which alterations brought improvements to the user experience and compare them with the previous metrics.

Creative problem-solving

A real-world example of creative problem-solving was demonstrated during the coronavirus pandemic. With limited resources, some creative entities modified their strategies, such as restaurants that shifted from dine-in customers to takeout and delivery services. In addition, some of the restaurants shared their kitchens with food vendors without one.

This led to cost reduction, higher operational efficiency and becoming a meeting zone for different consumers to avoid a crowded room environment.

Communicating Your Problem-Solving Process

When it comes to problem-solving, communication skills are just as important as analytical skills. A problem solver might have a perfect solution to an issue, but if they are unable to effectively communicate their thought process, the solution can quickly become incomprehensible to others. This is why it is important to work on improving communication skills as a part of one’s problem-solving process.

One way to improve communication skills is by outlining the thought process involved in problem-solving. By taking the time to think through the problem and breaking it down into manageable steps, it becomes easier to explain each step to others. This approach can also be helpful in identifying any gaps in the thought process and fixing them before presenting the solution.

Another important aspect of communicating problem-solving processes is providing clear examples. By using a real-life scenario or an example that is relevant to the problem at hand, it can help others understand the thought process and the solution better. This approach is particularly useful in interviews where the interviewer might not have a thorough knowledge of the problem.

For example, if the interviewer asks the candidate how they would handle a situation where a customer is unhappy with a product, the candidate can provide a clear example of a similar situation they handled in the past. They could explain how they identified the problem, how they communicated the issue to the customer, and what steps they took to resolve the problem. By providing a clear and concise example, the candidate can demonstrate their problem-solving abilities as well as their communication skills.

Communication skills are crucial when it comes to problem-solving. Outlining the thought process and providing clear examples are effective ways to improve communication skills and ensure that others can understand the solution. By demonstrating these skills in an interview, candidates can showcase their problem-solving abilities and increase their chances of securing the job.

Applying Problem-Solving Skills to Real-Life Scenarios

When it comes to demonstrating your problem-solving skills during an interview, it’s important to be able to provide specific examples that showcase your abilities. Employers want to know that you have the skills and experience necessary to tackle real world challenges.

A. Industry-specific scenarios

One effective way to demonstrate your problem-solving skills is to provide examples of challenges you’ve faced in your specific industry. For example, if you work in manufacturing, you could explain how you identified and resolved a production issue that was impacting quality.

In the healthcare industry, you might describe how you analyzed patient data to identify patterns that could inform treatment decisions. Whatever your industry, be prepared to provide an example that showcases your ability to work within its unique set of challenges.

B. Common work scenarios

Another way to showcase your problem-solving skills is to provide examples of common work scenarios that require quick thinking and a strategic approach. For example, you could describe how you resolved a conflict between team members or came up with a creative solution to a tight deadline.

Being able to navigate common workplace challenges is an important skill that every employer values. Be prepared with examples that show your ability to approach these scenarios in a thoughtful and effective way.

C. Case study examples

Finally, you may be asked to provide a case study that demonstrates your problem-solving skills in action. These examples may be hypothetical, or they may be based on real scenarios that you’ve encountered in your professional life.

Whatever the case, make sure that you provide a clear explanation of the problem at hand, the steps you took to address it, and the results that you achieved. Use specific metrics and data points whenever possible to showcase the impact of your actions.

Being able to provide concrete examples of your problem-solving skills is key to acing an interview. Whether you’re discussing industry-specific challenges or common workplace scenarios, make sure that you’re able to demonstrate your ability to think strategically and effectively tackle the problems that come your way.

Identifying Potential Issues and Offering Solutions

A. identifying issues.

When it comes to problem-solving, the first and most crucial step is identifying the issues at hand. During an interview, the interviewer will likely present you with a scenario or problem to solve. Take your time to identify the underlying issues, and ensure that you understand the problem statement before proceeding to the next stage. Avoid making assumptions or jumping to conclusions, and seek clarification from the interviewer where necessary.

To effectively identify the issues, it helps to break down the problem into smaller components. This allows you to better understand each aspect of the problem and determine whether they relate to the issue at hand. Once you have determined the underlying issues, you can proceed to the next stage.

B. Generating Practical Solutions

After identifying the issues, the next step is to generate practical solutions. Brainstorming potential solutions is an essential part of the problem-solving process. Try to come up with as many possible solutions as you can think of, considering both short-term and long-term perspectives.

To generate practical solutions, you should consider various factors that may affect the problem. Think about the resources available, the time frame, and the potential risks and opportunities. Strive to come up with creative and innovative solutions that will quickly and efficiently address the identified issues.

C. Discussing Potential Outcomes

The final step in solving the problem is to discuss potential outcomes. This stage involves evaluating each solution’s feasibility and considering the potential consequences of each alternative. Discuss potential outcomes to help determine the most suitable solution to the problem.

When discussing potential outcomes, it’s essential to consider the short-term and long-term effects of each solution. Consider any potential risks and opportunities, including potential financial, operational, or social impacts. By carefully considering all possible outcomes, you’ll be better positioned to suggest the most viable solution.

Identifying potential issues and offering practical solutions are essential components of problem-solving. Take time to identify the issues, brainstorm possible solutions, and discuss potential outcomes to find the most suitable solution. By dealing with problems in a structured and thoughtful way, you can likely impress the interviewer and demonstrate that you’re a problem solver.

Handling Unexpected Problems During the Interview

During job interviews, unexpected problems can arise, such as difficult or unexpected questions, technical difficulties, or other unforeseen circumstances. As a job candidate, it is essential to handle these situations with composure and professionalism to make a positive impression on the interviewer. Here are three strategies that can be helpful in dealing with unexpected problems during a job interview:

A. Remaining calm under pressure

When faced with unexpected problems during an interview, it is essential to remain calm under pressure. Staying calm can prevent you from feeling overwhelmed or anxious, which can negatively impact your ability to think clearly and respond effectively to questions. Keeping a positive attitude and demeanor can also convey confidence and professionalism to the interviewer, making a good impression even in difficult situations.

B. Asking clarifying questions

If you encounter a question or situation that you find unclear or confusing, don’t be afraid to ask for clarification. Asking clarifying questions demonstrates your critical thinking skills and shows that you are engaged and committed to understanding the problem at hand. Moreover, it can help you provide more accurate and insightful answers, which can increase your chances of getting hired.

C. Relying on past experiences

One effective way to handle unexpected problems during an interview is to rely on your past experiences. Think about similar situations you have encountered in your previous roles or projects and how you overcame them. Use these past experiences as a reference to help you solve the current problem. Be sure to highlight your relevant skills and accomplishments to demonstrate your ability to handle challenging situations in the past.

Preparing for unexpected problems during a job interview is crucial for success. Remaining calm under pressure, asking clarifying questions, and relying on past experiences are some effective strategies for dealing with unexpected problems during a job interview. By implementing these strategies, you can make a positive impression on the interviewer and enhance your chances of getting hired.

Following Up After the Interview

In a job search, following up after an interview is just as important as the interview itself. It’s an opportunity to reiterate your interest in the job and to make a positive impression on the hiring team.

A. Thank-you note etiquette

One of the most important things you can do after an interview is to send a thank-you note to the interviewer. A well-written thank-you note can make you stand out from other candidates and reinforce why you’re a strong fit for the job.

When crafting your thank-you note, keep the following etiquette tips in mind:

  • Send the note within 24-48 hours of the interview
  • Use a professional email address
  • Address the interviewer by name
  • Express your gratitude for the opportunity to interview
  • Mention specific things that you liked about the company or job
  • Restate your interest in the position
  • Proofread for spelling and grammar errors

Remember to make your thank-you note personal and sincere. Avoid copying and pasting a generic message, as this can come across as insincere.

B. Information gathering

If you haven’t heard back from the hiring team within a week or two of the interview, it’s okay to follow up with them. However, before you do so, make sure you’ve exhausted all other avenues of information gathering.

Here are some ways to gather information before following up:

  • Check the company’s website and social media pages for updates
  • Look for any news articles or press releases about the company
  • Reach out to your network to see if they know anyone at the company
  • Check with your recruiter or hiring manager (if you’re working with one)

By gathering more information about the company, you’ll be better equipped to ask intelligent questions and show that you’re genuinely interested in the job.

C. What to do if you do not get the job

If you receive a rejection message, don’t despair. Getting turned down doesn’t mean you’re not qualified or that you won’t find the right job. Here are some tips for handling rejection:

  • Respond graciously to the rejection message
  • Ask for feedback on how you can improve for future interviews
  • Keep in touch with the hiring team and express your interest in future opportunities
  • Continue your job search and stay positive

Remember that any interview is a learning experience, and each one will help you improve your interviewing skills. Stay determined, and you will eventually find the right job for you.

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  • Interview Questions

Problem-Solving Interview Questions

Problem-solving interview questions are designed to test a candidate's ability to identify obstacles, potential issues, or key opportunities, and then implement effective solutions accordingly. Our collection of problem-solving interview questions includes explanations and red flags to look out for during an interview.

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Problem-Solving Interview Questions — PDF Download:

Download our list of problem-solving interview questions in PDF format and use them in your next interview.

Problem-Solving Questions to Ask in an Interview:

1. what was your biggest work-related problem, and how did you resolve it.

This is a great introductory question since it allows the candidate to describe their problem-solving process in as much detail as they like. Top candidates will explain why the problem occurred, how they resolved it, and why they chose that method.

Red flags: the candidate cannot think of anything specific or describes a problem that was resolved quickly and easily.

2. Think of a time when a coworker made a mistake that affected your work. How did you handle the situation?

Not only does this question analyze the candidate's problem-solving abilities, but also their teamwork, communication, and interpersonal skills. Look for candidates who demonstrated a noncombative, collaborative approach to solving the problem.

Red flags: the candidate did not take any steps to resolve the situation or engaged with their coworker unconstructively.

3. What is your troubleshooting process?

This question gives the candidate a chance to explain their general approach to troubleshooting. It should highlight how the candidate usually processes and acts on information.

Red flags: the candidate demonstrates limited insight into their troubleshooting process or describes ineffective problem-solving techniques.

4. If you were given two very urgent tasks by different members of the management team at roughly the same time, how would you decide which task to tackle first?

This question tests the candidate's ability to communicate effectively. In this instance, candidates should approach both managers about the other's request. If no clear guidance is given, the candidate should provide a reasonable time estimate of when each task would be completed.

Red flag: the candidate rushes to complete both tasks in the order they were given.

5. How do you decide when a different problem-solving approach is needed?

Not all problems can be solved in the same way. This question reveals whether the candidate can analyze a problem fully before applying an appropriate solution, remain agile during the problem-solving process, and reflect on systems once they have been implemented.

Red flag: the candidate will only try a different approach if the outcome is a failure the first time.

6. Tell me about a time when you predicted a problem related to staffing or structural changes in your department. What did you do to resolve the issue?

This question tests the candidate's ability to identify a concern and bring it to the attention of management before it becomes a problem. Look for candidates who speak up, propose reasonable alternatives, and assist with changes.

Red flags: the candidate has never identified any issues in the workplace, or they didn't want to get involved even though they knew there would be a problem.

7. What do you do when you cannot seem to find an effective solution to a problem?

Everyone gets stuck sometimes. This question reveals how the candidate finds new ideas on how to proceed.

Red flag: the candidate is unable to be resourceful and gives up.

8. What improvements have you made to your workplace in the last year?

Candidates with great problem-solving abilities should be able to identify areas that can be improved, and either take steps to implement those changes or initiate the process.

Red flag: the candidate has not contributed to any improvements in the workplace.

9. Provide an example of a time when you solved a problem without the input of management. What was the result?

This question highlights the candidate's ability to make decisions and solve problems by themselves.

Red flag: the candidate did not inform management about a major decision that could affect the business.

10. How do you organize your daily workload to ensure that all your tasks are complete?

Reveals whether the candidate has an effective system that allows for setbacks and problem-solving in the workplace.

Red flags: the candidate has never thought of implementing a system to plan their work or cater for delays or they are unable to execute such a strategy.

11. How do you motivate yourself to achieve your goals when you have minimal supervision?

Self-motivation is a major part of problem-solving if issues arise. This question simply reveals the candidate's methods for staying motivated.

Red flags: the candidate has never been in a situation where they needed to work without supervision or they cannot think of creative and effective ways to self-motivate.

12. What do you do when asked to resolve an urgent issue without being given all the information?

Thoroughness and forethought are key components of problem-solving, even when under time constraints. Identify whether the candidate tries to solve the problem immediately or asks for more information.

Red flag: the candidate tries to resolve the issue without all the pertinent details and gets stuck.

13. Can you describe a time when you thought outside of the box to solve a problem in either your personal or professional life?

Evaluates whether the candidate can devise innovative ideas to solve problems.

Red flag: the candidate describes a solution that you would not describe as out-of-the-box thinking.

14. Describe a time when you disagreed with a decision by management. What happened?

Reveals whether the candidate can speak up when they see a problem in the workplace.

Red flag: even if management still went ahead with their original decision, candidates should feel comfortable pointing out problems in the workplace. A red flag would be if the candidate noticed an issue but chose to ignore it.

15. Tell me about a time you tried to solve a problem but ended up making it worse. What happened?

This is a great question to learn more about the candidate's personality and problem-solving skills. It tests honesty and whether the candidate was able to incorporate what they learned into future decisions.

Red flags: the candidate claims they have never made a problem worse, or they've never thought about how they could learn from their mistakes.

Additional Resources:

  • Common interview questions .
  • Situational interview questions .
  • Cultural fit interview questions .
  • Stress interview questions .
  • Emotional intelligence interview questions .
  • Illegal interview questions .
  • Behavioral interview questions .
  • Personality interview questions .

What are problem-solving interview questions?

Problem-solving interview questions are those that test a candidate's ability to identify potential issues, obstacles, or opportunities for improvement, and then implement solutions accordingly.

Why do hiring managers ask problem-solving interview questions?

Problem-solving interview questions help determine how a candidate approaches problems in their professional and personal lives. Problems — however small — are bound to occur in the workplace, and hiring managers want to be sure that candidates are equipped to address them successfully.

What are some examples of problem-solving interview questions?

  • What is your troubleshooting process?
  • How do you decide when a different problem-solving approach is needed?
  • What was your biggest work-related problem, and how did you resolve it?
  • What do you do when you cannot seem to find an effective solution to a problem?
  • Describe a time when you disagreed with a decision by management. What happened?

What is the best way to answer a problem-solving question in an interview?

Think about what the interviewer is trying to learn and direct your response accordingly. Provide a comprehensive answer and be sure to explain your reasoning.

Related Articles:

50 most common interview questions, how to interview candidates, star method, pre-screening interviews, how an open interview works.

15 Common Problem-Solving Interview Questions

HackerRank AI Promotion

In an interview for a big tech company, I was asked if I’d ever resolved a fight — and the exact way I went about handling it. I felt blindsided, and I stammered my way through an excuse of an answer.

It’s a familiar scenario to fellow technical job seekers — and one that risks leaving a sour taste in our mouths. As candidate experience becomes an increasingly critical component of the hiring process, recruiters need to ensure the problem-solving interview questions they prepare don’t dissuade talent in the first place. 

Interview questions designed to gauge a candidate’s problem-solving skills are more often than not challenging and vague. Assessing a multifaceted skill like problem solving is tricky — a good problem solver owns the full solution and result, researches well, solves creatively and takes action proactively. 

It’s hard to establish an effective way to measure such a skill. But it’s not impossible.

We recommend taking an informed and prepared approach to testing candidates’ problem-solving skills . With that in mind, here’s a list of a few common problem-solving interview questions, the science behind them — and how you can go about administering your own problem-solving questions with the unique challenges of your organization in mind.

Key Takeaways for Effective Problem-Solving Interview Questions

  • Problem solving lies at the heart of programming. 
  • Testing a candidate’s problem-solving skills goes beyond the IDE. Problem-solving interview questions should test both technical skills and soft skills.
  • STAR, SOAR and PREP are methods a candidate can use to answer some non-technical problem-solving interview questions.
  • Generic problem-solving interview questions go a long way in gauging a candidate’s fit. But you can go one step further by customizing them according to your company’s service, product, vision, and culture. 

Technical Problem-Solving Interview Question Examples

Evaluating a candidates’ problem-solving skills while using coding challenges might seem intimidating. The secret is that coding challenges test many things at the same time — like the candidate’s knowledge of data structures and algorithms, clean code practices, and proficiency in specific programming languages, to name a few examples.

Problem solving itself might at first seem like it’s taking a back seat. But technical problem solving lies at the heart of programming, and most coding questions are designed to test a candidate’s problem-solving abilities.

Here are a few examples of technical problem-solving questions:

1. Mini-Max Sum  

This well-known challenge, which asks the interviewee to find the maximum and minimum sum among an array of given numbers, is based on a basic but important programming concept called sorting, as well as integer overflow. It tests the candidate’s observational skills, and the answer should elicit a logical, ad-hoc solution.

2. Organizing Containers of Balls  

This problem tests the candidate’s knowledge of a variety of programming concepts, like 2D arrays, sorting and iteration. Organizing colored balls in containers based on various conditions is a common question asked in competitive examinations and job interviews, because it’s an effective way to test multiple facets of a candidate’s problem-solving skills.

3. Build a Palindrome

This is a tough problem to crack, and the candidate’s knowledge of concepts like strings and dynamic programming plays a significant role in solving this challenge. This problem-solving example tests the candidate’s ability to think on their feet as well as their ability to write clean, optimized code.

4. Subarray Division

Based on a technique used for searching pairs in a sorted array ( called the “two pointers” technique ), this problem can be solved in just a few lines and judges the candidate’s ability to optimize (as well as basic mathematical skills).

5. The Grid Search 

This is a problem of moderate difficulty and tests the candidate’s knowledge of strings and searching algorithms, the latter of which is regularly tested in developer interviews across all levels.

Common Non-Technical Problem-Solving Interview Questions 

Testing a candidate’s problem-solving skills goes beyond the IDE . Everyday situations can help illustrate competency, so here are a few questions that focus on past experiences and hypothetical situations to help interviewers gauge problem-solving skills.

1. Given the problem of selecting a new tool to invest in, where and how would you begin this task? 

Key Insight : This question offers insight into the candidate’s research skills. Ideally, they would begin by identifying the problem, interviewing stakeholders, gathering insights from the team, and researching what tools exist to best solve for the team’s challenges and goals. 

2. Have you ever recognized a potential problem and addressed it before it occurred? 

Key Insight: Prevention is often better than cure. The ability to recognize a problem before it occurs takes intuition and an understanding of business needs. 

3. A teammate on a time-sensitive project confesses that he’s made a mistake, and it’s putting your team at risk of missing key deadlines. How would you respond?

Key Insight: Sometimes, all the preparation in the world still won’t stop a mishap. Thinking on your feet and managing stress are skills that this question attempts to unearth. Like any other skill, they can be cultivated through practice.

4. Tell me about a time you used a unique problem-solving approach. 

Key Insight: Creativity can manifest in many ways, including original or novel ways to tackle a problem. Methods like the 10X approach and reverse brainstorming are a couple of unique approaches to problem solving. 

5. Have you ever broken rules for the “greater good?” If yes, can you walk me through the situation?

Key Insight: “Ask for forgiveness, not for permission.” It’s unconventional, but in some situations, it may be the mindset needed to drive a solution to a problem.

6. Tell me about a weakness you overcame at work, and the approach you took. 

Key Insight: According to Compass Partnership , “self-awareness allows us to understand how and why we respond in certain situations, giving us the opportunity to take charge of these responses.” It’s easy to get overwhelmed when faced with a problem. Candidates showing high levels of self-awareness are positioned to handle it well.

7. Have you ever owned up to a mistake at work? Can you tell me about it?

Key Insight: Everybody makes mistakes. But owning up to them can be tough, especially at a workplace. Not only does it take courage, but it also requires honesty and a willingness to improve, all signs of 1) a reliable employee and 2) an effective problem solver.

8. How would you approach working with an upset customer?

Key Insight: With the rise of empathy-driven development and more companies choosing to bridge the gap between users and engineers, today’s tech teams speak directly with customers more frequently than ever before. This question brings to light the candidate’s interpersonal skills in a client-facing environment.

9. Have you ever had to solve a problem on your own, but needed to ask for additional help? How did you go about it? 

Key Insight: Knowing when you need assistance to complete a task or address a situation is an important quality to have while problem solving. This questions helps the interviewer get a sense of the candidate’s ability to navigate those waters. 

10. Let’s say you disagree with your colleague on how to move forward with a project. How would you go about resolving the disagreement?

Key Insight: Conflict resolution is an extremely handy skill for any employee to have; an ideal answer to this question might contain a brief explanation of the conflict or situation, the role played by the candidate and the steps taken by them to arrive at a positive resolution or outcome. 

Strategies for Answering Problem-Solving Questions

If you’re a job seeker, chances are you’ll encounter this style of question in your various interview experiences. While problem-solving interview questions may appear simple, they can be easy to fumble — leaving the interviewer without a clear solution or outcome. 

It’s important to approach such questions in a structured manner. Here are a few tried-and-true methods to employ in your next problem-solving interview.

1. Shine in Interviews With the STAR Method

S ituation, T ask, A ction, and R esult is a great method that can be employed to answer a problem-solving or behavioral interview question. Here’s a breakdown of these steps:

  • Situation : A good way to address almost any interview question is to lay out and define the situation and circumstances. 
  • Task : Define the problem or goal that needs to be addressed. Coding questions are often multifaceted, so this step is particularly important when answering technical problem-solving questions.
  • Action : How did you go about solving the problem? Try to be as specific as possible, and state your plan in steps if you can.
  • Result : Wrap it up by stating the outcome achieved. 

2. Rise above difficult questions using the SOAR method

A very similar approach to the STAR method, SOAR stands for S ituation, O bstacle, A ction, and R esults .

  • Situation: Explain the state of affairs. It’s important to steer clear of stating any personal opinions in this step; focus on the facts.
  • Obstacle: State the challenge or problem you faced.
  • Action: Detail carefully how you went about overcoming this obstacle.
  • Result: What was the end result? Apart from overcoming the obstacle, did you achieve anything else? What did you learn in the process? 

3. Do It the PREP Way

Traditionally used as a method to make effective presentations, the P oint, R eason, E xample, P oint method can also be used to answer problem-solving interview questions.  

  • Point : State the solution in plain terms. 
  • Reasons: Follow up the solution by detailing your case — and include any data or insights that support your solution. 
  • Example: In addition to objective data and insights, drive your answer home by contextualizing the solution in a real-world example.
  • Point : Reiterate the solution to make it come full circle.

How to Customize Problem-Solving Interview Questions 

Generic problem-solving interview questions go a long way in gauging a candidate’s skill level, but recruiters can go one step further by customizing these problem-solving questions according to their company’s service, product, vision, or culture. 

Here are some tips to do so:

  • Break down the job’s responsibilities into smaller tasks. Job descriptions may contain ambiguous responsibilities like “manage team projects effectively.” To formulate an effective problem-solving question, envision what this task might look like in a real-world context and develop a question around it.  
  • Tailor questions to the role at hand. Apart from making for an effective problem-solving question, it gives the candidate the impression you’re an informed technical recruiter. For example, an engineer will likely have attended many scrums. So, a good question to ask is: “Suppose you notice your scrums are turning unproductive. How would you go about addressing this?” 
  • Consider the tools and technologies the candidate will use on the job. For example, if Jira is the primary project management tool, a good problem-solving interview question might be: “Can you tell me about a time you simplified a complex workflow — and the tools you used to do so?”
  • If you don’t know where to start, your company’s core values can often provide direction. If one of the core values is “ownership,” for example, consider asking a question like: “Can you walk us through a project you owned from start to finish?” 
  • Sometimes, developing custom content can be difficult even with all these tips considered. Our platform has a vast selection of problem-solving examples that are designed to help recruiters ask the right questions to help nail their next technical interview.

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Top 10 Problem Solving Interview Questions You May Be Asked

Problem-solving questions are common in interviews - you may be asked specific questions related to the job you’ve applied for or about your approach and methodology to solving them.

This useful guide will help you get prepared for common problem-solving questions in your next interview with advice on how to answer them.

1. What are some of the most difficult problems you have solved?

When interviewers ask “What are some of the most difficult problems you have solved,” they usually want to know two things:

  • The types of difficult problems you have solved and
  • How you coped with or overcame these difficulties.

To answer this question effectively, first, take a few moments to think about and jot down the types of difficult problems you have faced in your work. Then, for each problem, briefly describe the steps you took to solve it. Be sure to highlight a few key learnings or lessons that you took away from overcoming these difficulties.

Some examples of difficult problems that job seekers have solved include:

  • Being assigned a project with an impossible deadline
  • Having to manage a team member who was not meeting expectations
  • Having to come up with an innovative solution to a long-standing problem

2. How do you go about solving problems?

When you are asked how you go about solving problems during an interview, focus on what works for you specifically - there is no one ‘right’ way to solve problems, so don’t try to fit yourself into that mold.

You should have a clear process and some examples to help support your answer.

Remember to keep it positive - interviews are about selling yourself and your skills, so make sure your answer reflects that.

3. Describe the result of a recent problem you solved

For this question, the interviewer is looking to understand the impact you’ve had on solving problems and how important the problems you’ve described are. The bigger the impact the better the example.

4. Give an example of a time when you had to think outside the box to solve a problem.

When answering this question, it’s important to provide a specific example of a time when you had to think outside the box to solve a problem. Avoid generalities or platitudes like “I’m a creative person” or “I always look for new and innovative ways to solve problems.”

Instead, focus on describing a concrete situation where you were faced with a difficult problem and had to come up with an original solution. Be sure to describe the steps you took to solve the problem and what resulted from your efforts.

If you can illustrate that you can think creatively and come up with innovative solutions, you’ll be sure to impress potential employers and set yourself apart from other candidates.

5. What is a time when you went above and beyond to solve a problem?

Be prepared to answer this question with a great story.

Think of a time when you were faced with a difficult situation at work. Maybe there was a big project that needed to be completed or a customer that was particularly challenging. Whatever the situation was, make sure it’s something that you were able to successfully overcome.

Next, describe what steps you took to solve the problem. Did you come up with an innovative solution? Did you put in extra hours to make sure the job got done? Was it a team effort? Whatever it was that you did, be sure to highlight your role in the story.

Lastly, include details of the results and how they impacted others.

6. Tell me about a time when you predicted a problem before it occurred?

This question shows the interviewer your proactiveness and vigilance.

Try to think about a time when you were able to identify a potential issue and take steps to prevent it from happening. It may be a problem that you had anticipated occurring - how did you know it would happen? What would have been the impact if it did?

Showing that you have the ability to think ahead and predict problems before they occur is a strong skill for any potential employee to have, and by providing specific examples of your own experience, you can demonstrate that you possess it.

7. Give an example of a time when you had to use your creativity to solve a problem

When interviewers ask this question, they are looking to see if you have the ability to come up with new and innovative solutions to problems. They want to know if you are able to think outside the box and come up with creative solutions that others may not have thought of.

To answer this well you should:

  • Give an example of a time when you had to use your creativity to solve a problem.
  • Explain how you were able to come up with a creative solution and what the outcome was.
  • Be sure to highlight any challenges that you faced and how you overcame them.

8. How do you know when to solve a problem on your own or to ask for help?

problem solving interview questions

There’s no single answer to this question, as the best course of action will vary depending on the situation. However, here are a few general tips to keep in mind:

First, try to assess the difficulty of the problem and whether you have the necessary skills and knowledge to solve it. If it’s a simple issue that you’re confident you can handle, then go ahead and take care of it yourself.

However, if the problem is more complex or outside of your area of expertise, then it’s probably best to seek out help from someone who knows more about it.

9. How do you know when a problem is solved?

This is a great opportunity to show off your critical thinking skills.

First, take a step back and assess the situation. What are the goals that need to be accomplished? What does “solved” look like? What are the constraints that you’re working within?

Defining success criteria will ultimately determine when the problem is solved.

10. Do you enjoy problem-solving?

Almost all roles require some form of problem-solving. A strategic “yes” is always recommended when answering this question.

If you have experience solving problems in previous roles, be sure to mention that. This will show the interviewer that you have the ability to handle challenges.

For example, you might say something like: “I actually enjoy problem-solving quite a lot. There’s something satisfying about being able to find a solution to something that was once a mystery. One time, I was able to help my team solve a big issue we were having with our website. We were able to identify the problem and put together a plan to fix it.”

This response shows that you not only have the ability to solve problems but that you also enjoy doing so. It also gives the interviewer a specific example of a time when you were successful in this area.

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Problem-Solving Interview Questions & Answers

problem-solving

  • Updated July 13, 2023
  • Published March 9, 2020

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.

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

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

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

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.

Results-oriented

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.

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MockQuestions

Problem Solving Mock Interview

To help you prepare for your job interview, here are 25 interview questions that will test your problem solving ability.

Get More Information About Our Problem Solving Interview Questions

Question 1 of 25

Tell me about the most challenging problem you have encountered in your professional career.

How to Answer

Answer example.

Everyone has had their share of challenges in their career. The interviewer knows that you are not perfect; however, they need to know that you can professionally overcome work-related roadblocks. Maybe you had a significant project that almost went sideways. Perhaps you had a conflict in the workplace that you could have handled more professionally. Explain your approach to resolving the issue and be sure to highlight the steps you took to reach that resolution.

"The most challenging problem I have encountered in my professional career was with my most recent employer. I had an incredibly important project that made up the majority of my annual budget. The client was challenging to work with as he was rarely available for comment, due to extensive international travel. I needed this deal to work out so, for the 6-month span of the project, I made my work hours reflect his time zone. This shift allowed us to communicate via Skype on a daily basis which meant a fair share of late night and early morning calls for me! It was a sacrifice, and I would do it again. I understand that sacrifices need to happen to gain successful outcomes."

"The most challenging problem that I encountered in my career was when my former company experienced a major merger. It was a lot to adjust to but, after some time, I was able to get a good pace again."

"The most significant challenge I have faced as a manager would be the labor dispute and lockout that our company went through in 2016. Many of our permanent employees are union based. We could not come to a new collective agreement, and so I ended up having to utilize a lot of temporary staffing options during that time. It was a lot of re-training, and strain on the company culture overall."

"The biggest challenge that I face as a marketer, and it's an ongoing challenge, is to manage my expectations on projects. I lean on the side of perfectionism and often put more pressure on myself than even a client would. The positive side of this; however, is that I always deliver an immaculate product."

"I'd say the most challenging problem I have encountered was when my manager suddenly resigned. I was then in charge of the department. Now, I was mostly ready for the responsibility, as the assistant manager in the department. However, I had never completed inventory reconciliation, and on the first day, this was my first task. I was asked to give projections so that our buyer could stock us for next season. I had no idea what to do, so I researched until I came up with the answer. Also, other managers in other departments helped to guide me. Ultimately the work paid off because our next season projections were perfect. Since then, I've learned more effective ways to do our inventory management and projections, but I don't think I've ever learned anything as quickly as I did that week."

"The most challenging problem I've encountered is the misstep of taking my current role. The initial pitch to me on company growth and my duties is not my reality. This factor has been a challenge to my career growth. I know that even if it was a misstep, there are lessons to be learned, and I approach each day with interest and a positive attitude to try to learn those lessons and grow professionally."

"The most significant challenge I've faced is nearly having my department eliminated due to budgetary cuts. I was lucky to have an active parent community rally behind me and the department which saved the program, in the end. The other challenge that comes to mind was getting back into the swing of teaching after taking a few years off to be home with my children. There was a learning curve on getting up to speed with curriculum and the lesson planning, but my love for teaching made it all that much easier!"

Next Question

25 Problem Solving Interview Questions & Answers

Below is a list of our Problem Solving interview questions. Click on any interview question to view our answer advice and answer examples. You may view 5 answer examples before our paywall loads. Afterwards, you'll be asked to upgrade to view the rest of our answers.

1. Tell me about the most challenging problem you have encountered in your professional career.

2. in your opinion, what makes you a great problem solver.

Employers want to know that you have a methodical approach to problem-solving. Consider the skills and qualities that help you successfully face problems. Perhaps you have a keen eye for detail. Maybe you can see opportunity when others can only focus on the issue. Share your strengths as a problem solver, and your ability to come up with innovative solutions. Strong problem solvers are: - Systematic thinkers - Open minded - Okay with being wrong sometimes - Always researching and exploring - Able to identify the core problem - Able to reverse engineer a challenge to avoid future issues - Able to come up with multiple avenues that work well for all stakeholders - Are do-ers and not worriers

"I am a great problem solver because I can compartmentalize all aspects of a problem before studying it. I also like to bring more experienced team members in to add to the solution. I will never try to be a hero and solve a complicated problem without tapping into the resources around me."

"What makes me a great problem solver is that I have a keen ability to research, read, and explore so that my recommendations are based on fact and study rather than guesses."

"I have been told that I am an excellent problem solver and I believe this is because I have a bit of an engineering mind. I can take the issue, work backward to solve it, and then use that resolution as a basis for avoiding future issues to come up. I am also a big-picture thinker which allows me to come up with various resolutions per problem."

"I am a great problem solver because I do not allow stress to cloud my judgment and mute my creativity. I am a keen observer with a great memory which allows me to recall unique solutions or ideas."

"I am a great problem solver because I draw from the experience of others, whether solicited advice or through my prior observations and then I improve upon that, where possible. My memory and years in the industry have exposed me to many types of situations and problems, so I feel I have a vast amount of experience to draw from, allowing me to be creative and effective in the way I approach any challenge. Not to mention, I'm not afraid to ask for help or advice along the way. I know that I don't know everything, so I like to ask for input when I feel I am not fully equipped to do the job alone. There is no shame in that."

"I believe I am a great problem solver because I am sure to gather as many facts as possible, I look at the problem and its potential solutions from multiple angles, and I am not afraid to make a creative decision, that might seem off the beaten path."

"I consider myself a great problem solver and believe my skills are in my emotional intelligence. I can be really in tune with the tone of the group, who is feeling what, and how they are each best reached. This skill applies to both adults and children, so it is beneficial both inside of the classroom and out! By being aware of what is at the heart of the matter and how each person needs his or her needs met, I'm able to accomplish a lot while avoiding many common landmines."

Anonymous Interview Answers with Professional Feedback

Anonymous Answer

problem solving questions during interview

Cindy's Feedback

3. Tell me about a time when you discovered a problem and went beyond regular expectations to fix it.

Your innovative approach may be exciting and unconventional, but can you implement it realistically? Ideas are one thing, but putting them into practice and providing measurable results is where you can add genuine value. Think of a time you worked long hours and made sacrifices to overcome a challenging problem. Demonstrate your impact and the significance of your solution.

"During our busy tax season I noticed that one of our primary spreadsheets was not formulated properly. I am not an expert with Excel; however, with everyone being in peak stress mode - I decided it was something I could learn on my own. I watched a few online tutorials and ended up resolving the issue without the need to involve the rest of the team."

"When I worked as an admin assistant at my last job, I was in charge of purchasing office and kitchen supplies. I noticed we had been spending quite a bit of money on paper and plastic-ware. I compared the cost of disposables to the cost of buying permanent dishes and utensils for the kitchen. It turned out we were able to save the company hundreds of dollars each year by simply investing in dishes and silverware!"

"I had a staff member who was stealing supplies. Rumors were going around that she was dishonest; however, there was no evidence. I carefully waited and, after two days, the rumored infractions were caught on camera. At that point, I was able to terminate her employment. I went beyond regular expectations by gaining evidence before terminating her. I knew this would prevent a human resources issue down the road, and it also saved my company from having to pay this employee any severance pay."

"Our agency performed a major client launch last month that tested well. Upon implementing, I noticed that their new website was not functioning correctly. I wanted our client to be happy with our services, so I worked late into the night with our IT team to troubleshoot the site and ensure that by morning, there were no more kinks to work out. In the end, our client was thrilled with my dedication, and they ended up writing an amazing review online and even mentioned me in the review!"

"I managed a coat department previously and, depending on the season; these coats were very high ticket items. I had two salespeople who were consistently battling for the sale. It was unbecoming, to say the least, and impacted the department's morale. To incentivize everyone to go for the sale, I made a sales contest on non-coat merchandise. The more items they upsold, despite being a smaller sale, the more tickets they received towards various other compensation incentives like gift cards or extra time for breaks. The other sales reps felt reinvigorated, and it pushed my two coat-fighters to step outside of their perceived territory."

"In my first role, there was a regular lane of shipments that was difficult to cover. The issue didn't cause us to fall short as far as the customer was concerned. However, we were in danger of potentially having the customer poached due to waiting times. After several late nights attempting to come through for a key customer, I got tired of running in a hamster wheel. I decided to find some carriers that could assist. Long story short, after staying late many days and making some creative calls to find a backhaul, I was able to secure a new carrier, at a great rate, and keep the customer happy."

"When I was reworking lesson plans, I noticed that there was a gap between the programs and some policy. So, rather than hand them back to the team to fix, I took it upon myself to write the remaining lessons and tweak the existing ones to make them cohesive. It took about seven days of working on my own time, but it was worth it when I saw the lessons in action during the school year."

4. Tell me about a time where you had to analyze a set of data and then make a recommendation.

Talk about your attention to detail and sharp focus when it comes to data and statistics. You may not consider yourself a highly analytical person. However, this is a skill that you have indeed exercised in the past.

"I worked for a financial firm last year and had a client who was looking for investment recommendations. I gathered data on the stocks they were interested in, sorting through 12-month trends and further historical data to determine the most promising returns. The client was happy with my findings, and my manager was quite impressed with the research that I conducted."

"My boss recently asked me to make a case for Oracle on Demand versus SAP Business ByDesign. Our business was growing so fast, and we needed a new CRM fast. I called both companies who took me through a webinar and a couple of online tutorials. I then gathered the data and made an informative PowerPoint presentation. My boss was very impressed with how thorough I was, and I was happy to learn something new!"

"Each time I onboard a new client, I analyze a set of data before I make any recommendations on their strategy. This data includes their current analytics, primary sales sources, key customers, and more. I have a formula that I follow for the most part to help me assess and then give the best strategic recommendations that I can."

"My current employer wanted to know the exact impact our social media campaigns were making. I gathered our Facebook analytics for him and created a short PowerPoint presentation from the data. My recommendation was to increase our keywords in the geographical areas where our ads received the highest click-through rates. My research and recommendations certainly helped as our Facebook reach grew exponentially."

"As department manager, I'm responsible for forecasting what our sales will be for the upcoming season so that our buyer can accurately purchase the proper inventory. I have to look at our current inventory, last year's trends, YOY growth, and what the industry is doing as a whole, especially with the impact of online retailers. I then make a recommendation and forecast that will either set us up for success or not. If I under or over forecast, we end up with not enough inventory or too much to sell through and the cost is either opportunity in missed sales, or having to discount unnecessary items. To date, I've been nearly exact in my predictions."

"When doing annual reviews with my clients, I would analyze the past year's shipments, trends, and overall data. I would then make recommendations for improved efficiencies, rates, and better service contracts in the upcoming year. I would make not only carrier recommendations based on service level and pricing, but also made suggestions on new routes or ways in which we could be creative, like consolidating the shipments in our warehouses, to save cost when possible. I managed two of the most significant accounts in the office, so my recommendations were fundamental to our bottom line, and I'm happy to report that they were consistently adopted, resulting in more business."

"I am responsible for analyzing the results of our unit tests given across the department quarterly. I had not only to compile the results and make recommendations as to what units to keep and what to remove for the following year but also diagnose what ineffective and how we could remedy that. This task is a critical one as it shapes the future of the department and our efficacy as teachers."

problem solving questions during interview

Stephanie's Feedback

5. When a problem requires a quick solution, how do you respond?

When it comes to complex problem solving, decisions are not always readily reached. It takes practice, experience, and confidence to learn what sorts of decisions yield the best results. Walk the interviewer through your process when it comes to making quick decisions. Do you rely on past experiences? Perhaps you go with a gut feeling. Maybe you have read case studies that you lean on in these instances. Problems that require you to act quickly can be emergency situations such as knowing where the fire extinguisher is and grabbing it fast enough to put out a small grease fire in the company kitchen. Other quick decisions could be if you are asked to take on a new responsibility and are only given five minutes to decide if it's something you are prepared to take on. Going with your gut is a skill, and the more you learn to trust your intuition, the easier it becomes to make these types of decisions. Demonstrate that you are confident and able to react swiftly when the need arises.

"Our Controller recently came down with pneumonia on a week where we had a major client presentation to give. He sent me what he had prepared, and I had to fill in the blanks. As an Analyst it was a bit out of my wheelhouse, being in a client facing role, but I adapted quickly, and reminded myself that my team needed me."

"When an urgent problem arises at work, I always try to respond in a calm and assuring manner. I am a natural leader which means that my team often looks to me for answers. One instance of my fast-thinking was just last week when we had an administrative employee no-show on a significant day for us. I called a temp agency, and they had the position filled in just one hour."

"In logistics, there are often split-second decisions that can either get the freight to a customer on time or cause a shut-down of a production line. Sometimes, these decisions have to be made after hours. On more than one occasion, I've received a phone call from our central dispatch asking me how to handle a late driver. I have to remember the details of the particular shipper or receiver, my customer, and the actual load in question but also get creative with how they can make sure to meet customer expectations. Due to the urgent nature of the business, as well as the drivers, it has to be a very quick decision to be successfully resolved. Luckily, due to following my gut, I've been able to make very fast, split-second decisions in the best interest of the branch and customer."

"As a Marketing Director, I need to make a multitude of decisions, on the fly, for varying projects. I rely partially on the instinct that I have built as an expert in the marketing industry and part in past experiences that may be similar. I am sure always to exude an air of control when making decisions."

"I thrive under pressure and always have, so when I'm given a time-sensitive situation to address, I light up and get down to business. I am more impactful and even more creative when I have little time to do much besides jump in and take charge. This ability to make fast decisions is especially helpful in my role as manager when there is an inventory, personnel, or customer issue."

"Just like with negotiations, I react swiftly in emergency situations. Perhaps my skills come from my years as a parent, having to think fast and put out fires! If a quick solution is required, I will do a fast overview of the facts and make a decision based on risk factors considering the potential financial loss."

"I am certainly a take charge and tackle a project kind of gal - as a teacher and a mom, too! I feel I have a powerful and accurate intuitive sense and I follow it instinctively. It's very rarely steered me wrong."

6. When it comes to problem solving, are you a strong collaborator?

Show off your teamwork skills by giving an example of when you successfully collaborated with your coworkers. Be sure to demonstrate how you communicated your thoughts or opinions. Highlight how your contributions, or ability to ask for help, made a difference. Explain how you are a team player who enjoys working alongside others.

"Last month, I recruited a couple of coworkers to help me solve a problem for a client. We were looking at their financials, but something didn't add up, and I didn't have the analysis background that these two co-workers had. Together we molded our areas of expertise and created a bulletproof financial plan for our client. I enjoyed the collaboration and would do it again in a heartbeat."

"I am most certainly a strong collaborator! Being an executive assistant, I am often in need of strong collaboration to complete a project for the VP who I support. I love learning new things from my coworkers and those who I report to."

"I love having impromptu brainstorm sessions with my team. It keeps everyone on their toes! When an issue comes to light, I will approach the problem with the entire team and open the floor, at the end of the meeting, for suggestions."

"In marketing, it is imperative to collaborate and gain different sides of the story, and new opinions. I try to seek out my team's opinions on projects all the time. I find everyone has something to contribute and can help me see a problem or strategy in a way that I may not have ever considered."

"I would consider myself an active collaborator and believe that two heads are almost always better than one. Three is the best, in my opinion. This way the team is odd-numbered, so if there's a dispute you can take a vote on it! Multiple viewpoints are almost always a great idea."

"I am a strong collaborator. I am always willing to listen to others' opinions, hear their perspective, and work together to build a solution that will fit for everyone. I am always looking to draw from others' experience and expertise to bring about the best solution for the client and the branch as a whole. When drafting a pitch for a client, I am always sure to bring on a manager or carrier sales rep so that I will have multiple perspectives to help bring us to the best collaborative solution."

"I believe I'm a skilled collaborator and am confident that my coworkers would agree. I come to our bi-weekly department meetings full of ideas and with an open spirit, ready to collaborate with the rest of the team. We always have engaging discussions that result in great takeaways for the teachers as well as our students."

7. When you cannot seem to find the right solution to a problem, how do you deal?

Sometimes, problems just seem too impossible to solve, at first glance. Your creative problem-solving skills may be at a stand-still from time to time, and the interviewer wants to know how you deal with that. Taking a brief break and stepping away from the problem can help you to see things from a different perspective. When you are in a rut, you can waste time plugging away at something, resulting in a decline in productivity. Discuss with the interviewer how you handle being in a rut like this.

"If I am stuck on a particular problem, I will take a break from trying to figure out what's wrong and ask a coworker for advice. Getting another person's perspective when you start to feel like you're hitting a wall can help one to see a problem with a fresh set of eyes. As humans, sometimes we overthink! The biggest hurdle can be asking for help, and I am not above asking for help when I'm stuck."

"If time allows - I will sleep on it! When faced with tough decisions where an answer does not come to me easily, I will take a moment to feel the issue out. When necessary I will also bring in the opinion of the administrators in a different department."

"If I cannot come to a solution that feels right I will check in with other leaders whom I work with and, depending on the situation, my business mentor. It's important to check in with those that I admire as they have unique ideas and some have more industry tenure as well."

"As a marketer, I am hired to find the solution for others. As you can imagine, when that solution seems elusive, it is incredibly challenging for me to accept. For this reason, I love brainstorm sessions with my team. I will also look to the outside in the form of resources online such as blogs and forums by other marketing professionals."

"It can be frustrating when a solution does not come fluidly. However, sometimes trying a solution and seeing it fail, will lead you to a lightbulb moment. I am an active person, so I like to walk and talk things out. Usually, as I do that, I don't filter my ideas. This way, something slips out that I would have edited out as "ridiculous" if I were writing down a list. I have found that this free-flowing problem-solving session often leads to the most creative and impactful solutions which I would have nixed from the get-go had another not failed."

"If I'm stuck on a problem, I try to take some time away from the issue, ideally by taking a step away from the screen and get my blood flowing. Walking away seems to help me get reinvigorated and more creative. I also find it valuable to talk it out with someone, even if that person is not a stakeholder in the situation."

"If I am stuck in a rut or can't seem to figure out the best approach, I am fortunate enough that I have so many other tasks and classes that I can focus on. Usually, if I clear my mind and fill it with something else, a great idea hits me when I least expect it. If I am stuck on a problem and cannot take the time to step away, I usually rely on my students to help me shake it off!"

8. When faced with a problem, how do you decide on the best solution?

There may be more than one solution to a problem, and the interviewer would like to know how you make a final choice when you're in a situation like that. Effectively comparing and contrasting, or weighing the pros and cons, is essential when choosing the best way to solve a problem. The interviewer wants to see that you are capable when it comes to calculating risk vs. reward. Think about a time when you have compared the risk and reward to a potential solution.

"If I have a problem with multiple solutions, I always go back to the classic pros vs. cons method. I fully understand that although no solution is perfect, and some solutions offer lesser sacrifice while others pose potential loss. I have been trained to take the solution that is 'closest to the money' which means that if I am stuck between a rock and a hard place, I will choose the solution that is most beneficial to the company's bottom line."

"When it comes to problem-solving, I will always weigh the pros and cons before making a decision. I will also bounce my thoughts off of some co-workers if I still feel conflicted after that."

"My decisions are always based on three factors. One, what is best for the company. Two, what is best for our clients. Three, what will boost employee morale. Now, not all decisions will be popular with all three groups, and I do keep that in mind. In those instances, it is my job to watch our bottom line but ensure customer satisfaction at all times."

"Rock, paper, scissors! Kidding - of course! Our team will collaborate on tough decisions, and we often vote. Majority wins in our office for many creative decisions."

"When I face a problem, I am sure to draw on previous experiences both as a customer and an employee in retail. I then use these experiences to make the most informed decision that I can about the problem at hand. Generally speaking, if I've already seen or experienced a very comparable situation, I can be impactful and exact in my approach by drawing from those experiences."

"As I consider a problem and its solutions, I make a note of what my gut tells me what to do. Then I take a step back and reflect on times that I have faced the situation before. I recall the actions that I took, the outcome, and then pivot as necessary. I trust my instinct because I am heavily knowledgeable in this industry, but I believe in relying on fact as well."

"I am typically a follow-my-gut type of person, so I follow my instinct when possible. I make a note of what my initial inclination was and then I make sure to compare and contrast solutions. Once I have identified the best solution, I check in to see if it feels right. More often than not, my initial instinct is correct. Of course, I am sure to be analytical as I weigh out each decision."

9. How do you prioritize multiple projects when they all seem equally important?

Prioritizing is a skill that requires practice. There are many approaches you can take. Here are some suggestions: 1) Make a list. By thinking through and writing down each item that needs completion, you can see it on paper. 2) Mark what is urgent or essential. Take into account deadlines and meetings. 3) Order each task based on effort and estimated value. 4) Consider due dates and how long it will take to do each item. When answering this question, show the interviewer that you have a system in place that helps you to think through what needs to happen, and when. The better you can prioritize, the more productive you will be, making you an asset to their company!

"I aim to be as effective and efficient as possible and make sure I can use all minutes of a day for a project. I have a few things going at once most of the time. I am the lead on some, the delegator on others, and the reviewer on another, for instance. This way, by splitting up the work to the appropriate parties, both my team and I can be the most efficient with our time."

"I often have multiple projects due at a time, since I am the assistant to three different executives. I ask my executives to rank their need from 1-5 in the level of urgency, including its due date. I start my work on that list. If there is more than one urgent need, I will work overtime, or through my lunch, to ensure that I deliver everything on time."

"I had to utilize creative problem solving last month when we found ourselves short-staffed and unable to hire new employees due to budget cuts. I changed our schedule to include some split shifts and received approval for a small amount of overtime spending. The problem is solved, at least temporarily, until our company comes out of our spending freeze."

"In my current department, we are very systematic in our customer delivery promises; however, that is not to say that doubling up on client deliveries does not happen. When situations occur where I have to prioritize, I will do so by the size of the client and budget. It may seem unfair at times; however, our largest clients with the most significant spend always rule out."

"I prioritize based on urgency and time required for the project. I have a list of what needs to be done, by when, and how long I estimate that it will take to accomplish. I am great under pressure, but try to make sure that I don't get myself or my team into a sticky situation by not allotting enough time for any particular project."

"I love to keep running lists of everything that I need to do, big or small. Mostly because I love crossing things off of the to-do list, but also because it helps me keep track of everything. Lately, I've started utilizing a free project management software that I use to make those lists, categorize the tasks, and mark them by the level of urgency. I take care of the most time-sensitive issues first and then move along to the equally important, but perhaps less time-sensitive to-dos. I also estimate how long each task will take, so if I have a few minutes in between projects, I can tackle the quick to dos and use that time effectively, rather than use it to figure out 'what's next.'"

"I follow the tried and true practice of making lists and assigning each item a priority and tackling the list that way. I love to check things off my list, as it gives me a feeling of accomplishment. Also, I am a believer in following my intuition. If I feel that something lower on the to-do list needs to be bumped up in priority, I will tackle that right away. As a teacher, there are always a lot of simultaneous to do items, so in addition to prioritizing, I have to be good at multitasking; something I find I do quite well as both a teacher and a mom."

problem solving questions during interview

Marcie's Feedback

10. Tell me about a recurring problem that you run into in your current position, and how you handle it.

The interviewer wants to see that, despite this recurring problem, you take action to find a resolution. They want to make sure they aren't hiring a chronic complainer who is easily defeated! Be careful to avoid complaining about your current (or most recent) position. A recurring problem could be a glitchy software system, an employee who is regularly late, or even an unpredictable work schedule. Remain optimistic in your reply!

"A recurring problem that I have in my current position is the fact that our client management software is not user-friendly. Any entry that I need to make is incredibly time-consuming which poses a real problem when a deadline is present, or when we have clients waiting for an answer. I have found that the best workaround for this is not to allow my paperwork to build up. The more proactive I am, the better I can keep ahead of schedule."

"A problem that I am currently running into is a lack of office supplies. My boss has been running very lean, financially speaking, since our industry took a downturn. I have to time my ordering with client invoices at this point. This situation has certainly helped me to become more aware of spending and budgets, that's for sure!"

"The greatest issue in my current position is that we have so much employee turnover. It started to feel like I was constantly training new staff. I came up with an employee referral bonus program which greatly helped. For every successful referral, our employees get $400 plus another $400 after their referral stays for three months. I believe this has been successful because the quality of our employees has greatly increased."

"In my current office, we have more clients than we can handle - which is a great thing! However, it's been tough to find the best marketers to join our team because we are a small organization. This hiring situation has meant a lot of overtime hours, which I am certainly happy to do for the most part. I do look forward to working with a bigger team, like yours."

"Unfortunately, a recurring issue in my current company is employee tenure. It's just really part of the industry as we need some holiday and seasonal associates and they typically don't want to stay on, or we don't have the budget to keep them on. This turnover means we are continually becoming a new team and learning how to work with our new coworkers. Scheduling often has a learning curve with a new team, too, because you have to take into account the availability of all parties, and who works well together. That said, it's something I'm used to. I make it a bit of a personal challenge or game for myself. How quickly I can learn their available days, how fast I can learn who works best together."

"A recurring issue at my current job is lack of reliable inventory that my clients are requesting, which can be incredibly frustrating. I am working hard to land a client, get them to buy into our program, both literally and figuratively, and then we fall short of expectations when our inventory doesn't meet their standards. That said, I continue to go out, land new clients, and try to source the proper inventory for them."

"A recurring issue revolves around my lack of a classroom and the friction that can arise at times because of it. Without the flexibility of my own classroom, I sometimes find myself in an awkward situation since I have to abide by the other teacher's rules, which sometimes conflict with mine. I do my best to follow the teachers' class rules, and make sure that we have a good understanding."

11. Tell me about a time when you failed to solve a problem. How did you overcome the failure?

'Success is bouncing from failure to failure without losing momentum,' or so they say. Your resilience shines through when you can learn from your mistakes and keep going. Give an example that shows you can accept fault and learn from challenging experiences.

"I failed to meet an important deadline in my first job out of college because I didn't know how to prioritize properly. I kept letting other menial tasks get in the way rather than focusing on finishing the project. I learned how to manage my time wisely by setting reasonable goals and reminders on my calendar. This technique helped me to manage my time more effectively."

"Last month we were having issues with our GoToMeeting application, and it was right before a major client meeting. I was on a call with the service provider, trying to troubleshoot and unfortunately, did not deliver a fix on time. After the initial frustration, I decided to talk to my boss about having backups in place. Now, we have Skype, and Google Hangouts set up for these emergency situations."

"I was asked to solve our issue of employee turnover which ended up being much more difficult than I originally thought. My initial goal was to improve turnover by 70% but in the end, only reached 40% improvement. Although I did not reach my goal, I am still happy that my action plan made a difference."

"I had a customer who was not happy with my delivery, and I chose to take care of the situation without involving my boss. It wasn't that I was trying to sweep the situation under the rug, I just honestly thought I had been successfully dealing with the situation on my own. Unfortunately, I was wrong because the client sent a nasty email to my boss a short time after. I should have gone to my boss right away and filled him in. It's something that I've learned from, and I'm ready to involve my boss with every sticky client situation."

"In a previous role as a personal shopping assistant, I was tasked with taking on a notoriously difficult client. She spent a lot of money in the store in the past but was very demanding. This challenge seemed like the perfect opportunity to prove myself. A few months in, I made the misstep of mentioning something she'd complained about at an earlier date. Apparently, she was offended that I brought it up, even though I meant it very innocently. I owned up to it immediately to my manager and came up with a plan to win her back. I wrote a snail-mail card apologizing to her and let several weeks pass before reaching out in any other way. By the time I did, two months later, she was perfectly lovely, dismissed my apology as though she didn't know what I was talking about, and we moved along in a better fashion than we had prior."

"In my first role out of college, I was working to solve a lane issue with a carrier that kept falling through. I went through every solution I could come up with including pitching consistency, to leveraging my current relationships, and asking for favors. Those favors and workarounds ran out, and we fell short of client expectations. While I did all that I knew how at the time, I still fell short, and it was disappointing. In retrospect, I would have involved more people in supervisory positions earlier on in the process to learn from their shared experiences."

"The problem I've failed to solve that still keeps me up at night is a successful inclusion of one of my students with an IEP. He loves Spanish and in a one-on-one setting excels at it, but cannot handle the behavior expectations in class because he gets too excited. I've tried multiple approaches to get him to regulate, and participate, but so far nothing has allowed him to participate in the class without disrupting the other students and causing a meltdown for himself. This fact weighs on me since I want him to experience inclusion at all times. As a result, he comes to my office a few days each week, and we have our Spanish class together. I feel this exemplifies who I am as a teacher. I will go the extra mile for my students to make sure they get their fair shake at life."

12. What sources do you look to when you need to solve a complicated problem?

The interviewer wants to know that you can think outside the box, or even ask for help when you are stuck on a complicated problem. Maybe you look to a mentor or boss for advice. Perhaps you have handbooks, manuals and systems you turn to for help. Offer some relevant examples based on your industry. If you work in the medical field, you may turn to textbooks, online research, colleagues or even patient's history to find the right solution. If you work in customer service, you may ask the customer what they need to find the best way to solve the problem. Show the interviewer that you are knowledgeable and equipped to handle these types of scenarios.

"When I am faced with a complicated problem, I will look to the resources that my current company has provided me. The answer is almost always in there. If it's more of a moral dilemma vs. a knowledge-based dilemma, I will ask my supervisor for his thoughts and opinion since I value him as a mentor and expert in our industry."

"I have a variety of manuals and online tutorials that I lean to when I need to solve a complicated problem. Usually, the issues are surrounding Excel troubleshooting, so it is easy to find answers without involving anyone else and interrupting their day."

"I have a business mentor that I turn to for significant problems. She and I are in the same industry; however, she is much more tenured than I am. I recommend that everyone have a mentor. Even though I run a team of my own now, there are times when I do not have the answers."

"When I need to solve a complicated problem I will turn to marketing forums and blogs that I follow. There is a plethora of information on the internet, and it would be a shame not to take advantage of them!"

"To solve a complex issue, I will reach out to a manager or mentor from a previous role to ask them how they've handled such issues in the past. I am always ready to dive back into our handbook, but these types of scenarios are often not covered there, which is why I value a human, experiential approach. I know that there are so many folks in the industry who have so much to teach me and have probably already "been-there-done-that," so I love to utilize them as a resource."

"If there's a complicated problem, I'll write out what I think the possible solutions would be. Then, I will weigh those potential solutions against one another and list the complications that may arise as a result of each choice. Also, I am always open to input or suggestions from those with more experience than I. I will often turn to my organizations' training resources, as well as talk the problem out with coworkers or my boss."

"I have a vast cohort of teachers with whom I work currently, or have worked in the past, so if I am stuck on a problem or feel I need some additional help, I reach out to these educators. If nothing else, they're there to lend an ear and let me bounce my ideas off of them. They almost always have some real-life experience in a very similar situation. I value this collaborative, supportive group that I've amassed over the years."

13. After you implement a solution to a problem, how do you test the effectiveness of that solution?

The interviewer wants to see that you have strong follow-through skills and the ability to use data and analytics to support your decisions. The only way to test the effectiveness of a new solution is to keep a close eye on the immediate, and often longer-term, results! Depending on the situation, you can use data, run reports, and compare/contrast your findings. If you have records of the data before your problem-solving solution, you can track the results of your new solution and analyze in a month, or beyond. It can take time to see the results, so having a method for measuring them is essential. Give an example of a time you implemented a solution and found a way to measure the results to check its efficacy.

"Last year, our company was having a very high rate of turnover due to employee burnout during overtime hours worked. I implemented a third shift which alleviated the need for excessive overtime. Yes, it did increase our payroll costs by 33%; however, it decreased our turnover which was costing us more and more every year. From the analytics I have been watching, the change will pay for itself by the end of year two."

"One solution that I recently implemented was the use of Google calendar with the executive that I support. She was rarely updating her Outlook calendar because she found it to be too difficult to do on her smartphone. Since this implementation, we have minimized our crossed wires significantly! I have measured the effectiveness of this new calendar strategy by marking down any appointments that need to be rescheduled. So far, for the month, the number of reschedules is down by 80%."

"I always look at the data to gauge the efficacy of policy or new solution. I am big on numbers as they do tell the full, and true, story. I love the reliability of spreadsheets and numbers!"

"Once our team comes up with a new marketing strategy for a client we will conduct two focus groups. One test group will be on the original marketing plan and the second, on the plan that we want to pitch. The use of focus groups is the best way for us to measure if our new strategy will be effective enough to justify the changes for the client."

"I like to collect data, as well as anecdotal assessments of new policies. It's great to have data to confirm if it was or was not effective, but I am a firm believer, too, in getting the team on board. Plus, as you implement a solution, sometimes those doing the actual day-to-day work with customers or in the actual implementation have a more accurate understanding of what's going on or what could be improved. Therefore, I am sure to ask the staff how they think it's going, if it's impactful, or what they still see as an area for growth."

"To test the effectiveness of any solution, you have to be objective and see if it genuinely addressed the problem it set out to solve. Everything in our business runs on KPIs, so when we introduce any initiative, we can see how it is or is not impacting those measurements. One example of this was when I assigned specific accounts to my team of buyers, instead of just attaching as they came up. The idea was to get a buyer to become an expert on that account, their buying habits, and therefore be more effective in the long term at sourcing for their needs. At first, it didn't seem all that impactful, as the close rate was still around 42% overall. However, over the course of 10 weeks, we saw an uptick in close ratios on the assigned, dedicated accounts versus the randomly distributed ones, resulting in 53% close ratio. It's something that became so effective that other sales pods adopted it as their practice as well."

"For me, numbers play an important part in teaching but do not paint the full picture. So, after implementing a change, it is certainly important for me to collect data from our unit tests to gauge the efficacy of the lessons we're teaching and the lesson plans we are using. However, I also am sure to check-in with the students on a more regular basis to check for comprehension. Testing is only truly reflective of the way some students learn, whereas others are terrible test takers, even though they've learned the material. That is why I like to take a two-pronged approach."

14. When a major problem arises, what is your first reaction?

The interviewer wants to know if your reactions to problems reflect maturity and professionalism. How you react will significantly determine how you fit with their existing team. Perhaps your computer crashes, and you realize you may have just lost all of your hard work. Or maybe you are limited on time and have a deadline rapidly approaching. Demonstrate to the interviewer that you take a very methodical approach to problem-solving, rather than reacting impulsively when a problem occurs.

"When a major problem arises, my first instinct is to take a step back and absorb what just happened. I then go into 'brainstorm' mode, jotting down potential ways to resolve the issue. From there, I can use a pros and cons list to determine the best course of action for a fast and amicable resolution."

"I have taught myself to become much calmer with my first reactions when problems arise. Now, I will step back and review my options for solving the problem rather than allow myself to become frustrated. If I feel that I cannot solve the issue on my own, I will ask for help from my superiors."

"Depending on the situation, I will gather my resources and team and collaborate on making the necessary happen on a shortened timeline so that we can deliver our results in the most efficient manner possible. Usually, we learn something about ourselves, the team, or a more effective approach to the next problem in the process."

"When a major problem arises, my first instinct is to jump in and fix the issue. I am a do-er and also think in a reverse-engineering manner. I start with the desired result, and work my way backward from there, figuring out where the snag occurred."

"I am resistant to stress but cannot completely avoid it. When a major issue arises, I will take a quick walk, if possible, so I can best assess how to address the issue while clearing my head. Then, I get to work. I delegate whenever possible so that I can oversee the effectiveness, but am not at all afraid to jump in and do the dirty work myself."

"In the event of a significant problem or setback, my first reaction is to freeze in disbelief for a moment or two while I gather myself, then I jump into action. I know that I need to work harder and faster to recover the time and effort lost. My salesperson mind goes into overdrive until the issue comes to a resolution."

"My first inclination in the event of a major problem is to roll up my sleeves and jump in to fix it or help mitigate some of the potential blow out. This initial reaction is especially true when the problem involves a student's feelings or wellbeing."

15. What steps do you take when you have to make an immediate decision without all the relevant information?

Sometimes we have to make decisions without all of the pertinent information at our fingertips. The interviewer wants to know that you are capable of taking educated guesses and that you are confident enough in your abilities that you can make a firm decision without all pieces of the problem being present.

"When I need to decide without all of the information, I weigh the pros and cons and come up with a solution that makes the most sense. Common sense can take you a long way! Next, I may ask the opinion of someone I trust to see what they think. Even though I trust my decision-making ability, I still think it's important to get a second opinion when it comes to situations involving money or decisions that make a significant impact on others."

"Being organized, I do have a checklist that I follow on all policy-related decisions and changes. If I do not have all necessary information to make an important decision, I can usually find answers in our company resource database, or I will consult an administrator more tenured than I."

"Immediate decisions are required of me on a daily basis. For instance, what do I do when a forklift driver doesn't show up for their shift? How do I react to a chemical spill in the warehouse? I find that the most effective method for making immediate decisions is to forget about what you don't know and focus on what you do know. That's the best anyone can do, and there is no sense wasting time on the what ifs, especially in my industry when the safety of others could be at risk."

"In my current company, we have a rule always to do what will make the client happiest. So, when I am in a situation where I need to make an immediate decision on a client file, I will ask myself what I would want if I were the client. Then, I jump into action to make that happen."

"Often when a customer is worked up, I only have a piece of the puzzle to go off of, whether because they haven't given the full story, or I'm pulled in by the associate who heard the full story. In either case, it's something I'm accustomed to and deal with daily. As far as customer problems go, they tend to follow the same general pattern, so I assess quickly what category the problem seems to fall in, and go from there."

"I am a strong believer in following my gut, and for the most part, it has not steered me wrong. I try to gather as much information as possible, but when all of the pieces are not accessible, I assess the situation using my prior knowledge of similar situations, and I follow my intuition. If I'm not certain or feel conflicted, I don't hesitate to bring in another person to help me come to the best decision for the company."

"I feel comfortable making an immediate decision, even if I don't have all of the relevant information, for the most part. I have great confidence in my situational knowledge as an experienced educator. One example that comes to mind was the class when there was a behavior outburst. I immediately leaped into action to diffuse the situation the best way I knew. By acting quickly, I can prevent the situation from further escalating."

16. How do you deal with distracting coworkers who stand in the way of your progress?

Even the most well-meaning coworkers can distract you from getting things done at work from time to time. The funny and entertaining coworkers who like to chat online and send YouTube videos are often the ones who can get in the way of your productivity if you let them. How do you respond? Show off your ability to set professional boundaries, when needed.

"I typically just set a kind, but clear, boundary and tell my coworker that I need to focus. I will offer an alternate time for a catch-up, over lunch for example. It is important for the sake of workplace culture to set aside time to be social with coworkers, so I usually just let them know when I'll be available for a quick break in the day."

"I understand working relationships are significant, and I'm sure to make time for them so that I can be useful but also enjoy myself at work. With that said, I know where these relationships fall regarding prioritization of my day. I make sure that others know that, too, without being off-putting."

"I am always interrupted by my team - that is par for the course being a manager. To deal with any lost time, I will simply stay late or come to work a bit earlier the next day. My day is unpredictable, and I have accepted that fact."

"I am very open with my colleagues and will let them know if they are a distraction. Currently, I can take my work home as well so if there is a part that I cannot get past due to distractions; I will take a day to work from my home office."

"I try to make the workplace as fun as possible, within reason. I love to make it a place people want to go to, instead of dread. That said, there are always the people that ruin it for the rest of the team by taking advantage. To combat this, I make it very clear what the expectations of allowed and prohibited behaviors are, and am sure to reinforce those expectations."

"There are always going to be co-workers who are there for the gab, rather than the work, or who are content just being in their position with no intent of advancing through the ranks. Early in my career, this bothered me. Why weren't they motivated to grow and learn? Then, I realized that it's important to have those people since a company can't have all its people always vying for the top. If there's a distracting coworker, I try to make my priorities clear and engage kindly and courteously with them as humans, and then get back to work. I am sure to remain friendly, while also firm, as needed, to communicate that I am here for work first as a priority."

"Very rarely do I find that my coworkers successfully distract me- even in a department meeting, I find I'm able to remain on task. I was always taught to ignore the behavior you wish to cease. If my coworkers are distracting and seeking attention, I try to ignore it as much as possible and only address it when it's detracting from a productive work environment."

17. Tell me about a time when you had to troubleshoot to solve a problem.

Troubleshooting is like reverse engineering - it takes skill, effort, and patience. You have to understand the problem to know how to work backward from it to find a solution. Knowing how to solve problems with technical equipment is always a solid skill, and a great way to demonstrate your example. Show that you are insightful in your approach.

"Last week, while operating the ultrasound machine, I was receiving a repeated error. I entered in a few different codes, but that didn't solve the issue. I then did a hard reset, removing all power sources. Then, I referred to the online manual for additional suggestions. It took a little time and patience, but I was able to resolve the issue without calling a technician."

"We do not have an IT department in my current office so whenever an issue arises, I am the person that my team calls. Troubleshooting is fun for me - it's like a new challenge every time. Google and IT forums are often my best friend!"

"We had a major complication in our system and our entire production line shut down. Our network administrator could not be reached so I had to go old-school and manually enter the orders so that my team could continue with production. The entire debacle lasted half of a day, and my system worked well as a placeholder."

"One of our clients called me in a panic, saying that Facebook rejected their ad campaign that we so carefully crafted. I researched on ad policy forums and learned that it was not approved because we did not set our demographic targets to people only over the age of 21. The ad was for a craft beer company, and we did not put into consideration the legal age in most states. Once I was able to narrow down the issue, I tweaked the ad, and it was approved."

"One horrific day at work, our systems went down entirely. We had no backup for how to check customers out, so I had to dig in the deep recesses of the back room and find the card imprint machines, and we wrote out tickets by hand and made imprints of the cards. I tried all the usual tricks to get our registers up, but couldn't get them to come online as it was a network error. I found the way around it with the handprint cards and then opening the cash drawer with a key."

"In a troubleshooting situation, I approach it like a maze and work backward. There are usually multiple factors contributing to any one issue, so I try to discern what they are, weigh those out and try to conclude what the potential best solution is. As far as technically speaking, my go-to in many situations, as rudimentary and childish as it may be, is often turn it off and turn it back on. Ha. I know it sounds too simple, but it often works best."

"I do everything I can to test out the technology before I bring it into the classroom- the day is so packed that we don't have any time to spare on figuring out technology if it acts up. I also always have a backup plan in mind in case the smart board or whatever we're utilizing that day doesn't cooperate, so we don't lose precious learning time." However, I believe that troubleshooting applies to more than just technology. Problems that occur offline also need troubleshooting as they arise, including figuring out a lesson plan and how it works or doesn't. It's all about working backward to see what issues, if any, may arise in its implementation during a dry run. By preparing in advance and being aware of what issues may come up, I'm able to flush out problems that would have otherwise arisen during the class time. "

18. Tell me about a time when your analysis of a problem was deemed to be incorrect. What would you have done differently?

Everyone makes mistakes when analyzing a situation. The interviewer isn't concerned with perfection; instead, they want to know how you deal the aftermath of rejection! Sometimes you can't correct your mistakes, but you can certainly learn from them. Highlight your ability to learn from your mistakes and move on, professionally.

"It was my first job as a physician's assistant, and I was trying to diagnose a patient who had severe pain in her abdomen. After running some tests, the doctor and I believed she was suffering from a gallbladder problem. We treated her, but she came back to the ER a week later. It turned out she had a problem with her pancreas. Even though we misdiagnosed her initially, we were able to use this mistake to help us identify the real problem. I've learned that sometimes making a mistake is a part of the process of solving a more complicated problem."

"I was asked recently to work on balancing an accounts receivable report. Math is not my strongest suit; however, I was confident in my ability to make it happen. Through a bit of research, I carefully worked on the document and was quite proud of my result. It turns out, I skipped a few important steps, and my work was, in fact, incorrect. I took it as a learning opportunity but also realized that my strengths are in other areas of business. I should have asked for the project to be placed with someone else, but I do not regret trying."

"We had incredibly high turnover rates when I first started in my current role. Going in guns blazing, wanting to make a strong first impression, I did a complete overhaul of the training manual thinking that was the problem. It turns out the training manual was just fine. The culprit to the turnover was one employee who was a complete bully on the job. The moment I terminated that person, the issue was solved. At least now I have a fancy new training manual! Moving forward, I now poll my team regularly for job satisfaction. I encourage a transparent workplace culture where people feel safe bringing their issues to me."

"I had a client, earlier in my career, who was not seeing the same results from their Facebook advertising as they once did. I changed the headlines, increased the budget, and even did multiple A-B tests. What I failed to see were the strategic algorithm changes that Facebook had made, which directly affected the visibility of my clients' ads. Now, I have alerts and subscribe to a couple of blogs solely dedicated to these changes, so I never miss a beat."

"Unfortunately, this happened not too long ago where I misjudged a customer complaint. The associate needed to escalate the conflict to a manager but did not accurately portray the customer's concern, and I jumped into action based off of the limited information given. Due to not gathering enough information from the customer herself or clarifying the misunderstanding with the associate, I took a misstep with the customer and did not resolve the issue as quickly as I would have liked. Ultimately, I was able to clarify the situation and get to a resolution that worked for everyone, leaving the customer happy. However I have some regrets. It was a learning process, and something I have been sure not to repeat since. Were I to do it again, I would clarify the situation with the customer, rather than taking the associate's word for it."

"When pitching an existing client on increased volume next year, I had made a recommendation on the most effective carrier for a lane. I based this recommendation on historical data and projected future rates. However, a merger occurred after the time of the pitch, and their prices skyrocketed since they were the only viable carrier for that area. Without competition, they didn't have to remain competitive in their rates. While I could not have predicted the merger, I could have quoted out with a higher margin on our part so that if there were some snag like this, we are covered. Since we lock in the rates for the customer, we took a loss each time they moved freight this way. As a backup method, whenever possible, I attempted to send the freight another way, so that we would lose some money but not take as large of a hit. That was a big learning experience for me and has helped me be better prepared to pitch other customers in a more effective, CYA type way."

"While teaching, the kids told me that I needed to quiet down at one point. I assumed it was the teacher whom I shared a wall with, that planted the seed, which was irksome. This type of situation had happened before. This time, however, I was wrong. I asked her to avoid delivering messages to me through the students, and she said she had not. Apparently, the students knew she had a headache that day, so they were all watching their volume level. I was glad that I did address the situation with the teacher, but made sure not to be accusatory or make assumptions about motives again."

19. Tell me about the most challenging aspect of your previous job. How did you overcome it?

Sometimes the most significant workplace challenge is a difficult task that puts you outside of your comfort zone. It could be something that requires skills you haven't mastered yet or qualities where you are not the strongest. Explain to the interviewer why it was difficult but be sure to spend more time highlighting the actions you took to overcome the challenge.

"The most challenging aspect of my last job was troubleshooting some of the older technology. We needed some serious upgrades, but they weren't in the budget. Learning how to work around this problem was quite a challenge, but I learned how by referring to old manuals and online forums. I ended up to become one of the stronger users of this program, in our entire office! I quickly became the go-to person when anyone had questions about the technology."

"In my current role, we have global offices that span four time zones. It is an incredible challenge to be continually calculating the difference in my mind when I call or email on updates for projects, for instance. I now have each locations time added to my desktop, my smartphone, and four individual clocks on my wall. These small and inexpensive changes made all the difference."

"The most challenging aspect of my previous job was the constant need to pivot when it came to trends in the industry. We would gain footing, and then the next greatest product would arrive. It made it difficult to feel loyalty to any of it. I started to express loyalty to the company's ability to discern great products instead of narrowing in on the products themselves. This shift in thought helped with mine and my teams' performance when it came to sales."

"My previous role was with a small agency where budgets were always a concern by the clients. Although I liked the clients, they were usually independent businesses with less than ten employees. They had a hard time thinking big-picture. I overcame this by coming up with a questionnaire that would address their greatest pain points and needs for their business. I would then focus on their small goals versus what I felt their company could be. Some business owners are more comfortable being comfortable, versus ruling the world, and that's okay! I just needed to wrap my marketing brain around that."

"The most challenging part of my prior role was navigating the landscape as the newest manager on the team. I needed to work on gaining the trust and respect despite my being green. I worked hard to build individual relationships with each associate and forge a bond with them. I also shared information about myself, including my experience in the industry, and who I am as a person. I know that this made me more human, approachable, and also solidified my credentials, so I know how to get the team on my side."

"The most challenging part of my previous job was relying on another team to be efficient. I am all for teamwork, but for me to be paid, this team needed to deliver timely and quality work. Meanwhile, their goals and metrics remained disconnected to any sales outcomes. This situation made it tough to motivate them. In the short term, I sat down with them and explained why it was vital for myself them, and the company that we work together on the same timeline. I incentivized them with coffee or store gift cards. Bigger picture, I sat down with the management of both teams and shared the issues we were having, suggesting a solution that would tie their KPIs and financial incentives to our outcomes, to make them invested. In the end, the short- and long-term approaches proved useful."

"I think the most challenging aspect of my current job is the fact that I share a classroom with another educator. Without having my space, other obstacles come up such as teachers trying to influence how I run my class, or them holding small conversations with their aides during my teaching time. I make sure to address this up front with the classroom teachers- that while it is also their room, please treat it as though it were mine during the 40 minutes that I am teaching. If there is ever an issue, I am sure to address it quickly and directly, so we can move past it."

20. When faced with a problem, are you more likely to jump into solving it, or are you the type to carefully assess the issue first?

The interviewer would like to know more about your problem-solving skills, and your personality. Discuss how you tackle problems when they arise, and keep your answer work-related if you can. Whether you are the type to jump right into solving a problem or you are more methodical in your approach, highlight to the interviewer that you are capable of handling issues professionally while using sound judgment.

"When faced with a problem, I am more likely to jump right into solving it. I believe that you cannot leave a problem to fester or become bigger than it already is. You have to take ownership of the issue, and involve yourself in the resolution right away. With that said, I am responsible for my decision making and certainly don't jump in blind. If I am unsure of what action to take, I will ask my leader for advice."

"I am careful and calculated in every step taken when it comes to problem-solving. This effort is because as an administrator, one error in judgment can throw off the timing of an entire project. I would say that I am the particular type who thoroughly assesses situations."

"As a manager, responsible for a team of 18 individuals, I need to be very calculated in most decisions that I make. I cannot act on the fly, or by emotion alone because others are relying on me."

"In marketing, I feel that I often have to do both. Some smaller decisions simply cannot be over-thought and others, especially when it comes to strategy, will need extra thought. I can provide both sides when appropriate."

"I think it depends on the situation at hand, honestly. In a familiar situation, I am ready to jump right in and tackle the problem. However, when the stakes are high, or tension is high, I am more inclined to take a step back, slow down, and be more tactful in my approach."

"I'm a "roll up my sleeves" kind of person. I see a problem, envision a solution, and begin to tackle it, figuring it out as I go and asking for help along the way. I think it can become a 'bury your head in the sand' issue, or the team will have the bystander effect, thinking someone else is going to take care of it, so I jump in and take action. I rally the troops, gather the appropriate supplies or resources as needed, and get to work."

"I'm the type of teacher who jumps in, head first and gets the work done. I know that the longer I wait to address a problem, the bigger it becomes, so I make sure to get right to it. This approach applies to interpersonal issues as well as curriculum missteps."

21. Give me a recent example of a valuable lesson you learned from a problem you faced at work.

One of the best aspects of problem-solving is that you always have the opportunity to learn from the experience. Seeing problems as opportunities to grow, is what makes you an excellent employee! Show the interviewer that you can learn valuable lessons when there is a problem at hand. Use a work-related example, if you can.

"Last month our sales team was facing a major challenge when we lost one of our primary distributors. I took action and started cold-calling, other potential distributors. I brainstormed with my team in some other ways that we could avoid a negative impact on our bottom line. We were quite successful in our recovery, and I would say that the biggest lesson I learned from the experience is that you are often only successful if you have motivated people in your corner."

"The most valuable lesson I learned from problem-solving at work is that not everyone will see your solution as the best one. Accepting change is difficult for some people, so I have found that not everyone will be on board right away."

"I recently had an employee express their disinterest in the job and the company. Rather than coach them out, I selfishly wanted to 'save' the employee. I put in extra hours mentoring and training her, just to see her quit anyways. It's a valuable lesson as a manager to put your energy into those who want to be there. Other efforts are often just a temporary fix for the inevitable."

"Marketing is always shifting so I often learn new, valuable lessons. One lesson I recently learned was to double check the documents that I send out for any needed updates. A lot of the manuals and how-tos that we send clients are evergreen; however, some are not. I accidentally sent an old social media guide to a client, and they ended up being incredibly confused. My lack of attention to detail at that moment was a bit embarrassing but lesson learned!"

"A recent learning experience was when I misjudged what the customer was upset about, and I didn't take the time to learn what it was that she was looking for. It reminded me to slow down, go back to the basics, and not assume that all situations fit the mold of the 'typical' customer. It was a perfect reminder that though I've seen most everything, I need to remember that each person and situation is unique."

"A recent valuable lesson for me has been not putting all of my eggs in one basket, as the old saying goes. Over 64% of my sales came from one group of stores, and they've always been a big contributor to the entire company's sales numbers. However, they were put on "hold" recently by their corporate, due to some restructuring issues. This event threw me for a loop. I was in real danger of not hitting my monthly sales target, and therefore I would have fallen short on my quarterly quota as well. I had to work extra long hours and hustle my other clients and fence-sitters to get them into "buy" mode to make up for the void in my numbers. It took a ton of effort, long nights, and creative pitches, but I was able to make up for the gap. I learned just how important it is to diversify my portfolio so that I don't find myself, or the company, in this position again."

"When working on curriculum development, I learned an important lesson. Two of our teachers wanted to keep a lesson in, because of personal connections to the lesson, but the other three were quite against it, with me being the uncertain one. I saw the validity in both sides. So, rather than find ourselves with a divisive issue on our hands, I proposed that we have a "freebie" lesson when we each got to pick one that we thought would culturally enrich our students. I learned that by thinking outside of the box, the team and our students would all benefit."

22. When change occurs in the workplace, it can create new problems. Do you see these as inconvenient problems, or opportunities to learn?

When a change occurs in the workplace, often problems arise due to new implementations and procedures, or unforeseen kinks needing to be worked out. Do you approach these problems positively or do you resist the change? Talk to the interviewer about how you can adapt to the inevitable issues that come with the change in the workplace.

"I fully understand that when the change occurs in the workplace, some new problems may arise because of it. I embrace workplace change because it often gives me the opportunity to learn a new skill or even teach a colleague a new skill."

"As an executive assistant, I see change all the time. Policy changes, travel changes, issues in scheduling, and the like. Although they are often inconvenient or threaten to throw my day off, I am always prepared with a Plan B. Each time these situations occur, I learn something new."

"Change is inevitable when you work with people because you cannot control everyone's reactions in a day, or whether they even show up to work. Recently I had a major shift in my team and, overnight, went from being completely confident in my team to the need of reassessing our strategy. I saw this as an opportunity to stretch outside of my comfort zone. I embrace change and learning opportunities."

"One change that we always go through in this industry are shifts related to social media platforms and online trends. These tools are ever evolving, and when you think you have it - poof - changes are made. I don't mind this, however. I believe that each shift is a chance to learn something new."

"I like to approach every day and situation as an opportunity to learn and grow, so even though it's uncomfortable, I like to think that there's something valuable to take away from any situation that involves change."

"I'm all about taking everything in stride and jumping on opportunities for growth and improvement. My latest job has been a year-long exercise in that: a start-up that pivoted entirely from the direction it had been going in when I was brought on, with an entirely new team and even intended client base. I decided to take it as a growth opportunity. I took a deep breath, rolled up my sleeves, and got to work learning and adapting to the new product, clients, and management. I think that the experience will serve me well in the future since I became quite flexible and learned a lot about myself and sales in the process."

"I am adaptable to change. As a teacher, I have to be open to change! Nothing stays the same in education and students challenge everything. I am capable of pivoting when needed and am not thrown off my game, easily."

23. Rate your problem solving skills from 1-10. How do you justify your rating?

The interviewer wants to know how you would rate your problem-solving skills. Of course, you want to give yourself a healthy rating; however, it's crucial that you remain realistic. Try to avoid giving yourself a 10, and nobody is perfect, and you do not want to come across as overly confident or someone who has no room for feedback and improvement. Alternately, avoid giving yourself too little credit. You do not want to paint the picture that you are a problem-solving dud! Try to remain in the 7.5-9.5 range while staying honest and accurate. Everyone has room to learn and improve! Be sure to justify your score as well.

"I rate my problem-solving skills as an 8/10. I will, on occasion, have times when I am not as efficient as I would like to be but all in all, I do feel that my problem-solving skills are above average. My supervisor and co-workers will attest to my fast reflexes when a problem arises, and they would also say that I remain calm under pressure."

"I will rate myself an eight because I value problem-solving but, just like most people, I have things to learn. Some ways to ensure that I can effectively solve issues are by utilizing multiple knowledge resources when looking for answers."

"I will rate myself an 8.5 because I consider myself a strong problem solver, especially when it comes to important matters that affect my team. Solid problem-solving skills are the foundation of success in business. I am always striving to be a better problem solver, so I leave the rest of the scale as an aspirational measure."

"Problem-solving is at the heart of what we do in marketing. We have to solve branding and sales issues for our clients all the time. I am an exceptional problem-solver, and quite creative with my strategies. For that reason, I will rate myself as a 9/10 and always improving."

"I'd rate my problem-solving skills as an 8/10. I believe I'm always a willing learner who brings creativity to the table, no matter what the situation. I am still full of ideas on how to solve a problem, and yet I am also open to the opinion and input of others. I like to collaborate but am not afraid to take charge and make it happen. There's room for growth, which is why I give myself only an 8!"

"I would say I get a solid 8.3 on a scale of 10. Seems weird to give myself something like a .3, but I think of it as an 83%, which is a B minus teetering on a solid B. It's a solid grade, with definite room for improvement, since I'm certainly not perfect. The reason for the B-/B grade would be that I'm quick to take action and figure out the solution as I go, but sometimes I could benefit from taking a moment to pause and reflect or gather other contributors before taking action. That said, I believe I get the best outcome possible when faced with a challenge."

"I would say I'm a strong problem solver and would rate myself an 8/10. I follow my gut and problem solve creatively, but know there is still room for improvement. I think my teamwork and problem strategies highlight my strengths in problem-solving. I can hear what people find essential and flush out the things on which we can compromise. Then, I come up with a great outcome that makes the teachers happy and is in the best interest of our students."

24. What do you think might be the greatest challenges faced in this job? How will you overcome these challenges?

Even though it may seem like a dream job, the interviewer wants to know that you have realistic expectations of the role and that you will not be blindsided if problems or challenges present themselves. Keep your answer simple. It is okay to ask for clarification on the position if you do not fully understand what challenges are in store for you.

"I think the greatest challenges in this role will be to learn the proper operation of the equipment. Another challenge will be the physical aspect of the position as I will be required to stand and walk around most of the day. I will be sure to pay keen attention to training and ask questions along the way. In regards to the physical component - I will get used to the additional activity after just a couple of days, I'm sure."

"I believe that the greatest challenge in this job will be to learn the ins and outs of your systems. I am familiar with SAP; however, will need to navigate some modules that will be new to me. If you don't mind, I would like to gain a head start on these by studying online for the next weekend or so."

"As a new manager, the biggest challenge is always to earn the trust of my new team. I plan to do this by getting to know everyone through genuine interest and conversation. I do understand that solid trust develops over time, but it's important to me to get started on the right foot."

"The greatest challenge is going to be getting to know your clients and their preferences. Every client has their quirks that need to be kept the top of mind during projects. I plan to read as many project notes as possible before diving into face-to-face meetings. I intend to come across to your clients as well-prepared and earnest."

"I think the added responsibility of running one of the highest volume departments in the store will be an adjustment, but it's a welcome challenge. I am looking forward to tackling it head on and growing through the challenges, because I know on the other side of those challenges, of that responsibility, lies the biggest opportunity yet."

"I would say the greatest challenge I'll face in this role is learning the industry ins and outs to be perceived as an expert when making the pitch to new clients. I want to be sure to immerse myself in the industry jargon, attend as many seminars and conventions as possible, and I've already begun subscribing and reading the leading industry publications so that I can get into the nitty-gritty of how it all works. Of course, I will also seek out mentorship opportunities where I can learn from folks who have been in the industry for years. I find they love to share their knowledge and it gives me a leg up."

"I believe the greatest challenge faced in this new position would be getting accustomed to the new curriculum. I am accustomed to my lesson plans and the curriculum I've had a hand in developing over the last ten years, so something new will have a bit of a learning curve, but welcomed. I am looking forward to a new challenge and to tackle a new set of lessons!"

25. What steps do you take to solve a problem?

The interviewer would like to know that you understand the importance of taking calculated steps when problem-solving in the workplace. Most candidates want to sound like go-getters, and their first instinct would be to say that they jump right in. Jumping right in can cause costly mistakes and oversights. Assure the interviewer that you will workshop the issue before diving in! Here are some steps to take: 1. Identify The Problem. Proper problem solving involves ensuring that you are very clear on the nature of the problem. Be sure that you fully understand the core of the problem before trying to repair it. 2. Identify The Stakeholders. Ask yourself, what the best case resolution will be for all stakeholders, not just for yourself. Ask yourself what is best for the company, your coworkers, and your clients. 3. List Your Options. The third step is to figure out what your options are when it comes to your course of action. Write them down if you need to. 4. Evaluate Your Options. Take a look at your list of potential actions and see if you can solve the problem using just one, or a blend of them. 5. Execute! Finally, execute your well-researched action plan. Be sure to set up a follow-up time to ensure that your solution worked.

"When I need to solve a problem, I first stop to ensure that I understand the issue at hand. Once I do, I will think of potential fixes and the pros and cons of each. Whichever solution or a blend of solutions is best for the customer; I will choose that option."

"My current company is very team-focused, and we train everyone to problem-solve with "what is best for team morale" being the question at hand. I have been with the company for twelve years so most problems I have a pretty clear idea of what will work for us, but when I need to workshop an idea, I will call in my team and have a brainstorm session."

"Problem-solving in Marketing can be unique because you have to truly balance the customers' pain point with the solutions that are currently available. Also, some clients like trying new marketing methods and others want to remain conservative, using only tried and true advertising methods, for instance. When I approach a problem, I first identify the personality of the client and their business and research options from there."

"Problem-solving in a retail environment is challenging in the sense that the issue is often something that needs to be fixed immediately, like a faulty product or an upset customer. When faced with a problem, I ask questions first, to ensure that I fully understand the core of the issue. Once I fully understand the core of the problem, I can more easily troubleshoot from there."

"Every customer is different, with unique needs, so when I need to problem-solve, I am often coming across a brand new problem or a different version of a problem I have seen before. Our company is big on chasing the money, and so I have been trained that every solution I choose must have the business' bottom line top of mind. My process is to understand the issue, address who the stakeholders are, and create a solution where everyone feels they won in some small way."

"Problem-solving in the classroom is a challenge because it is often on the fly. Or, a student will ask a question in a new way and I won't necessarily have the answer! When a problem arises, I like to involve my class, have a brainstorm session, and discuss as a group what we could do. This method turns an issue into a conversation where we have the opportunity to come up with some unique solutions."

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5 problem-solving questions to prepare you for your next interview

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What is problem-solving, and why do hiring managers care so much about it?

How to answer problem-solving questions

Common problem-solving questions and answers, things to avoid when answering problem-solving questions, how to prepare for problem-solving interview questions, problem solved.

“How would you approach telling a manager that they’ve made a mistake ?” 

Hard problem-solving questions like these can catch you off guard in a job interview. They’re hard to prepare for if you don’t know they’re coming, and you might not even see why they’re relevant to the job.

Even the most experienced interviewees might feel like they’re giving a bad interview if they stumble on questions like these.

Preparing and practicing hard questions is one way to ease your fears. Learn to dissect what a hiring manager is really asking and answer problem-solving questions with confidence. 

What is problem-solving, and why do hiring managers care so much about it? 

Problem-solving is holistically understanding a problem, determining its cause, and identifying creative solutions . Many, if not most, job descriptions ask for problem-solving skills because regardless of industry, they’re an asset in the workplace.

Startups and tech companies like Google famously pose critical thinking and problem-solving questions in job interviews . But hiring managers from all industries use unique questions like these to understand your problem-solving skills. It’s not about the answer you give, or whether it’s correct, but the way you come to that conclusion.

In job interviews, problem-solving questions pose a potential problem or situation typical to the job you’re interviewing for. Your response shows your ability to respond to common problems, even on the spot. Depending on the question, it can also indicate other skills like:

Critical thinking

Communication

Dependability

Behavioral competency

Soft skills

Decision-making

The average business spends $4,700 hiring one new worker , so it wants to make sure you’re the right fit for the job. Even if you have the right skills and experience on paper, hiring managers need a comprehensive idea of what kind of worker you are to avoid choosing the wrong candidate.

Like standard behavioral interview questions , problem-solving questions offer interviewers a more well-rounded view of how you might perform on the job. 

Problem-solving questions encourage you to give answers about your past experiences, decision-making process , and ability to arrive at creative solutions . Learning how to answer questions in an interview means learning how to tell a good story , so your answer should have a clear structure, unique topic, and compelling journey to demonstrate your competencies.

The STAR method is a common technique for answering problem-solving interview questions clearly and thoughtfully. The acronym stands for situation, task, action, and result. It provides a simple structure that gives your response a smooth beginning, middle, and end.

Here’s how to use the STAR method to describe past on-the-job experiences or hypothetical situations: 

Situation: Start with a problem statement that clearly defines the situation. 

Task: Explain your role in the situation. What is, or would be your responsibility?

Action: Recount the steps or problem-solving strategies you used, or would use, to overcome the problem.

Result: Share what you achieved or would hope to resolve through your problem-solving process.

Every job requires problem-solving on some level, so you can expect at least one job interview question to ask about those skills. Here are a few common problem-solving interview questions to practice:

1. Give us an example of when you faced an unexpected challenge at work. What did you do to face it?

What’s a hiring manager really asking? Employers want to know that your problem-solving has a process. They want to hear you break down a problem into a set of steps to solve it.

Sample answer: I was working in sales for a wholesale retailer. A regular client wrongly communicated the pricing of a unit. I realized this immediately, and rather than pointing out the error, I quickly double-checked with my supervisor to see if we could respect the price.

I informed the client of the error and that we were happy to keep the price he was given. It made him feel like he'd gotten a fair deal and trusted my authority as a sales rep even more. The loss wasn't significant, but saving face in front of the client was.

Man-talking-confidently-at-job-interview-problem-solving-questions

2. How would you manage a frustrated client?

What’s a hiring manager really asking? They want to gauge your ability to stay cool and be patient in stressful situations, even when dealing with difficult people . Keep your answer professional, and don't use the opportunity to bad-mouth a past client. Show that you can stay respectful even if someone isn’t respecting you. 

Sample answer: I've had plenty of experience dealing with unhappy clients. I've learned two important things: their frustration isn’t a personal attack against me, and we have the same goal to solve the problem. Knowing that helps me stay calm, listen carefully to the client's situation, and do my best to identify where the situation went astray.

Once we identify the problem, if I can handle it myself, I communicate exactly what we’ll do for the client and how. What steps we’ll take depend on the client, but I always start by proposing solutions to show I care about a path forward, and then keep them updated on my progress to implementing that fix. 

3. Describe a time you made a mistake at work. How did you fix it?

What’s a hiring manager really asking? No one is above making an error. Employers want to know that you own up to and learn from your mistakes instead of getting frustrated and walking away from the problem.

Sample answer: My first managerial position was at a public relations agency. When I was promoted to work on client outreach, I struggled to learn to delegate my old responsibilities, which were writing social media copy. I was afraid to let go of control, and I was micromanaging . One day, I wrote out some copy, sent it out, and quickly realized I was using the wrong style guide in my haste.

The client noticed, and we had to work to regain their trust, which put a strain on the entire team. I took full responsibility and used that moment to understand that I wasn't trusting my team's abilities. I apologized to my team for overstepping boundaries and worked to let go of my old role completely.

4. Have you ever had a difficult time working with a team member? How did you deal with the situation?

What’s a hiring manager really asking? Even the most independent job requires some teamwork, whether it’s communicating with clients or other team members. Employers want to know that you can solve interpersonal problems, know when to escalate and help maintain a positive work environment.

Sample answer: At my last job, we were fully remote. I had a coworker that wasn't very communicative about their process, which led to redundancies in our work and miscommunications that set us behind. I asked them to have a one-on-one meeting with me so we could analyze where we were failing to communicate and how to improve.

It wasn't a comfortable process, but we developed a better practice to collaborate and improve our ability to work as a team , including weekly meetings and check-ins.

5. Tell me about a time you created an innovative solution with limited information or resources.

What’s a hiring manager really asking? They want to test your resourcefulness, which is a valuable soft skill. Using a “ Tell me about a time” question lets you demonstrate out-of-the-box thinking and shows that you don't quit when things get difficult. 

Sample answer: I worked in project management for a software developer. We were frequently going over budget and needed to limit spending. I instituted a new workflow app across departments and made everyone track every step of their process. We ended up finding information silos between design, sales, and product development.

They were all using different platforms to communicate the status of the same project, which meant we were wasting time and money. We centralized communication and improved operational efficiency, solved our budget problems, and increased productivity by 30%.

Man-presenting-something-at-work-in-front-of-people-problem-solving-questions

Problem-solving questions offer deep insights into the kind of worker you are. While your answer is important, so is your delivery. Here are some things to avoid when trying to answer problem-solving questions:

Don’t clam up: It's okay to take your time to reflect, but never abstain from answering. An interviewer will understand if you need to pause and think. If you’re really stumped, you can ask to return to that question later in the interview. 

Avoid generic answers: Generic answers show a lack of creativity and innovation . Use the opportunity to explain what makes you and your problem-solving process unique. 

Don’t lose confidence: How you answer is as important as what you answer. Do your best to practice confident body language, like eye contact and strong posture. Practicing ahead of time can help alleviate pressure while you’re answering.

Try not to rush: Rushing through an answer could make it unclear or incoherent, which might reflect poorly on your ability to keep a level head. Practice mindful breathing and pace yourself. Answer slowly and deliberately.

Woman-talking-at-remote-job-interview-problem-solving-questions

Preparing for an interview will make you feel more comfortable and confident during the hiring process. Rather than thinking of answers on the spot, you can pull from different responses you're already familiar with. Here are some tips for practicing and improving your answers:

Create a list of problem-solving examples from throughout your career. Consider varied past experiences that play into important skills, like time management, project management, or teamwork, to show that you're a well-rounded candidate.

Whenever possible, give metrics to show results. For example, if you improved productivity, share percentages. If you upped sales, share numbers.

Carefully study the job description and connect the skills you find with specific ways you’ve used them.

Identify what you’re good at and choose experiences that play to your strengths.

When talking about mistakes or errors, always finish with the lesson you learned and how you plan on avoiding the same mistake.

Provide details that a hiring manager can recognize within the position they’re hiring for.

Woman-shaking-hand-of-interviewer-at-office-problem-solving-questions

It’s normal to feel nervous about a job interview, especially if you’re expecting difficult questions. Learning how to overcome that challenge is the perfect way to put your problem-solving skills to the test.

Like everything else in your career, practice makes perfect, and learning to answer tough problem-solving questions is no different. Take the time to recall moments in your career when you overcame challenges, and practice telling those stories. Craft an answer that hiring managers will be excited to hear.

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8 Problem-Solving Interview Questions You Should Ask

Post Author - Juste Semetaite

Employers need professionals who can cope with change. Especially in a modern workplace that is fast-paced and dynamic, problem-solving skills are more critical now than ever. Of course, having the right people starts with who and how you hire.

To find the best problem solvers, hiring managers rely on problem-solving interview questions and skills tests. In the interview, asking various behavioral-type questions can help assess a candidate’s ability to analyze complex situations, think critically , and develop innovative solutions.

In this article, we’ll explore eight different types of problem-solving interview questions and answers, how to identify any red flags in candidate answers, and a quick-fire list of tips to ensure you bring the best aboard your organization.

TL;DR – Key Takeaways

  • Problem-solving interview questions are designed to assess a candidate’s ability to think critically , analyze situations, and find innovative solutions.
  • Hiring managers use problem-solving questions in the job interview to evaluate critical skills and competencies such as analytical thinking, decision-making, adaptability, creativity, collaboration, and communication .
  • A predictor of future job performance is past performance. By understanding how they have dealt with problems in the past, you can get a better picture of how they might apply those skills to your organization.
  • Red flags to watch out for during the job interview include a lack of specific examples, vague or generalized answers, limited adaptability, poor decision-making, lack of collaboration or communication skills, and limited initiative or creativity.
  • Tips for using problem-solving questions to screen candidates include asking job-specific questions, encouraging candidates to use the STAR method, asking different types of problem-solving questions, and preparing responses .
  • Interviews are great for top-level evaluation of problem-solving skills. But if you want to get to the bottom of candidates’ job-specific competencies and have reliable data to compare top candidates, try skills assessments instead! See our test library for inspiration. 

People with strong problem solving skills will structure their answers, for example, using the STAR method.

What Are Problem-Solving Interview Questions?

Problem-solving interview questions are a type of behavioral question used to assess a candidate’s ability to think critically, gather and analyze data, and work through logical solutions. There often is no right or wrong answer , but a strong answer will check the boxes by explaining how they would come to a solution by walking through all the relevant steps.

questions can take many different forms, but they all share a common goal: to evaluate an individual's problem-solving skills in a specific context

For example, a problem-solving question might be to ask the candidate to describe a time when they had to change their planned course of action at the last moment. The interviewer is not only interested in hearing about how the candidate solved the specific problem but also in learning more about their problem-solving approach and what they did to manage the unexpected change.

It is often thought that past employee behaviour can predict the future. That’s why problem-solving interview questions are often designed to elicit specific examples from the candidate’s own work experience. By talking through concrete examples, interviewers can better understand the candidate’s problem-solving abilities and how they might apply those skills to the job at hand.

Want to know more about behavioral interview questions ?

30 Behavioral Interview Questions to Ask Candidates (With Answers)

Why Interviewers Ask Problem-solving Interview Questions

For most hiring managers, the interview is a critical step in the hiring process. In addition to using skills assessments to screen candidates for problem-solving skills, they need to ask problem-solving interview questions to get a deeper understanding of this skill.

Probing questions help hiring managers to evaluate candidates’ critical thinking skills , providing insight into how well they might perform on the job. This approach enables interviewers to understand the candidate’s problem-solving competency and the methods that they adopt.

Interviewers will be looking to understand their capacity to analyze information, generate innovative ideas, adapt to unexpected obstacles, make sound decisions, collaborate with others, and effectively communicate their ideas.

Therefore, an effective problem-solver will also demonstrate a range of other important skills, such as analytical thinking, decision-making, adaptability, creativity, collaboration, and communication.

problem solving questions during interview

8 Examples of Common Problem-Solving Interview Questions and Answers

Problem solving is one of many key interpersonal skills that a peer interview question can assess during a job interview.

Now for the main course of this article. We’re going to dive into eight types of example problem-solving questions that you can use during interviews, explaining why they are relevant and what makes a strong answer.

1. The challenging situation

Recall a difficult problem or challenging situation you encountered in a previous role. How did you analyze the problem, and what steps did you take to arrive at a solution?

The reason: Assesses a candidate’s ability to handle complex and challenging situations as well as their problem-solving approach, communication, and decision-making skills.

The answer: The candidate should share a specific instance of a problematic situation they faced in a previous role and describe their problem-solving approach. Specifically, how they analyzed the problem, including what information they gathered and resources they used to arrive at a solution.

Bonus points: If they can highlight any obstacles they faced and how they overcame them, as well as the positive outcomes of their solution.

2. Problem-solving process

Walk me through your problem-solving process . Explain your personal approach to problem-solving by taking me through the steps you typically follow.

The reason: To better understand a candidate’s problem-solving approach and methodology.

The answer: A solid answer consists of a brief description of the candidate’s personal problem-solving approach , highlighting the steps they typically follow, different options they would consider, and resources used to make informed decisions.

Bonus points: If they also mention any tools or techniques , such as the scientific method or SWOT analysis, and provide examples of times when their approach was successful.

3. Decision-making

Share an instance where you needed to make a quick decision to resolve an urgent problem. How did you decide on a course of action, and what was the outcome?

The reason: Test a candidate’s decision-making and problem-solving skills in stressful and unexpected situations.

The answer: The interviewee should describe how they gathered relevant information quickly, considered various options, and arrived at an informed decision all within a limited space of time.

Bonus points: If they can demonstrate competence in handling stressful situations , especially if the role may require it.

4. Creative thinking

Give me an example of a time when you had to think outside the box to solve a problem. How did you approach the situation differently or creatively, and what was the outcome?

The reason: Understand a candidate’s ability to think creatively and innovatively when faced with a problem.

The answer: The interviewee should describe a specific situation where they used creative thinking to solve a problem. They should explain their unique approach and any unconventional ideas or solutions they came up with.

Bonus points: If they can demonstrate exactly how their creative solution contributed to a successful outcome.

5. Teamwork

Describe a situation where you had to work with a team to solve a complex problem. Detail your role and contributions to the team’s overall success in finding a solution.

The reason: Understand a candidate’s ability to work collaboratively and effectively with others when solving difficult problems.

The answer: How do they narrate a particular scenario where they worked with a team to collectively solve a complex problem, specifying their role and that of the team in arriving at a solution.

Bonus points: If they can recognize the role of others and the strength of the team over the individual in solving the problem.

6. Overcoming obstacles

Can you share an example of a project or task where you had to overcome unexpected obstacles or challenges? How did you adapt and find a solution?

The reason: Handling unexpected obstacles or challenges and their problem-solving skills.

The answer: To answer this question, the interviewee should share a particular project or task where they faced unforeseen challenges or obstacles, how they adapted to the situation and found a solution.

Strong problem solving answers will showcase a candidate's past experience.

Bonus points: If they emphasize any creative or innovative methods they employed.

7. Dealing with recurring problems

Give me an example of a time when you identified a recurring problem in a process or system. What steps did you take to address the issue and prevent it from happening again?

The reason: This question assesses a candidate’s ability to identify and solve recurring problems and improve processes.

The answer: The job seeker should recount a specific instance of a recurring problem they detected in a process or system .

Bonus points: If they can explain exactly how they got to the root of the problem and the steps or measures they took to prevent its recurrence .

8. Multi-tasking

Tell me about a situation where you had to prioritize multiple tasks or projects with competing deadlines. How did you prioritize and allocate your time to ensure the successful completion of all tasks?

The reason: Tests a candidate’s capacity to organize, prioritize, and multitask to complete multiple assignments or tasks in a timely manner.

The answer: The interviewee should illustrate a specific instance where they successfully managed multiple projects or tasks simultaneously , elaborating on how they prioritized their workload and managed their time efficiently.

Bonus points: If they highlight any project management tools or techniques used, and if the project or task was delivered on time.

20 Steal-worthy Interview Questions for Managers

Now that we’ve gone over the best possible answers for these questions, let’s look at some of the negatives and red flags to keep an eye out for.

Red Flags for Interviewers Assessing Problem-solving Skills

HR managers should be aware of red flags during an interview that could indicate weakness in a candidate’s problem-solving skills.

problem solving questions during interview

Red flags to watch for include:

A lack of specific examples

If a candidate has a hard time recalling specific past problem-solving examples, this may signal they lack relevant experience or have difficulty remembering events.

Vague or generalized answers

Candidates who give vague, general, or unclear answers without describing the specifics of their problem-solving process may lack the ability to solve problems effectively. Is the candidate trying to avoid the question? When probed further, are they able to get more specific?

Limited adaptability

If the individual is unable to describe situations where they persevered through obstacles or utilized alternate solutions, it may display an absence of resilience, unwillingness or incapacity to be adaptable.

Poor decision-making skills

Candidates who lack the ability to explain their thought process, take into account alternative perspectives, or make unwise decisions likely possess weak decision-making skills. Look for candidates who contemplate decisions carefully, consider the pros and cons, and can articulate their reasons for choosing their final course of action.

Lack of collaboration or communication skills

Poor communication, collaboration, and teamwork skills can hinder problem-solving, especially in situations where input or feedback from stakeholders is required.

Limited initiative or creativity

Problem solvers who stand out demonstrate initiative, creativity, and a drive to think unconventionally. Those who cannot offer examples of inventive problem-solving or use only traditional techniques may not possess the ability to come up with creative solutions.

Tips For Using Problem-Solving Questions To Screen Candidates

Before you run off and start asking all of the above problem-solving interview questions, there are a few more factors to consider. To be specific, context is king when it comes to speaking to interviewees during the job interview. And the below tips will help you to understand them better.

  • Always be sure to ask job-specific questions
  • Start with a robust, written job description that details all the required skills, competencies, and experience to compare with the candidate’s answers
  • Keep a look out for generic answers
  • Do they use the STAR method to structure their thinking/answers?
  • Ask different types of problem-solving questions
  • Reword the question if a candidate is having trouble answering it
  • Ask how they handle a situation that doesn’t have an easy outcome or answer
  • Inquire if they have ever had disciplinary action taken against them and how they handled it
  • Ask them team-related questions
  • Prepare responses that you can play off of their answers
  • Check if they have ever tried to inspire their team
  • It’s not out of the ordinary to ask the candidate out-of-the-box questions (How would you escape a blender?) to understand how they solve problems

Structured Interview vs. Unstructured Interview: What’s the Difference?

You’re almost ready to integrate problem-solving questions into your job interview workflow, but there’s just one last topic to cover: Is there a piece of software that can help you to streamline the problem-solving interview process?

Yes, yes, there is.

Evaluating problem-solving skills beyond the interview

While interviews are a useful tool for recruiters and hiring managers to gauge candidates’ competence, they’re not quite sufficient for assessing candidates’ full skill set. That’s especially true when the role requires mastery of a certain technical or power skill, like problem-solving.

problem solving skills test

A better, more effective way to evaluate candidates ‘ abilities is to combine structured interviews with job-specific skills assessments. Here are some of the reasons why:

  • It allows for more objective evaluation. Interviews inherently favor candidates with advanced communication skills, charisma, and confidence. But! Just because a candidate interviews well, doesn’t mean they have what it takes to succeed in the role. Sadly, the interviewer’s perception of a candidate is almost always highly influenced by the candidate’s interviewing skills. Incorporating a skills assessment can help you assess candidates’ actual abilities in role-specific tasks.
  • It offers a practical demonstration. Interviews often rely on a candidate’s self-reporting of their skills and past experiences. However, candidates may overstate their abilities or have difficulty articulating their skills in an interview setting. Skill-specific assessments give candidates the opportunity to demonstrate their abilities in a practical, real-world context. This allows hiring managers to see the candidate’s skills in action, which can be a more reliable indicator of their ability to perform in the role.
  • It guarantees consistent metrics. Assessments provide a consistent set of metrics to compare all candidates. This can help to eliminate bias and ensure fairness in the hiring process. Interviews can be more subjective and may vary greatly depending on the interviewer or the specific questions asked. Having a standardized assessment ensures that all candidates are evaluated on the same criteria.
  • It helps to predict job performance. Research has shown that work sample tests, which are a type of skill-specific assessment, are one of the best predictors of job performance. They can provide valuable insights into how a candidate might perform in the job beyond what can be learned from an interview alone.
  • It makes the hiring process more efficient. Skill-specific assessments can also make the hiring process more efficient. If a candidate performs poorly on an assessment early in the process, this could save time for both the candidate and the company by indicating that the candidate may not be the right fit for the role.

Interested in exploring a skills-based hiring approach? Take no risks – start with our free account to browse all available assessment templates .

Juste Semetaite

Juste loves investigating through writing. A copywriter by trade, she spent the last ten years in startups, telling stories and building marketing teams. She works at Toggl Hire and writes about how businesses can recruit really great people.

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Gain insights into mastering Problem-Solving Interview Questions and answers. Understand the nature of these questions and how to prepare effectively. Explore real-world examples of Problem-Solving Interview Questions and their solutions. Whether you're a job seeker or an interviewer, this blog will equip you with the skills needed to excel in interviews and more.

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You may be aware that, in today's competitive job market, employers seek candidates who possess strong Problem-Solving skills. Problem-Solving Questions are commonly used by hiring managers to assess a candidate's ability to think critically, analyse situations, and propose effective solutions. 

In this blog, you will learn some examples of Problem-Solving Interview Questions and answers. Preparation is essential when responding to these Problem-Solving Interview Questions. This practical manual will show you some potential questions and teach you the way to respond to them. Follow this blog to succeed in your next interviews! 

Table of Contents  

1) Understanding Problem-Solving Interview Questions 

2) How to prepare for Problem-Solving Interview Questions? 

3) Examples of Problem-Solving Interview Questions and answers 

     a) Scenario 1: Dealing with team conflict 

     b) Scenario 2: Handling a challenging project 

     c) Scenario 3: Prioritising tasks under tight deadlines 

     d) Scenario 4: Implementing innovative solutions 

     e) Scenario 5: Overcoming resource constraints 

     f) Scenario 6: Dealing with ambiguity 

     g) Scenario 7: Resolving customer complaints 

     h) Scenario 8: Handling budget overruns 

     i) Scenario 9: Handling a high-pressure situation 

     j) Scenario 10: Driving continuous improvement 

4) Conclusion 

Understanding Problem-Solving Interview Questions  

If you understand Problem-Solving Questions, you are guaranteed to have a successful interview. These questions assess a candidate's ability to handle challenges, think critically, and devise effective solutions. Employers want to gauge how candidates approach complex situations, their analytical reasoning, and their communication skills when explaining solutions.  

Problem-Solving Questions can cover various scenarios, such as team conflicts, project challenges, and innovative ideas. If you demonstrate competence in solving these questions, it assures the employers that you can contribute proactively to the company's success.  

Handling Problem-Solving Questions will also show the employers that you can adapt to the dynamic nature of the modern business world. Being well-prepared for these questions allows candidates like you to present themselves confidently and stand out during interviews. 

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How to prepare for Problem-Solving Interview Questions?  

Preparing for Problem-Solving Interview Questions

1) Research the company and industry: Start by researching the company and industry to understand their challenges and objectives. You need to understand what the company and industry currently face. This knowledge will help you to tailor your responses to align with the organisation's goals and values. 

2) Review common Problem-Solving scenarios: Familiarise yourself with typical workplace scenarios that require Problem-Solving skills. Consider scenarios related to team dynamics, Project Management, customer service, and innovation. 

3) Practice structured responses: Craft well-structured responses to showcase your problem-solving abilities. You can use the Situation, Task, Action, Result (STAR) method to structure your answers clearly and concisely. 

4) Practice analytical thinking ability: To be better prepared, you can sharpen your analytical and critical thinking skills by solving problems in various settings. You can seek feedback from mentors or friends to improve your approach to these Problem-Solving Questions.  

5) Practice mock interviews:  The best way to understand how you will perform in interviews is to practice mock interviews to gain confidence in delivering your answers effectively.  

Gain in-depth knowledge about increasing your productivity with our Productivity and Time Management Course.  

Examples of Problem-Solving Interview Questions and answers  

To help you gain a broader perspective, we have prepared a list of some Problem-Solving Interviews Questions and answers. We will also discuss several examples of Problem-Solving Interview Questions and provide you with sample answers to demonstrate how to approach each scenario effectively. Let's have a detailed look at each one of them:

Scenario 1: Dealing with team conflict  

Question: "Tell me about a time when you faced a conflict in your team. How did you handle it, and what was the outcome?" 

You can answer this question in this way : "During a critical project, our team encountered a conflict regarding the best approach to meet our client's requirements. To address the situation, I initiated a team meeting to encourage open communication. I actively listened to each team member's perspective, ensuring that everyone felt heard and valued. We collectively identified the root cause of the conflict and focused on finding a compromise that aligned with our client's needs and the team's expertise. By fostering collaboration and maintaining a positive attitude, we were able to resolve the conflict successfully. The outcome was a stronger team bond, improved communication, and a project that exceeded our client's expectations." 

Scenario 2: Handling a challenging project  

Question: "Describe a project that presented significant challenges. How did you approach it, and what was the result?" 

You can use this sample answer for this question: "In my previous role, we were assigned a project with high stakes, a tight deadline, and complex requirements. To tackle the challenges, I first organised a meeting with the team to create a detailed project plan. We identified potential roadblocks and allocated responsibilities based on individual strengths. Throughout the project, I ensured clear communication channels, providing team members with the necessary resources and support.   We encountered unforeseen obstacles, but I encouraged a Problem-Solving mindset, fostering an environment where team members could freely propose solutions. By staying focused and proactive, we successfully completed the project on time, exceeding the client's expectations and earning commendation from senior management."

Scenario 3: Prioritising tasks under tight deadlines  

Question: "How do you handle priorities and tight deadlines?" 

You can answer this question in this way: "In my current role, I frequently encounter competing tasks and tight deadlines. To effectively manage such situations, I prioritise tasks based on urgency and impact. I start by creating a to-do list. This list helps in organising tasks by their deadlines. I identify critical tasks that directly contribute to project success or meet urgent client needs. I then break down complex projects into smaller manageable tasks, setting realistic milestones. If necessary, I delegate tasks to team members who possess the right expertise and empower them to take ownership. To stay on track, I utilise time management techniques, such as the Pomodoro technique. These help me to maintain focus and productivity. By managing my time wisely and staying adaptable, I consistently deliver quality results even under pressure." 

Scenario 4: Implementing innovative solutions  

Question: "Share an example of when you proposed an innovative solution to a long-standing problem." 

You can answer this question in this way: "In my previous role, our company faced recurring inefficiencies in the customer service department. The manual process of handling customer inquiries led to delays and frustrated customers. To address this issue, I suggested implementing a self-service portal and an AI-powered chatbot. The portal allowed customers to find solutions independently, and the chatbot handled routine inquiries. This helped me in freeing up the team to focus on more complex cases. I conducted extensive research, collaborated with the IT department, and presented a detailed plan to the management team, highlighting the potential benefits and cost savings. The solution was approved, and after implementation, customer satisfaction significantly increased, and the customer service team's productivity improved. The innovative approach not only resolved a long-standing problem but also positioned the company as a forward-thinking industry leader." 

Scenario 5: Overcoming resource constraints  

Question: "Describe a situation where you had to achieve a goal with limited resources. How did you approach it, and what was the outcome?" 

You can answer this question in this way: "In a previous project, we faced budget constraints that affected the resources available to complete the task. To address this challenge, I first assessed the project's critical needs and identified areas where we could make the most significant impact with the available resources. I collaborated with team members to brainstorm cost-effective solutions without compromising quality. We prioritised essential tasks and repurposed existing resources wherever possible. Additionally, I reached out to stakeholders and partners to explore potential collaborations and cost-sharing opportunities. By maintaining open communication and a resourceful mindset, we successfully completed the project within the budget and achieved our primary objectives. The outcome showcased our team's ability to adapt and thrive under challenging circumstances."

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Scenario 6: Dealing with ambiguity  

Question: "How do you handle situations where you lack clear direction or information?" 

You can answer this question in this way: "In my experience, ambiguity is not uncommon, especially in fast-paced work environments. When faced with unclear directions, I take the initiative to seek clarification from relevant parties, such as supervisors or team members. I ask specific questions to understand the context and expectations better. Additionally, I conduct research to gather relevant information and insights, enabling me to make informed decisions. If necessary, I proactively propose potential solutions, outlining the risks and benefits related to each option. My ability to adapt quickly to dynamic circumstances and embrace ambiguity has allowed me to excel in various challenging projects." 

Scenario 7: Resolving customer complaints  

Question: "Tell me about a time when you successfully handled a challenging customer complaint." 

Answer: "In my previous role in the hospitality industry, we received a complaint from a dissatisfied guest who had experienced a series of inconveniences during their stay. To address the situation, I empathised with the guest, actively listening to their concerns without interruption. I offered a sincere apology and assured them that we would take immediate action to rectify the issues. 

I communicated with the relevant departments to address the complaints and kept the guest informed of our progress. To show our commitment to resolving the matter, I also offered them a complimentary future stay. As a result, the guest's perception of our hotel changed significantly, and they left with a positive impression, ultimately leading to increased guest satisfaction and positive online reviews." 

Scenario 8: Handling budget overruns  

Question: "How do you approach managing a project when it exceeds the allocated budget?" 

You can answer this question in this way: "In my experience as a Project Manager, I prioritise tracking expenses regularly to identify any deviations from the budget. If I notice a potential budget overrun, I take immediate action to investigate the cause and address it proactively. This may involve reallocating resources, negotiating with suppliers, or finding cost-effective alternatives. 

I communicate the situation to stakeholders and provide transparent updates on the steps being taken to mitigate the budget overage. Additionally, I evaluate the project scope and assess whether any adjustments can be made to align with the available resources. By diligently monitoring the budget and taking swift corrective actions, I ensure that the project remains financially viable and on track to achieve its objectives." 

Scenario 9: Handling a high-pressure situation  

Question: "Describe a time when you were under significant pressure to meet a deadline. How did you manage the situation?" 

You can answer this question in this way: " Previously when I was a Marketing Manager, we faced an urgent request from a key client to deliver a comprehensive marketing campaign within an exceptionally tight timeframe. To handle the pressure, I first assembled a dedicated team with complementary skill sets to tackle the various aspects of the project. I communicated the importance of the project and the urgency to each team member, fostering a shared sense of responsibility.  

I organised frequent progress meetings to keep everyone aligned and addressed any roadblocks promptly. Despite the immense pressure, we maintained a positive and supportive atmosphere, encouraging open communication and brainstorming sessions. Through the collective efforts of the team, we not only met the client's deadline but also received praise for the quality and effectiveness of the campaign."  

Scenario 10: Driving continuous improvement  

Question: "How do you contribute to driving continuous improvement in your work environment?" 

You can answer this question in this way: "I strongly believe in the value of continuous improvement to enhance efficiency and results. In my current role, I actively participate in brainstorming sessions with colleagues to identify potential process enhancements. I encourage open feedback and suggestions from team members, promoting a culture of innovation and learning. I also stay updated on industry trends and best practices to implement relevant improvements. I closely monitor key performance indicators and gather data to assess the impact of changes. By consistently seeking opportunities for improvement and proactively implementing solutions, I contribute to the overall success of the team and the organisation." 

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Scenario 11: Team member facing discrimination

Question: How did you handle a situation when you saw that one of your team members is facing discrimination in the workplace? 

You can answer this question in this manner: “When I learned that a team member was facing discrimination, I immediately recognised the severity of the situation and knew it was imperative to act swiftly. I first ensured the affected individual felt supported and understood. I also stressed that discrimination is entirely unacceptable in our team. I then initiated a confidential and sensitive investigation to uncover all relevant facts and gather any necessary evidence. 

To be impartial towards the situation, I listened attentively to all sides involved and made sure that everyone felt heard. Based on my findings, I took appropriate actions, which included implementing disciplinary measures against those responsible if warranted by the investigation's outcome. 

I also recognised this as an opportunity for broader learning and improvement within the team. I organised training sessions focused on diversity and inclusion, aiming to cultivate a more respectful and understanding work environment. I reinforced our commitment to an inclusive workplace by revisiting and enhancing our anti-discrimination policies. 

Throughout this process, I remained available to the affected team members, offering my ongoing support and ensuring they felt safe and valued. I took this incident as a profound learning experience to foster a culture of respect and inclusion within our team. I also made it clear that discrimination has no place in our work environment.”

Scenario 12: Internal conflicts in the team

Question: How do you solve internal conflicts in your team?

You can use this sample answer: “When solving internal conflicts within my team, I start by encouraging open and respectful communication among all parties involved. I believe it's essential to provide a safe space where team members feel comfortable expressing their concerns and perspectives without fear of retaliation or judgment. I listen actively to understand the root causes of the conflict, acknowledging everyone's feelings and viewpoints.

Next, I facilitate a discussion to identify common ground and differences, guiding the team towards constructive solutions. I emphasise the importance of empathy and understanding, encouraging team members to consider each other's perspectives.

If necessary, I intervene with conflict resolution techniques tailored to the situation, such as mediation or negotiation, to help team members reach a mutual agreement. Throughout the process, I remain impartial and focused on the best interests of the team and the project.

I also recognise the importance of preventive measures. Therefore, I foster a team culture that values diversity, inclusivity, and open communication, aiming to minimise conflicts before they arise. Regular team-building activities and workshops on effective communication and conflict management skills are integral parts of this approach. 

Ultimately, my goal is to ensure that the team emerges from the conflict stronger, more cohesive, and with a renewed focus on our collective objectives. I view conflict resolution not just as solving immediate disputes but as an opportunity for team growth and development.”

Scenario 13: Tight deadlines and heavy workload

Question: How do you handle tight headlines and heavy workloads? 

You can answer this question in this way: “When there are tight deadlines and a heavy workload, I prioritise effective time management and clear communication as my key strategies. First, I assess the scope and urgency of all tasks and then prioritise them based on deadlines and their impact on our goals. This helps me focus on what I need to pay immediate attention to while planning for other tasks. 

I then break down larger projects into manageable chunks, setting realistic milestones and deadlines for each. This approach makes the workload feel more manageable and helps maintain momentum by achieving smaller victories along the way. 

I assess the strengths and capacities of my team members and delegate tasks accordingly, ensuring everyone is working efficiently and not overwhelmed. This not only optimises team productivity but also fosters a sense of responsibility and teamwork. 

I maintain open lines of communication with my team and stakeholders, regularly updating them on progress and any challenges encountered. This transparency allows for timely assistance, adjustments to plans, or reallocation of resources if necessary. 

To stay resilient under pressure, I make a conscious effort to manage stress. This includes taking short breaks to clear my mind, staying organised to avoid feeling overwhelmed and maintaining a healthy work-life balance to ensure I'm at my best when tackling professional challenges. 

Lastly, I continuously reflect on and refine my approach to workload management. Learning from each experience allows me to enhance my strategies for handling tight deadlines and heavy workloads more effectively in the future.”

Conclusion 

 Knowing how to answer Problem-Solving Interview Questions is essential for success in today's competitive job market. Employers seek candidates who can tackle challenges with confidence, analytical thinking, and innovative solutions. By showcasing relevant examples and demonstrating a proactive Problem-Solving mindset, candidates can impress interviewers and increase their chances of securing their dream job.

Level up your Problem-Solving skills with our comprehensive guide on Management Training.  

Frequently Asked Questions

These are the three qualities which a candidate needs to possess if they want to excel in Problem-Solving:

a) They need to approach difficult problems in an analytical manner

b) Their ability to perform under any unforeseen circumstances

c) To defend their ideas in a constructive manner when they are challenged.  

The best way for HR professionals to prepare for conducting a Problem-Solving interview is to clearly define the problem, understand the role's requirements, and develop relevant, challenging scenarios or questions. Familiarising themselves with the candidates' backgrounds and creating a structured interview framework ensures a focused evaluation of problem-solving skills and fit for the position.

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The Knowledge Academy offers various Management Courses , including Problem-Solving, Personal & Organisational Development and Business Process Improvement Training. These courses cater to different skill levels, providing comprehensive insights into Problem-Solving .

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  • What are problem solving interview questions?

Problem solving interview questions are the type of questions that allow you to describe your ability to analyze and solve a problem through your intervention to the hiring managers.

Being asked problem solving questions during an interview is quite common if you are applying for roles in IT, engineering, analysis, and other technical job profiles.

The questions that you will come across during your interview will vary in complexity, but the good news is that there isn't necessarily one way or one correct answer to it. Therefore, you can approach the questions in your unique ways.

Let us have a thorough discussion on the following topics:

  • Why do employers ask problem solving questions?
  • How to answer problem solving questions?
  • What are some unique interview questions and answers?

What Are Problem Solving Interview Questions?

Problem solving interview questions are designed to evaluate how a candidate reacts to stressful environments and unfamiliar situations.

Hiring managers ask problem solving questions to gauge a candidate's approach to analyzing issues and their ability to reach a logical decision. It is used to measure the candidate's core skills and problem solving ability that will benefit the organization.

The interviewers ask these types of questions intending to separate the wheat from the chaff and find the most suitable candidates who can propel the organization's growth.

Problem solving questions are designed to test your technical competencies and ability to process information & solve complex problems.

However, problem solving interview questions vary across industries, so you can never be sure of what you would be asked.

Also Read: How to Answer Most Common Interview Questions?

Tips to Solve Problems at the Workplace

To solve an issue, keep the following points in check:

  • Prioritize only the critical information and ignore the irrelevant information
  • Analyze the situation that caused the problem
  • Understand the nature of the problem before trying to solve it
  • Brainstorm possible course of actions you can undertake
  • Evaluate the potential actions and choose the best option that can solve the problem
  • Implement the plan and assess its effectiveness

The trick is to first identify the issue, its source, and come up with a suitable solution.

If you can validate your ability to resolve problems at the workplace during an interview, the hiring managers would recognize you as an efficient applicant.

What Do Problem Solving Interview Questions Test?

An organization intends to see the steps you take to solve a business problem. The idea behind asking problem solving questions is not just to check if you can answer correctly but to see your approach to solving a complex problem.

Every company encounters problems and challenges; therefore, the major goal of any organization while hiring is to find a solution-oriented candidate who is equipped to deal with problems.

They are constantly looking for candidates who gather information, analyze the situation and make a logical decision that could effectively solve the problem.

You can also come across behavioral questions about the challenges you faced in your past professional experiences, how you dealt with them, and your learning from the experiences.

Let us have a look at the reasons why hiring managers ask problem solving questions:

  • To evaluate if you are a result-oriented person
  • To see your problem solving skills or expertise process
  • To assess your ability to solve a business problem in future

You can use the problem solving interview questions to your advantage, provided you prepare yourself well and convince the recruiter that you are an excellent fit for the job position.

Also Read: Top Interview Questions and Answers in 2022

What to Avoid While Answering Problem Solving Interview Questions

Apart from knowing what to do, you should also be aware of what to avoid while answering problem solving questions during interviews.

  • Avoid exaggerating your answer just to stay relevant
  • Do not skip facts that give meaning to your answers
  • Steer clear of negative comments on your previous company or colleagues

Additionally, you need to make sure that your answers are on track and communicate the professional course of action taken by you to solve an issue.

Tips to Answer Problem Solving Interview Questions

As mentioned earlier, there is no rulebook for answering problem solving questions, but as a professional, you need to be able to communicate your efficiency through them.

Here are some tips to answer any problem solving questions during interviews:

Analyze the Question

Before you answer any problem solving questions, try to understand why the hiring manager is asking them so that you can provide a fitting answer.

You need to understand the underlying intent of the question to ensure that you strategically communicate your problem solving abilities to the hiring managers.

Give Relevant Answers

It is crucial to make your answer relevant to the job position you are applying for.

For instance, if you are applying for a software developer job profile, your answer needs to reflect your potential in designing and developing software.

The employer wants to assess how you react to a stressful situation and if you can be relied upon during a crisis.

You should avoid giving out any false information during an interview to prove your candidacy.

Give an honest reply while making sure that your answer is reflecting your ability to handle any situation or issue in a positive way.

If hiring managers see through your lies, it can backfire. Therefore, it is always recommended to give honest answers.

Portray Yourself as a Strong Team Player

Employers look for a candidate who possesses qualities that allow them to tackle any task with or without guidance.

Providing concrete examples during an interview of how you have dealt with any conflicts at a workplace in your past can be helpful in showcasing your communication and collaborative skills.

Use the problem solving interview questions as an opportunity to demonstrate your leadership skills.

Tips-to-answer-problem-solving-interview-questions.

Also Read: What Is Your Leadership Style?

What Are the Examples of Problem Solving Interview Questions?

A few examples of problem solving questions and tips to answering them are mentioned below:

Q1. Describe a situation where you encountered an unexpected problem, and how did you deal with it?

Tip: The hiring manager wants to test your problem solving skills during an unforeseen event. Through your answer, showcase how you planned your course of action and worked as a team rather than acting autonomously.

Q2. How did you overcome a threat in a potential problem, and what was the outcome?

Tip: This question is designed to see if you focus more on opportunities or red flags. Frame your answer to show your ability to see positivity at the time of uncertainty.

Q3. Give an example of a situation where you had to change your course of action at the last moment, and what were the results?

Tip: This question is framed to examine your flexibility and decision-making skills in stressful situations.

Q4. How did you deal with a conflict with a colleague in the workplace?

Tip: This is to analyze how you interact with colleagues during disagreements or disputes and how you overcome differences. Briefly explain the issue constructively and how you resolved it effectively.

Q5. Describe your weakness that you had to overcome as part of improving your performance at work?

Tip: This question is to test your self-awareness. The answer to this question should reflect your willingness to improve by acknowledging your shortcomings.

These tips can help you prepare for creative interview questions. If you are confused about any problem-solving examples, do not hesitate to ask for more information or take some time to process the data and then answer.

Also Read: Data Science Interview Questions

Hiration Interview Preparation

Need to ace the job interview?

Hiration is the one-stop that can help you prepare for an interview and boost your confidence.

You can make use of the following features from Hiration's Interview Preparation :

  • Database of 20,000+ interview questions and sample answers
  • An overview/objective of each question
  • Know what the interviewer is expecting
  • Easy search for job interview questions and answers
  • Job interview Questions and Answers for 150+ work profiles
  • Search for specific questions, key strengths, focus areas... and more
  • Link to additional information for specific job and question

Key Takeaways

  • Ask questions to the hiring manager in case of any doubts and listen to their response actively.
  • Describe your problem-solving process to the interviewer and explain the how and why of your course of action.
  • Provide examples from your past to showcase yourself as a great team player and to exhibit your leadership skills .
  • Make your answers relevant to the job position to display how you can contribute to organizational growth.

Go to Hiration's 360-degree career platform which has 24/7 chat support and get professional assistance with all your job & career-related queries.

You can also write to us at [email protected] .

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problem solving questions during interview

InterviewPrep

Top 20 Creative Problem Solving Interview Questions & Answers

Master your responses to Creative Problem Solving related interview questions with our example questions and answers. Boost your chances of landing the job by learning how to effectively communicate your Creative Problem Solving capabilities.

problem solving questions during interview

Creative problem-solving is an indispensable skill in virtually every domain and industry. Whether you’re applying for a position that requires innovative thinking or aiming to enhance your own professional toolkit, understanding how to approach problems creatively can set you apart from the competition. It’s not just about coming up with unique solutions; it’s about demonstrating a mindset that embraces challenges as opportunities for growth and innovation.

This article delves into the art of creative problem-solving by exploring essential questions designed to gauge and improve your ability to think outside the box. We’ll offer insights into what interviewers are looking for when they pose these complex scenarios, along with strategies and example answers to help you prepare for discussions that will test your creativity and analytical prowess.

Common Creative Problem Solving Interview Questions

1. how would you approach a scenario where traditional solutions have failed to resolve an issue.

Adaptability and resilience are key components of creative problem solving. When faced with persistent challenges, it’s important to bring fresh perspectives to the table and pivot when necessary, a vital skill in dynamic industries where unpredictability is the norm. Analyzing situations from new angles, innovating, and not being disheartened by setbacks are qualities that are highly valued.

When responding, a candidate should highlight their ability to assess problems critically, use data to inform their decisions, and brainstorm with a team or independently to generate novel ideas. They should provide a specific example that illustrates their process of identifying the root cause of an issue, exploring various alternatives, and implementing an inventive solution. Demonstrating a willingness to learn from failed attempts and to continuously refine their approach until they achieve a successful outcome will show adaptability and perseverance.

Example: “ In approaching a scenario where traditional solutions have failed, my first step is to conduct a thorough analysis to understand the underlying factors contributing to the issue. By leveraging data analytics, I can identify patterns or anomalies that might not be apparent at first glance. With this insight, I reframe the problem, looking at it from different angles to uncover alternative approaches.

For instance, when faced with a persistent software bug that standard debugging techniques couldn’t resolve, I initiated a collaborative brainstorming session, which included team members from diverse functions. This cross-pollination of ideas led to a hypothesis that the issue wasn’t within the code itself but rather in the interaction between different software modules. By constructing a series of controlled experiments to test this theory, we isolated the conflict and developed a modular solution that not only fixed the bug but also optimized the system’s overall performance. This experience reinforced the value of interdisciplinary collaboration and iterative experimentation in creative problem-solving.”

2. Describe your process for generating innovative ideas under tight deadlines.

When under pressure, the ability to harness creativity systematically is crucial, especially in creative roles. This question probes into how a candidate can balance the urgency of deadlines with the need for innovative outcomes, looking for a blend of structured thinking and flexibility in thought processes.

To respond, outline a clear and concise process that starts with understanding the problem, includes brainstorming and rapid ideation techniques such as mind mapping or SCAMPER, and ends with quick prototyping or iterative development. Highlight experiences where this process led to successful outcomes. Emphasize how you remain open to feedback and how you prioritize tasks to ensure the most critical elements of a project receive the necessary creative attention within the given timeframe.

Example: “ When faced with a tight deadline, my initial step is to swiftly delineate the core problem, ensuring that the focus remains on the most critical aspects. I employ rapid ideation techniques such as mind mapping to explore the problem space and SCAMPER to prompt alternative thinking angles. This structured yet flexible approach facilitates the generation of a wide array of ideas without becoming fixated on a single solution too early.

Once a breadth of ideas is established, I prioritize them based on impact and feasibility, quickly transitioning into prototyping the most promising concepts. This iterative cycle of development, coupled with immediate feedback loops, allows for continuous refinement while adhering to the deadline. The key is maintaining a balance between creativity and pragmatism, ensuring that innovation is not stifled by time constraints but rather invigorated by the focused energy they provide. This methodology has consistently led to the delivery of innovative solutions within demanding timeframes.”

3. What’s your most unconventional success story in problem-solving?

Stepping outside of conventional methods and thinking innovatively is often required for effective problem-solving in creative roles. Candidates are assessed on their ability to diverge from the norm, utilize unique approaches, and still achieve successful outcomes, as well as their willingness to take calculated risks and capacity for original thought.

When responding, it’s essential to recount a specific instance where you faced a challenging problem and resolved it in a way that wasn’t immediately obvious or traditional. Detail the thought process that led you to the unconventional solution, the risks involved, and the ultimate impact of the success. It’s not just about the outcome; it’s about demonstrating your ability to navigate through uncertainty and think outside the box while maintaining a results-oriented mindset.

Example: “ In a project where the conventional approach was to incrementally improve upon existing technology, I recognized that the incremental gains were plateauing and the cost-benefit ratio was diminishing. Instead, I proposed a radical pivot to an emerging technology that was considered risky and unproven in our industry. This required not only a technical reassessment but also a cultural shift within the team to embrace a learning mindset.

I led a small cross-functional group to prototype using this technology, which involved rapid iteration and a willingness to fail fast. The breakthrough came when we integrated an algorithm from a completely different field, which was unconventional in our domain but offered a novel solution to our problem. The risk paid off, leading to a product that not only outperformed the original specifications but also opened up new market opportunities. This success demonstrated the value of challenging industry norms and leveraging cross-disciplinary insights to drive innovation.”

4. Share an instance when you had to solve a problem without all the necessary information.

The art of creative problem solving demands the ability to make educated guesses and connect disparate pieces of information. Handling ambiguity, using limited resources effectively, and taking decisive action even when the path isn’t clear are tested through this question, which examines a candidate’s resourcefulness in uncertain situations.

When responding, recount a specific scenario that showcases your creativity and resourcefulness. Explain the steps you took to address the problem, emphasizing your thought process and how you evaluated the available information to arrive at a solution. Highlight the outcome and what you learned from the experience, showcasing your ability to adapt and your willingness to tackle challenges head-on, even when the odds seem stacked against you.

Example: “ In a project where the client’s requirements were ambiguous and the data incomplete, I led the team through a structured problem-solving approach. We began by defining the problem based on what we understood and identifying the information gaps. I facilitated a brainstorming session to generate hypotheses on what the client might need, based on our industry expertise and analogous experiences. We then prioritized these hypotheses based on their potential impact and the feasibility of validating them with the limited data available.

Using a combination of indirect data points and logical inference, we constructed a prototype solution to address the most likely client needs. We presented this to the client in an interactive session, which not only clarified their requirements but also demonstrated our proactive approach. The solution was refined based on their feedback, leading to a successful outcome that exceeded their expectations. This experience reinforced the value of creative inference and iterative development in the face of uncertainty, and it honed my ability to guide teams through ambiguous problem spaces effectively.”

5. Illustrate how you evaluate the risks and benefits of a creative solution.

Practical application of innovative ideas within a given context is just as important as coming up with the ideas themselves. Candidates must demonstrate the ability to strike a balance between creativity and pragmatism, critically assessing the feasibility, potential impact, and trade-offs involved in their solutions.

When responding, highlight a specific instance where you developed a creative solution. Walk through your thought process, emphasizing how you weighed the pros and cons. Discuss the tools or methods you used to assess risks, such as SWOT analysis or cost-benefit analysis, and how you measured the benefits, perhaps through forecasting or pilot testing. It’s crucial to demonstrate that your creativity is grounded in strategic thinking and that you are capable of anticipating potential challenges and devising contingency plans. Your answer should convey that you can be both an imaginative thinker and a responsible decision-maker.

Example: “ In evaluating the risks and benefits of a creative solution, I first conduct a thorough SWOT analysis to understand the strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats associated with the idea. For instance, when faced with a challenging project requiring an innovative approach, I devised a solution that leveraged emerging technology to streamline processes. I began by analyzing the potential strengths, such as increased efficiency and competitive advantage, and weighed them against the weaknesses, which included a steep learning curve and initial implementation costs.

Next, I assessed the opportunities for scalability and market differentiation, while also identifying threats like technological obsolescence and potential pushback from stakeholders resistant to change. To quantify these factors, I employed a cost-benefit analysis, projecting the financial impact and productivity gains against the investment required. Additionally, I conducted a small-scale pilot test to gather empirical data, which helped in validating the solution’s effectiveness and identifying areas for refinement. This approach ensured that the creative solution was not only innovative but also strategically sound, with a clear understanding of its potential impact and a plan to mitigate risks.”

6. Tell me about a time when you had to persuade a team to adopt an unconventional approach.

Teams can be resistant to change, which is why creative problem solving often requires taking risks on untested methods or ideas. This question reveals if a candidate has the leadership and persuasive skills necessary to get buy-in from others and can handle resistance while implementing novel strategies.

When crafting a response, focus on a specific instance where you identified a unique solution to a problem. Outline the steps you took to evaluate the situation, develop your approach, and then articulate the process you used to convince your team to come on board. Be sure to highlight your communication strategy, how you addressed concerns or objections, and the outcome of the initiative. Demonstrating your ability to lead through influence and the positive impact of the unconventional approach will be key.

Example: “ In one instance, our project was facing a critical bottleneck due to conventional sequential processing. Recognizing the urgency to increase efficiency, I proposed a shift to parallel processing, which was unconventional within our current framework. I began by conducting a small-scale pilot to validate the potential of this approach. With promising results in hand, I crafted a clear presentation that highlighted the pilot’s success, emphasizing the data-driven benefits such as time savings and error reduction.

Anticipating skepticism, I prepared to address potential concerns by outlining a detailed risk mitigation plan, demonstrating how the new approach could be integrated with minimal disruption. I facilitated open discussions, allowing team members to voice their apprehensions and providing thoughtful, evidence-based responses. By actively listening and adapting the plan to incorporate their feedback, I fostered a collaborative environment. The successful adoption of this approach led to a 30% improvement in project turnaround time, validating the effectiveness of persuasive communication and the strategic implementation of unconventional solutions.”

7. In what ways do you maintain creativity while adhering to strict industry regulations?

In fields with strict industry regulations, maintaining creativity is a dance between innovation and compliance. Candidates must demonstrate their ability to push the boundaries of their creativity while ensuring that the final product or solution is still within legal and ethical guidelines.

When responding, candidates should highlight specific strategies they employ to stay creative, such as keeping abreast of industry trends, collaborating with a diverse team, and continuously educating themselves on the regulations to understand where there’s room for innovation. They could also discuss past experiences where they successfully developed a creative solution that met all regulatory requirements, demonstrating their practical application of inventiveness within a regulated framework.

Example: “ Maintaining creativity within the confines of strict industry regulations requires a deep understanding of the regulatory landscape to identify where flexibility exists. I stay current with industry trends and regulatory updates, which often reveal new opportunities for innovation. By attending workshops, webinars, and engaging with a network of professionals, I gain insights into how others navigate similar challenges. This continuous education helps me to think laterally, finding creative solutions that comply with regulations while pushing the envelope.

Collaboration is another key strategy. I work with a diverse team, integrating perspectives from different disciplines to foster a creative environment where unconventional ideas are encouraged. This multidisciplinary approach allows us to brainstorm and iterate on solutions that might not be immediately apparent, ensuring that we explore all possible avenues for innovation. When we hit a regulatory roadblock, we use it as a springboard for further creativity, asking ourselves how we can achieve the desired outcome within the given constraints. This mindset has led to successful outcomes where regulatory compliance and innovation coexist, proving that creativity can thrive even under the most stringent conditions.”

8. Outline a situation where you leveraged cross-disciplinary knowledge to solve a complex problem.

Drawing on a diverse set of skills and knowledge areas is often demanded in creative problem-solving. This question tests a candidate’s intellectual agility, interdisciplinary understanding, and ability to synthesize information in a way that can break new ground or improve upon existing processes.

When responding, select a scenario that showcases your ability to bridge gaps between different fields of knowledge. Explain the problem in clear terms, detail the disciplines you combined, and describe the thought process that led you to connect these seemingly disparate areas. Emphasize the outcome, the impact of your solution, and how this approach could be applied in the prospective role.

Example: “ In a project aimed at optimizing the energy efficiency of a manufacturing process, I encountered a complex problem where traditional engineering solutions were insufficient. The process involved a chemical reaction that was highly sensitive to temperature fluctuations, leading to energy waste and inconsistent product quality. Drawing upon principles from both chemical engineering and data science, I developed a solution that integrated predictive analytics with process control.

By creating a machine learning model that analyzed historical process data, I was able to predict temperature deviations before they occurred. This foresight allowed for preemptive adjustments to the heating system, stabilizing the reaction and significantly reducing energy consumption. The cross-disciplinary approach not only enhanced the efficiency of the process by 15% but also improved product consistency by 10%. This methodology of predictive maintenance through data analytics can be universally applied to various systems within the company to optimize performance and reduce costs.”

9. Recount an experience where lateral thinking led you to a breakthrough.

Lateral thinking is a term for looking at problems from new angles and using indirect and creative approaches, which is essential in creative roles. Candidates are expected to demonstrate their capacity for innovation and flexibility in thought processes, as well as their ability to approach challenges in unconventional ways.

When responding, candidates should recount a specific instance that showcases their creative thinking skills. It’s important to describe the situation succinctly, explain the conventional methods that were proving ineffective, and then detail the novel approach they considered. Illustrating the thought process that led to the lateral solution and the positive outcome that resulted from this approach will give the interviewer a clear picture of the candidate’s problem-solving abilities. It’s also beneficial to reflect on what this experience taught them about innovation and how it has shaped their approach to challenges since.

Example: “ In a project where our goal was to optimize the workflow of a content management system, we hit a bottleneck with data entry processes. The conventional approach was to streamline the user interface and train staff to improve efficiency. However, I noticed that the real issue wasn’t just the interface or user skillset; it was the repetitive nature of the data being entered. By applying lateral thinking, I proposed the integration of a machine learning algorithm that could learn from previous entries and predict subsequent data inputs, thereby reducing the manual workload.

This solution was unconventional because it shifted the focus from human efficiency to system intelligence. The implementation led to a 30% reduction in time spent on data entry and a significant decrease in human error. This experience reinforced the value of looking beyond the immediate frame of a problem and considering how technology can be leveraged to automate and innovate, fundamentally changing my approach to problem-solving in future projects.”

10. How do you balance intuition and data analysis in your decision-making process?

Navigating the tension between instinctual creativity and evidence-based decision-making is a key skill in creative roles. Candidates must show their ability to rely on intuition when necessary but also respect and utilize data to inform their choices, harmonizing the art of gut feeling with the science of analytics.

When responding, candidates should outline specific instances where they have successfully integrated intuition and data analysis in their work. They should discuss how they evaluate the relevance and reliability of data, how they recognize patterns or insights that data alone might not reveal, and how they ultimately arrive at decisions. It’s important to communicate the value of both elements, demonstrating a flexible and thoughtful approach that considers the unique demands of each situation.

Example: “ In balancing intuition and data analysis, I approach decision-making with a recognition that data provides the empirical foundation while intuition often offers the strategic direction. For instance, when faced with a complex problem, I begin by gathering and analyzing quantitative data to understand the variables and baseline metrics. This ensures that my decisions are grounded in reality and not just speculative. However, I am also aware that data can be lagging or incomplete, and in such instances, I rely on pattern recognition and industry experience to fill in the gaps.

My intuition is honed through years of experience and continuous learning, allowing me to anticipate trends or outcomes that may not be immediately apparent from the data. When arriving at a decision, I weigh the data-driven insights with the nuanced understanding that intuition provides. This dual approach was particularly effective in a project where the data suggested a counterintuitive strategy. By trusting my intuition, I was able to propose a solution that, while initially seeming risky, ultimately led to a breakthrough in efficiency and performance. This synthesis of data and intuition ensures a robust, adaptable decision-making process that can navigate the complexities of real-world problems.”

11. Provide an example of how you’ve repurposed existing resources to overcome a challenge.

Seeing beyond the conventional use of resources and applying them in innovative ways to address challenges is a testament to one’s adaptability and resourcefulness. Candidates should demonstrate their ability to navigate limited resources or constraints and still deliver results, making the most out of what they have.

When responding, choose an example that showcases your creativity and resourcefulness. Break down the situation to highlight the challenge clearly, then describe the specific resources you had at your disposal. Explain the thought process that led you to repurpose these resources and detail the steps you took to implement your solution. Conclude by sharing the outcome and any positive impacts your ingenuity had on the project or organization. Your response should demonstrate your ability to think critically and act efficiently, turning potential obstacles into opportunities for innovation.

Example: “ In a project faced with a tight deadline and limited budget, I identified that the computational power needed for data processing was a bottleneck. We had several older servers that were not in active use, originally intended for a decommissioned project. Recognizing their potential, I proposed repurposing these servers to create a makeshift cluster, enhancing our processing capabilities.

I led the effort to reconfigure the old servers, installing necessary software and ensuring they could operate in tandem with our current systems. This solution not only circumvented the need for additional funding but also significantly reduced the time required for data analysis. The outcome was a timely project completion and the demonstration of an economical approach to resource management, which later became a model for similar situations within the organization.”

12. What strategies do you use to foster a culture of innovation within a team?

Innovation and adaptability are prized in environments that thrive on creativity, and this question delves into the candidate’s understanding of teamwork dynamics in fostering an innovative environment. It also touches on leadership style, as promoting a culture of innovation typically requires a leader who encourages experimentation and supports risk-taking.

When responding, candidates should focus on specific strategies they’ve implemented or would implement to encourage innovative thinking. These might include creating a safe space for sharing ideas without fear of criticism, implementing regular brainstorming sessions, or encouraging cross-functional collaboration. It’s important for candidates to demonstrate an understanding of how these strategies create an environment where team members feel valued and empowered to think creatively and challenge the status quo.

Example: “ To foster a culture of innovation within a team, I employ a multipronged approach that starts with establishing psychological safety. This involves creating an environment where team members feel comfortable expressing their ideas and taking risks without fear of negative consequences. I encourage open dialogue and actively listen to all suggestions, ensuring each team member knows their contributions are valued.

I also integrate structured brainstorming sessions that are designed to leverage diverse perspectives and break away from conventional thinking patterns. These sessions often include techniques such as SCAMPER or Design Thinking, which guide the team through a process of questioning assumptions and exploring alternative solutions. Furthermore, I promote cross-functional collaboration, bringing together individuals with different expertise to stimulate creative problem-solving and drive innovation from multiple angles. By combining these strategies, I cultivate a dynamic and inclusive atmosphere that not only generates innovative ideas but also propels them towards implementation.”

13. Detail a specific occasion when you anticipated potential problems and proactively devised solutions.

Proactive problem solvers forecast challenges and implement preemptive measures. Interviewers look for concrete evidence of foresight and initiative, revealing the candidate’s capacity to analyze a situation, predict outcomes, and take ownership of a project before a crisis hits.

When responding, outline a scenario where you identified a potential setback in advance. Walk the interviewer through your thought process, the predictive cues you noticed, and the strategic steps you took to mitigate the issue. Be sure to highlight the outcome, emphasizing the positive impact of your proactive approach. This demonstrates not only your problem-solving skills but also your ability to turn potential problems into successful outcomes.

Example: “ On a project where we were integrating a new software system, I recognized early on that the transition could disrupt our workflow and potentially lead to data inconsistencies. Anticipating this, I spearheaded a preemptive audit of our existing data and workflows to identify any discrepancies that could be exacerbated by the new system.

I also proposed and developed a comprehensive training program tailored to different user levels within the organization, ensuring that all team members were prepared for the switch. By implementing these measures, we managed to transition to the new system without any significant downtime and maintained data integrity throughout the process. The proactive steps resulted in a seamless integration, with the added benefit of upskilling the team, which improved our overall operational efficiency post-implementation.”

14. Have you ever implemented a solution that initially met resistance but ultimately proved successful? How did you manage it?

Persuading others to buy into unconventional ideas is a critical aspect of creative roles. Candidates must demonstrate their ability to lead and convince a team of the merit of innovative solutions, particularly when facing skepticism or opposition, and show resilience in turning potential failures into successes.

When responding, it’s crucial to share a specific instance that showcases your problem-solving skills and persuasion techniques. Detail the problem, the creative solution proposed, the resistance faced, and the strategies used to overcome it. Emphasize the process of securing buy-in, such as through evidence, pilot testing, or gradual implementation, and conclude by reflecting on the positive outcomes that justified the initial pushback.

Example: “ Yes, I encountered a situation where the solution I proposed was initially met with skepticism. The problem was a bottleneck in the production process that was causing delays and increased costs. My solution involved reorganizing the workflow and integrating a new software tool to streamline operations. Despite its potential, the team was resistant due to the learning curve and disruption to the familiar process.

To manage the resistance, I initiated a small-scale pilot program to demonstrate the efficacy of the new system without overhauling the entire process. I gathered data from the pilot to show the time savings and cost reductions. By presenting this evidence and involving key team members in the testing phase, I was able to gradually build confidence in the solution. The pilot also allowed for adjustments to be made based on feedback, which helped in addressing concerns and refining the approach. Once the benefits were clear and tangible, the solution gained wider acceptance and was fully implemented, leading to a significant improvement in production efficiency and cost savings. The success of the project not only validated the initial resistance but also fostered a more open-minded culture towards future innovations.”

15. Which metrics do you typically use to assess the effectiveness of a creative solution?

Quantifying the impact of creativity is essential for employers to determine if candidates can set objectives, apply innovative solutions, and measure outcomes against those objectives to determine effectiveness. This question reveals if a candidate can navigate the subjective nature of creativity with objective data-driven results.

When responding, you should highlight specific metrics you’ve used in the past, such as increased customer engagement, revenue growth, cost savings, or improved operational efficiency. Explain how you aligned these metrics with business goals and how your creative solutions moved the needle. Provide examples of how you’ve reviewed data and adjusted strategies accordingly to optimize the results of your creative endeavors.

Example: “ To assess the effectiveness of a creative solution, I prioritize metrics that directly correlate with the strategic goals of the initiative. For example, if the solution is customer-facing, I measure customer engagement through metrics such as conversion rates, average session duration, and Net Promoter Score (NPS). These indicators help gauge the solution’s impact on user experience and satisfaction.

In cases where the solution is designed to drive revenue growth, I track incremental sales, profit margins, and return on investment (ROI). For efficiency-driven solutions, I look at cost savings, time saved, and process cycle times. By analyzing these metrics pre- and post-implementation, I can determine the solution’s tangible benefits. Additionally, I continuously monitor these metrics to iterate and refine the solution, ensuring sustained success and alignment with evolving business objectives.”

16. Relate an incident where you had to adapt a solution mid-implementation due to unforeseen circumstances.

Flexibility and the ability to pivot when a plan goes awry are crucial in creative problem solving. Candidates must show that they can think on their feet, reassess a situation with fresh eyes, and make informed decisions that steer a project back on course, even when under pressure.

When responding, focus on a specific example that showcases your ability to re-evaluate and adjust a strategy effectively. Highlight your thought process during the incident, the alternative solutions you considered, and the rationale behind your final decision. Demonstrate how you communicated the changes to your team and managed to implement the new solution successfully, ensuring to emphasize the positive outcome or lesson learned from the experience.

Example: “ In a project where we were developing a new software feature, we encountered a significant obstacle when a key third-party API we planned to integrate was deprecated unexpectedly. The initial design hinged on the capabilities of this API, and with its deprecation, we were at risk of missing our delivery deadline. I led a rapid ideation session to explore alternative APIs and in-house development options. After evaluating the trade-offs, we decided to pivot to a different API that offered similar functionality with some adjustments to our original feature specifications.

The decision was data-driven, considering factors such as the new API’s reliability, the extent of changes needed in our codebase, and the impact on the project timeline. I communicated the shift transparently to the team, outlining the reasons for the change and the new action plan. We held a series of brief daily stand-ups to monitor progress and address any issues arising from the pivot. This adaptive approach not only kept the project on track but also fostered a culture of resilience within the team. The feature was successfully implemented, and the incident reinforced the importance of agility and proactive communication in the face of unforeseen challenges.”

17. How do you ensure stakeholder buy-in when proposing a radical solution?

Ensuring buy-in for innovative and sometimes radical solutions is essential, as stakeholders may be hesitant to embrace drastic changes. Candidates must balance being a visionary with being a diplomat, guiding stakeholders through the potential benefits and mitigated risks of a novel approach.

When responding to this question, emphasize your communication skills and your ability to empathize with stakeholder concerns. Discuss how you would clearly articulate the problem, the rationale behind your solution, and the potential impact. Provide examples of how you have used data, storytelling, or demonstrations to illustrate the value of your proposal. Mention your strategies for involving stakeholders in the process, such as seeking their input during the ideation phase, addressing their objections constructively, and building consensus through shared goals. Highlight your persistence and adaptability in navigating the terrain of corporate politics and individual preferences to achieve a unified vision.

Example: “ To ensure stakeholder buy-in when proposing a radical solution, I start by framing the problem in a context that aligns with their interests and priorities. I present the solution not just as a novel idea, but as a strategic response to a pressing challenge that affects them directly. By grounding the proposal in solid data and clear logic, I demonstrate its potential for significant impact, thereby addressing the ‘why’ behind the change.

I then engage stakeholders through a collaborative approach, inviting their feedback early in the process. This not only helps in refining the solution but also fosters a sense of ownership among stakeholders. I use storytelling to paint a vivid picture of the positive outcomes, making the abstract tangible. When objections arise, I address them head-on with empathy, providing evidence-based counterpoints and alternative scenarios. By maintaining open communication, adapting to feedback, and showing commitment to a shared vision, I build trust and consensus, paving the way for successful implementation of the solution.”

18. When faced with conflicting viewpoints, how do you arrive at a consensus for a creative strategy?

Harmonizing conflicting viewpoints is essential in ensuring that a creative strategy is not only inventive but also universally accepted and effective. Candidates are assessed on their conflict resolution skills, their ability to synthesize diverse ideas, and their finesse in guiding a team towards a unified vision.

When responding to this question, it’s important to outline a process that includes active listening, acknowledging the validity of different opinions, and leveraging the diversity of thought to enhance the creative solution. One could mention employing techniques such as brainstorming sessions, the Delphi method for gathering expert opinions, or decision-making tools like multi-voting to democratically arrive at a consensus. Highlighting past experiences where you successfully mediated and merged conflicting ideas to produce a coherent strategy will demonstrate your capability in this area.

Example: “ When confronted with conflicting viewpoints, my approach is to first ensure that each perspective is fully understood and respected. Active listening is paramount, as it allows me to grasp the nuances of each viewpoint and the underlying reasons for the disagreement. I then steer the conversation towards the shared goals and objectives that are often at the heart of the creative strategy. This common ground serves as a foundation for collaboration.

Next, I facilitate a structured brainstorming session where all parties are encouraged to contribute and build upon each other’s ideas. This not only fosters a sense of ownership among the team but also often leads to innovative solutions that might not have been reached individually. To refine the multitude of ideas, I employ decision-making tools such as multi-voting, which helps the team prioritize options democratically. This process ensures that the final consensus is a balanced amalgamation of the team’s expertise and creativity, leading to a strategy that is both innovative and aligned with our collective vision.”

19. Can you walk us through a time when you turned a failure into a learning opportunity for problem-solving?

Leveraging failures as stepping stones to success is a dynamic skill required in creative problem solving. Candidates are assessed on their resilience, adaptability, and capacity for critical thinking and growth, showing how they navigate setbacks and apply lessons learned to improve future processes.

When responding, it’s crucial to clearly outline the situation that led to the failure, emphasizing the thought process and actions taken post-failure to transform it into a learning experience. Be honest about the initial setbacks, but focus on the proactive steps you took to analyze and learn from the situation. Share specific insights gained and how they were implemented to solve the problem or prevent similar issues in the future. This demonstrates a growth mindset and shows that you view challenges as opportunities to evolve professionally.

Example: “ Certainly. In one instance, a project I was leading hit a significant roadblock when a chosen solution failed to scale as expected, causing delays and budget overruns. Initially, the failure was a setback, but it became an invaluable learning moment. I spearheaded a post-mortem analysis to identify the root causes, which revealed that our testing protocols were insufficient for real-world conditions.

Armed with this knowledge, I revised our testing framework to incorporate more rigorous stress tests and simulations that better mirrored actual usage patterns. This not only resolved the immediate scaling issue but also enhanced our overall approach to quality assurance. The experience taught us that theoretical scalability must be validated through practical, scenario-based testing. This insight has since been integrated into our standard operating procedures, ensuring that future projects are more resilient to similar challenges. The failure, thus, transformed into a strategic pivot that bolstered our problem-solving toolkit and organizational preparedness.”

20. How do you prioritize tasks when multiple issues demand creative solutions simultaneously?

An agile mind capable of juggling various challenges at once is required in creative problem-solving roles. Candidates must demonstrate strategic thinking and time management skills, discerning which tasks need immediate attention and which can be deferred, while keeping their creative energy flowing.

When responding, candidates should highlight their methodology for assessing task urgency and importance, perhaps referencing a specific system or framework they use, such as the Eisenhower Matrix or a custom prioritization technique. They should give examples from past experiences where they successfully navigated competing demands, illustrating their thought process and the outcomes. It’s also an opportunity to demonstrate their ability to stay calm and maintain clarity of thought when faced with a high-pressure situation requiring creative problem-solving.

Example: “ In situations where multiple issues require creative problem-solving, I prioritize tasks based on a combination of urgency and impact, aligning with principles similar to the Eisenhower Matrix. I evaluate the immediacy of each issue, considering deadlines and potential consequences of inaction. Concurrently, I assess the impact of the solutions, focusing on those that will deliver the most significant benefits or prevent the most harm.

For instance, when faced with competing demands, I once identified a critical path that allowed me to address a high-impact, time-sensitive problem first, which also provided a strategic insight that simplified the solutions for the remaining issues. This approach not only resolved the most pressing problem efficiently but also streamlined the problem-solving process for the subsequent tasks. By maintaining a clear hierarchy of task importance and being adaptable in my strategy, I was able to deliver effective solutions within tight deadlines, demonstrating both prioritization skills and creative agility.”

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HBR On Leadership podcast series

Do You Understand the Problem You’re Trying to Solve?

To solve tough problems at work, first ask these questions.

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Problem solving skills are invaluable in any job. But all too often, we jump to find solutions to a problem without taking time to really understand the dilemma we face, according to Thomas Wedell-Wedellsborg , an expert in innovation and the author of the book, What’s Your Problem?: To Solve Your Toughest Problems, Change the Problems You Solve .

In this episode, you’ll learn how to reframe tough problems by asking questions that reveal all the factors and assumptions that contribute to the situation. You’ll also learn why searching for just one root cause can be misleading.

Key episode topics include: leadership, decision making and problem solving, power and influence, business management.

HBR On Leadership curates the best case studies and conversations with the world’s top business and management experts, to help you unlock the best in those around you. New episodes every week.

  • Listen to the original HBR IdeaCast episode: The Secret to Better Problem Solving (2016)
  • Find more episodes of HBR IdeaCast
  • Discover 100 years of Harvard Business Review articles, case studies, podcasts, and more at HBR.org .

HANNAH BATES: Welcome to HBR on Leadership , case studies and conversations with the world’s top business and management experts, hand-selected to help you unlock the best in those around you.

Problem solving skills are invaluable in any job. But even the most experienced among us can fall into the trap of solving the wrong problem.

Thomas Wedell-Wedellsborg says that all too often, we jump to find solutions to a problem – without taking time to really understand what we’re facing.

He’s an expert in innovation, and he’s the author of the book, What’s Your Problem?: To Solve Your Toughest Problems, Change the Problems You Solve .

  In this episode, you’ll learn how to reframe tough problems, by asking questions that reveal all the factors and assumptions that contribute to the situation. You’ll also learn why searching for one root cause can be misleading. And you’ll learn how to use experimentation and rapid prototyping as problem-solving tools.

This episode originally aired on HBR IdeaCast in December 2016. Here it is.

SARAH GREEN CARMICHAEL: Welcome to the HBR IdeaCast from Harvard Business Review. I’m Sarah Green Carmichael.

Problem solving is popular. People put it on their resumes. Managers believe they excel at it. Companies count it as a key proficiency. We solve customers’ problems.

The problem is we often solve the wrong problems. Albert Einstein and Peter Drucker alike have discussed the difficulty of effective diagnosis. There are great frameworks for getting teams to attack true problems, but they’re often hard to do daily and on the fly. That’s where our guest comes in.

Thomas Wedell-Wedellsborg is a consultant who helps companies and managers reframe their problems so they can come up with an effective solution faster. He asks the question “Are You Solving The Right Problems?” in the January-February 2017 issue of Harvard Business Review. Thomas, thank you so much for coming on the HBR IdeaCast .

THOMAS WEDELL-WEDELLSBORG: Thanks for inviting me.

SARAH GREEN CARMICHAEL: So, I thought maybe we could start by talking about the problem of talking about problem reframing. What is that exactly?

THOMAS WEDELL-WEDELLSBORG: Basically, when people face a problem, they tend to jump into solution mode to rapidly, and very often that means that they don’t really understand, necessarily, the problem they’re trying to solve. And so, reframing is really a– at heart, it’s a method that helps you avoid that by taking a second to go in and ask two questions, basically saying, first of all, wait. What is the problem we’re trying to solve? And then crucially asking, is there a different way to think about what the problem actually is?

SARAH GREEN CARMICHAEL: So, I feel like so often when this comes up in meetings, you know, someone says that, and maybe they throw out the Einstein quote about you spend an hour of problem solving, you spend 55 minutes to find the problem. And then everyone else in the room kind of gets irritated. So, maybe just give us an example of maybe how this would work in practice in a way that would not, sort of, set people’s teeth on edge, like oh, here Sarah goes again, reframing the whole problem instead of just solving it.

THOMAS WEDELL-WEDELLSBORG: I mean, you’re bringing up something that’s, I think is crucial, which is to create legitimacy for the method. So, one of the reasons why I put out the article is to give people a tool to say actually, this thing is still important, and we need to do it. But I think the really critical thing in order to make this work in a meeting is actually to learn how to do it fast, because if you have the idea that you need to spend 30 minutes in a meeting delving deeply into the problem, I mean, that’s going to be uphill for most problems. So, the critical thing here is really to try to make it a practice you can implement very, very rapidly.

There’s an example that I would suggest memorizing. This is the example that I use to explain very rapidly what it is. And it’s basically, I call it the slow elevator problem. You imagine that you are the owner of an office building, and that your tenants are complaining that the elevator’s slow.

Now, if you take that problem framing for granted, you’re going to start thinking creatively around how do we make the elevator faster. Do we install a new motor? Do we have to buy a new lift somewhere?

The thing is, though, if you ask people who actually work with facilities management, well, they’re going to have a different solution for you, which is put up a mirror next to the elevator. That’s what happens is, of course, that people go oh, I’m busy. I’m busy. I’m– oh, a mirror. Oh, that’s beautiful.

And then they forget time. What’s interesting about that example is that the idea with a mirror is actually a solution to a different problem than the one you first proposed. And so, the whole idea here is once you get good at using reframing, you can quickly identify other aspects of the problem that might be much better to try to solve than the original one you found. It’s not necessarily that the first one is wrong. It’s just that there might be better problems out there to attack that we can, means we can do things much faster, cheaper, or better.

SARAH GREEN CARMICHAEL: So, in that example, I can understand how A, it’s probably expensive to make the elevator faster, so it’s much cheaper just to put up a mirror. And B, maybe the real problem people are actually feeling, even though they’re not articulating it right, is like, I hate waiting for the elevator. But if you let them sort of fix their hair or check their teeth, they’re suddenly distracted and don’t notice.

But if you have, this is sort of a pedestrian example, but say you have a roommate or a spouse who doesn’t clean up the kitchen. Facing that problem and not having your elegant solution already there to highlight the contrast between the perceived problem and the real problem, how would you take a problem like that and attack it using this method so that you can see what some of the other options might be?

THOMAS WEDELL-WEDELLSBORG: Right. So, I mean, let’s say it’s you who have that problem. I would go in and say, first of all, what would you say the problem is? Like, if you were to describe your view of the problem, what would that be?

SARAH GREEN CARMICHAEL: I hate cleaning the kitchen, and I want someone else to clean it up.

THOMAS WEDELL-WEDELLSBORG: OK. So, my first observation, you know, that somebody else might not necessarily be your spouse. So, already there, there’s an inbuilt assumption in your question around oh, it has to be my husband who does the cleaning. So, it might actually be worth, already there to say, is that really the only problem you have? That you hate cleaning the kitchen, and you want to avoid it? Or might there be something around, as well, getting a better relationship in terms of how you solve problems in general or establishing a better way to handle small problems when dealing with your spouse?

SARAH GREEN CARMICHAEL: Or maybe, now that I’m thinking that, maybe the problem is that you just can’t find the stuff in the kitchen when you need to find it.

THOMAS WEDELL-WEDELLSBORG: Right, and so that’s an example of a reframing, that actually why is it a problem that the kitchen is not clean? Is it only because you hate the act of cleaning, or does it actually mean that it just takes you a lot longer and gets a lot messier to actually use the kitchen, which is a different problem. The way you describe this problem now, is there anything that’s missing from that description?

SARAH GREEN CARMICHAEL: That is a really good question.

THOMAS WEDELL-WEDELLSBORG: Other, basically asking other factors that we are not talking about right now, and I say those because people tend to, when given a problem, they tend to delve deeper into the detail. What often is missing is actually an element outside of the initial description of the problem that might be really relevant to what’s going on. Like, why does the kitchen get messy in the first place? Is it something about the way you use it or your cooking habits? Is it because the neighbor’s kids, kind of, use it all the time?

There might, very often, there might be issues that you’re not really thinking about when you first describe the problem that actually has a big effect on it.

SARAH GREEN CARMICHAEL: I think at this point it would be helpful to maybe get another business example, and I’m wondering if you could tell us the story of the dog adoption problem.

THOMAS WEDELL-WEDELLSBORG: Yeah. This is a big problem in the US. If you work in the shelter industry, basically because dogs are so popular, more than 3 million dogs every year enter a shelter, and currently only about half of those actually find a new home and get adopted. And so, this is a problem that has persisted. It’s been, like, a structural problem for decades in this space. In the last three years, where people found new ways to address it.

So a woman called Lori Weise who runs a rescue organization in South LA, and she actually went in and challenged the very idea of what we were trying to do. She said, no, no. The problem we’re trying to solve is not about how to get more people to adopt dogs. It is about keeping the dogs with their first family so they never enter the shelter system in the first place.

In 2013, she started what’s called a Shelter Intervention Program that basically works like this. If a family comes and wants to hand over their dog, these are called owner surrenders. It’s about 30% of all dogs that come into a shelter. All they would do is go up and ask, if you could, would you like to keep your animal? And if they said yes, they would try to fix whatever helped them fix the problem, but that made them turn over this.

And sometimes that might be that they moved into a new building. The landlord required a deposit, and they simply didn’t have the money to put down a deposit. Or the dog might need a $10 rabies shot, but they didn’t know how to get access to a vet.

And so, by instigating that program, just in the first year, she took her, basically the amount of dollars they spent per animal they helped went from something like $85 down to around $60. Just an immediate impact, and her program now is being rolled out, is being supported by the ASPCA, which is one of the big animal welfare stations, and it’s being rolled out to various other places.

And I think what really struck me with that example was this was not dependent on having the internet. This was not, oh, we needed to have everybody mobile before we could come up with this. This, conceivably, we could have done 20 years ago. Only, it only happened when somebody, like in this case Lori, went in and actually rethought what the problem they were trying to solve was in the first place.

SARAH GREEN CARMICHAEL: So, what I also think is so interesting about that example is that when you talk about it, it doesn’t sound like the kind of thing that would have been thought of through other kinds of problem solving methods. There wasn’t necessarily an After Action Review or a 5 Whys exercise or a Six Sigma type intervention. I don’t want to throw those other methods under the bus, but how can you get such powerful results with such a very simple way of thinking about something?

THOMAS WEDELL-WEDELLSBORG: That was something that struck me as well. This, in a way, reframing and the idea of the problem diagnosis is important is something we’ve known for a long, long time. And we’ve actually have built some tools to help out. If you worked with us professionally, you are familiar with, like, Six Sigma, TRIZ, and so on. You mentioned 5 Whys. A root cause analysis is another one that a lot of people are familiar with.

Those are our good tools, and they’re definitely better than nothing. But what I notice when I work with the companies applying those was those tools tend to make you dig deeper into the first understanding of the problem we have. If it’s the elevator example, people start asking, well, is that the cable strength, or is the capacity of the elevator? That they kind of get caught by the details.

That, in a way, is a bad way to work on problems because it really assumes that there’s like a, you can almost hear it, a root cause. That you have to dig down and find the one true problem, and everything else was just symptoms. That’s a bad way to think about problems because problems tend to be multicausal.

There tend to be lots of causes or levers you can potentially press to address a problem. And if you think there’s only one, if that’s the right problem, that’s actually a dangerous way. And so I think that’s why, that this is a method I’ve worked with over the last five years, trying to basically refine how to make people better at this, and the key tends to be this thing about shifting out and saying, is there a totally different way of thinking about the problem versus getting too caught up in the mechanistic details of what happens.

SARAH GREEN CARMICHAEL: What about experimentation? Because that’s another method that’s become really popular with the rise of Lean Startup and lots of other innovation methodologies. Why wouldn’t it have worked to, say, experiment with many different types of fixing the dog adoption problem, and then just pick the one that works the best?

THOMAS WEDELL-WEDELLSBORG: You could say in the dog space, that’s what’s been going on. I mean, there is, in this industry and a lot of, it’s largely volunteer driven. People have experimented, and they found different ways of trying to cope. And that has definitely made the problem better. So, I wouldn’t say that experimentation is bad, quite the contrary. Rapid prototyping, quickly putting something out into the world and learning from it, that’s a fantastic way to learn more and to move forward.

My point is, though, that I feel we’ve come to rely too much on that. There’s like, if you look at the start up space, the wisdom is now just to put something quickly into the market, and then if it doesn’t work, pivot and just do more stuff. What reframing really is, I think of it as the cognitive counterpoint to prototyping. So, this is really a way of seeing very quickly, like not just working on the solution, but also working on our understanding of the problem and trying to see is there a different way to think about that.

If you only stick with experimentation, again, you tend to sometimes stay too much in the same space trying minute variations of something instead of taking a step back and saying, wait a minute. What is this telling us about what the real issue is?

SARAH GREEN CARMICHAEL: So, to go back to something that we touched on earlier, when we were talking about the completely hypothetical example of a spouse who does not clean the kitchen–

THOMAS WEDELL-WEDELLSBORG: Completely, completely hypothetical.

SARAH GREEN CARMICHAEL: Yes. For the record, my husband is a great kitchen cleaner.

You started asking me some questions that I could see immediately were helping me rethink that problem. Is that kind of the key, just having a checklist of questions to ask yourself? How do you really start to put this into practice?

THOMAS WEDELL-WEDELLSBORG: I think there are two steps in that. The first one is just to make yourself better at the method. Yes, you should kind of work with a checklist. In the article, I kind of outlined seven practices that you can use to do this.

But importantly, I would say you have to consider that as, basically, a set of training wheels. I think there’s a big, big danger in getting caught in a checklist. This is something I work with.

My co-author Paddy Miller, it’s one of his insights. That if you start giving people a checklist for things like this, they start following it. And that’s actually a problem, because what you really want them to do is start challenging their thinking.

So the way to handle this is to get some practice using it. Do use the checklist initially, but then try to step away from it and try to see if you can organically make– it’s almost a habit of mind. When you run into a colleague in the hallway and she has a problem and you have five minutes, like, delving in and just starting asking some of those questions and using your intuition to say, wait, how is she talking about this problem? And is there a question or two I can ask her about the problem that can help her rethink it?

SARAH GREEN CARMICHAEL: Well, that is also just a very different approach, because I think in that situation, most of us can’t go 30 seconds without jumping in and offering solutions.

THOMAS WEDELL-WEDELLSBORG: Very true. The drive toward solutions is very strong. And to be clear, I mean, there’s nothing wrong with that if the solutions work. So, many problems are just solved by oh, you know, oh, here’s the way to do that. Great.

But this is really a powerful method for those problems where either it’s something we’ve been banging our heads against tons of times without making progress, or when you need to come up with a really creative solution. When you’re facing a competitor with a much bigger budget, and you know, if you solve the same problem later, you’re not going to win. So, that basic idea of taking that approach to problems can often help you move forward in a different way than just like, oh, I have a solution.

I would say there’s also, there’s some interesting psychological stuff going on, right? Where you may have tried this, but if somebody tries to serve up a solution to a problem I have, I’m often resistant towards them. Kind if like, no, no, no, no, no, no. That solution is not going to work in my world. Whereas if you get them to discuss and analyze what the problem really is, you might actually dig something up.

Let’s go back to the kitchen example. One powerful question is just to say, what’s your own part in creating this problem? It’s very often, like, people, they describe problems as if it’s something that’s inflicted upon them from the external world, and they are innocent bystanders in that.

SARAH GREEN CARMICHAEL: Right, or crazy customers with unreasonable demands.

THOMAS WEDELL-WEDELLSBORG: Exactly, right. I don’t think I’ve ever met an agency or consultancy that didn’t, like, gossip about their customers. Oh, my god, they’re horrible. That, you know, classic thing, why don’t they want to take more risk? Well, risk is bad.

It’s their business that’s on the line, not the consultancy’s, right? So, absolutely, that’s one of the things when you step into a different mindset and kind of, wait. Oh yeah, maybe I actually am part of creating this problem in a sense, as well. That tends to open some new doors for you to move forward, in a way, with stuff that you may have been struggling with for years.

SARAH GREEN CARMICHAEL: So, we’ve surfaced a couple of questions that are useful. I’m curious to know, what are some of the other questions that you find yourself asking in these situations, given that you have made this sort of mental habit that you do? What are the questions that people seem to find really useful?

THOMAS WEDELL-WEDELLSBORG: One easy one is just to ask if there are any positive exceptions to the problem. So, was there day where your kitchen was actually spotlessly clean? And then asking, what was different about that day? Like, what happened there that didn’t happen the other days? That can very often point people towards a factor that they hadn’t considered previously.

SARAH GREEN CARMICHAEL: We got take-out.

THOMAS WEDELL-WEDELLSBORG: S,o that is your solution. Take-out from [INAUDIBLE]. That might have other problems.

Another good question, and this is a little bit more high level. It’s actually more making an observation about labeling how that person thinks about the problem. And what I mean with that is, we have problem categories in our head. So, if I say, let’s say that you describe a problem to me and say, well, we have a really great product and are, it’s much better than our previous product, but people aren’t buying it. I think we need to put more marketing dollars into this.

Now you can go in and say, that’s interesting. This sounds like you’re thinking of this as a communications problem. Is there a different way of thinking about that? Because you can almost tell how, when the second you say communications, there are some ideas about how do you solve a communications problem. Typically with more communication.

And what you might do is go in and suggest, well, have you considered that it might be, say, an incentive problem? Are there incentives on behalf of the purchasing manager at your clients that are obstructing you? Might there be incentive issues with your own sales force that makes them want to sell the old product instead of the new one?

So literally, just identifying what type of problem does this person think about, and is there different potential way of thinking about it? Might it be an emotional problem, a timing problem, an expectations management problem? Thinking about what label of what type of problem that person is kind of thinking as it of.

SARAH GREEN CARMICHAEL: That’s really interesting, too, because I think so many of us get requests for advice that we’re really not qualified to give. So, maybe the next time that happens, instead of muddying my way through, I will just ask some of those questions that we talked about instead.

THOMAS WEDELL-WEDELLSBORG: That sounds like a good idea.

SARAH GREEN CARMICHAEL: So, Thomas, this has really helped me reframe the way I think about a couple of problems in my own life, and I’m just wondering. I know you do this professionally, but is there a problem in your life that thinking this way has helped you solve?

THOMAS WEDELL-WEDELLSBORG: I’ve, of course, I’ve been swallowing my own medicine on this, too, and I think I have, well, maybe two different examples, and in one case somebody else did the reframing for me. But in one case, when I was younger, I often kind of struggled a little bit. I mean, this is my teenage years, kind of hanging out with my parents. I thought they were pretty annoying people. That’s not really fair, because they’re quite wonderful, but that’s what life is when you’re a teenager.

And one of the things that struck me, suddenly, and this was kind of the positive exception was, there was actually an evening where we really had a good time, and there wasn’t a conflict. And the core thing was, I wasn’t just seeing them in their old house where I grew up. It was, actually, we were at a restaurant. And it suddenly struck me that so much of the sometimes, kind of, a little bit, you love them but they’re annoying kind of dynamic, is tied to the place, is tied to the setting you are in.

And of course, if– you know, I live abroad now, if I visit my parents and I stay in my old bedroom, you know, my mother comes in and wants to wake me up in the morning. Stuff like that, right? And it just struck me so, so clearly that it’s– when I change this setting, if I go out and have dinner with them at a different place, that the dynamic, just that dynamic disappears.

SARAH GREEN CARMICHAEL: Well, Thomas, this has been really, really helpful. Thank you for talking with me today.

THOMAS WEDELL-WEDELLSBORG: Thank you, Sarah.  

HANNAH BATES: That was Thomas Wedell-Wedellsborg in conversation with Sarah Green Carmichael on the HBR IdeaCast. He’s an expert in problem solving and innovation, and he’s the author of the book, What’s Your Problem?: To Solve Your Toughest Problems, Change the Problems You Solve .

We’ll be back next Wednesday with another hand-picked conversation about leadership from the Harvard Business Review. If you found this episode helpful, share it with your friends and colleagues, and follow our show on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, or wherever you get your podcasts. While you’re there, be sure to leave us a review.

We’re a production of Harvard Business Review. If you want more podcasts, articles, case studies, books, and videos like this, find it all at HBR dot org.

This episode was produced by Anne Saini, and me, Hannah Bates. Ian Fox is our editor. Music by Coma Media. Special thanks to Maureen Hoch, Adi Ignatius, Karen Player, Ramsey Khabbaz, Nicole Smith, Anne Bartholomew, and you – our listener.

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  1. Top 20 Problem Solving Interview Questions (Example Answers Included)

    MIKE'S TIP: When you're answering this question, quantify the details. This gives your answer critical context and scale, showcasing the degree of challenge and strength of the accomplishment. That way, your answer is powerful, compelling, and, above all, thorough. 2. Describe a time where you made a mistake.

  2. 8 Common Problem-Solving Interview Questions and Answers

    Problem-solving interview questions are questions that employers ask related to the candidate's ability to gather data, analyze a problem, weigh the pros and cons and reach a logical decision. ... While the problem-solving interview questions that you are asked during your interview will vary from job to job, the samples and tips above will ...

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  5. Problem-Solving Interview Questions: How-to + Examples

    To put these skills to the test, recruiters use "problem-solving" job interview questions, also known as analytical questions. Here are some common ones: Tell me about a situation where you had to solve a difficult problem. Give me a specific example of a time when you used good judgment and logic in solving a problem.

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    What to look for in an answer: Understands problem-solving skills. Creative thinking. Communicates ideas well. Example: "In my opinion, creative thinking, determination, reasoning and decisive action are all qualities that good problem-solvers have.

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    8. Detail how you've handled a scenario where team members disagreed on the solution to a problem. Navigating team disagreements can reflect deeper dynamics such as power struggles, communication breakdowns, or diverse perspectives. This question helps understand how a candidate resolves conflicts and builds consensus.

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    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 ...

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    Sample answer: "I'm an advocate of the 15-minute rule. I will take at least 15 minutes to try and solve the problem on my own. In that time, I will identify the problem, decide what the ideal result would be, and work out tasks to reach my goal. I'd rule out any options that might not work and consider the consequences of the options I ...

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    Here are a few examples of technical problem-solving questions: 1. Mini-Max Sum. This well-known challenge, which asks the interviewee to find the maximum and minimum sum among an array of given numbers, is based on a basic but important programming concept called sorting, as well as integer overflow.

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    Tips for answering problem-solving interview questions When preparing for your interview and during your meeting, follow these tips for creating the most significant impact with your responses to problem-solving and analytical interview questions:. Remember the five-step process of problem-solving when developing your response. Use the STAR method to create a well-formed answer, including the ...

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    3. Describe the result of a recent problem you solved. For this question, the interviewer is looking to understand the impact you've had on solving problems and how important the problems you've described are. The bigger the impact the better the example. 4.

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    Common problem-solving questions and answers. Every job requires problem-solving on some level, so you can expect at least one job interview question to ask about those skills. Here are a few common problem-solving interview questions to practice: 1. Give us an example of when you faced an unexpected challenge at work.

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