Top 15 Problem Solving Interview Questions and Answers
Are you gearing up for an important job interview that includes problem-solving questions? Congratulations, because you've come to the right place!
In this guide, we'll equip you with the skills and knowledge needed to ace those tricky problem-solving interviews with confidence.
Introduction to Problem Solving Interviews
In today's competitive job market, employers are seeking candidates who possess strong problem-solving abilities. Problem solving is not only about finding solutions to complex issues; it also showcases your critical thinking, analytical, and creative skills. Before we delve into the nitty-gritty of problem-solving interviews, let's gain a clear understanding of what they entail and why they matter.
What Are Problem Solving Interviews?
Problem solving interviews are a specialized type of job interview where employers assess a candidate's ability to handle challenges and make sound decisions in real-life scenarios. These interviews often involve hypothetical situations or case studies to evaluate your problem-solving process and your approach to arriving at effective solutions.
The Importance of Problem Solving Skills in the Workplace
Problem-solving skills are highly valued in almost every industry. Employers seek individuals who can identify problems, think critically, and generate innovative solutions. Whether you're in business, engineering, healthcare, or any other field, the ability to tackle complex issues is essential for personal and organizational success.
How Problem Solving Interviews Differ from Traditional Interviews
Unlike traditional interviews that focus on your qualifications and work experience, problem-solving interviews provide a glimpse into your thought process and decision-making capabilities. Through these interviews, employers assess your potential to handle challenging situations that may arise in the workplace. Being well-prepared for this specific interview format will set you apart from other candidates.
Core Problem Solving Skills
Before you dive into practicing problem-solving questions, let's explore the fundamental skills that make up an effective problem solver.
Critical thinking is the foundation of problem solving. It involves objectively analyzing information, evaluating arguments, and making logical decisions. To enhance your critical thinking abilities:
- Ask Thought-Provoking Questions: Train yourself to ask "why" and "how" questions to gain a deeper understanding of problems.
- Challenge Assumptions: Don't take information at face value; question the underlying assumptions.
- Evaluate Evidence: Learn to distinguish between credible and unreliable sources of information.
Analytical skills are essential for breaking down complex problems into smaller, manageable components. Improve your analytical thinking with these tips:
- Practice Data Interpretation: Analyze charts, graphs, and data sets to draw meaningful insights.
- Use Root Cause Analysis: Identify the underlying reasons behind problems by applying techniques like the "5 Whys."
- Draw Comparisons: Compare past experiences or similar scenarios to find patterns and potential solutions.
Creativity and Innovation
Creative problem solving involves thinking outside the box and generating unique solutions. To nurture your creativity:
- Embrace Diverse Perspectives: Seek input from others with different backgrounds and experiences.
- Mind Mapping: Create visual diagrams to explore various angles and connections related to a problem.
- Encourage Brainstorming: Engage in group brainstorming sessions to generate a wide range of ideas.
Frameworks for Problem Solving
Equipping yourself with problem-solving frameworks can help you approach challenges more systematically. Here are some popular frameworks to explore:
The 5 Whys is a simple yet effective technique to uncover the root cause of a problem. It involves repeatedly asking "why" until you identify the underlying issue.
SWOT Analysis is a strategic planning tool used to assess a situation's strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats.
PDCA is a four-step problem-solving model consisting of planning, executing, checking results, and making adjustments as needed.
SCAMPER is a creative thinking technique that involves asking questions related to Substitute, Combine, Adapt, Modify, Put to another use, Eliminate, and Reverse.
Six Thinking Hats
Six Thinking Hats is a concept developed by Edward de Bono that encourages individuals to think from six different perspectives, each represented by a colored "hat."
Behavioral-based Problem Solving Questions
Behavioral problem solving questions aim to evaluate how you handled challenges in the past. Be prepared to answer these questions with clarity and confidence:
Example: "Describe a challenging problem you encountered and how you resolved it."
To answer this question effectively:
- Set the Scene: Provide context and background information about the situation.
- Explain the Challenge: Clearly outline the problem you faced.
- Describe Your Actions: Detail the steps you took to address the problem.
- Highlight the Outcome: Share the positive results of your efforts.
Example: "Discuss a situation where you had to think creatively to solve a problem."
For this question:
- Narrate the Scenario: Paint a vivid picture of the problem you encountered.
- Showcase Your Creativity: Explain the innovative approach you adopted.
- Explain the Impact: Share the positive outcomes resulting from your creative solution.
Technical Problem Solving Questions
If your role requires technical skills, you may encounter technical problem-solving questions. Here's how to tackle them:
Example: "How would you troubleshoot [specific technical problem]?"
To handle technical problem-solving questions:
- Clarify the Issue: Ask for any additional information to fully understand the problem.
- Create a Plan: Outline the steps you would take to diagnose and address the issue.
- Demonstrate Your Expertise: Showcase your technical knowledge and problem-solving ability.
Example: "Walk us through your approach to [technical challenge] in your previous role."
- Provide Context: Explain the technical challenge you faced in your previous role.
- Outline Your Approach: Describe the steps you took to overcome the challenge.
- Highlight Success: Share the positive results of your efforts.
Case interviews simulate real-world problem-solving scenarios and are common in consulting and other industries. To excel in case interviews:
- Understand the Problem: Thoroughly read and comprehend the case presented.
- Identify Key Issues: Break down the problem into its essential components.
- Ask Clarifying Questions: Seek clarification on any ambiguous aspects of the case.
- Brainstorm Solutions: Generate multiple potential solutions.
- Analyze Options: Evaluate the pros and cons of each solution.
- Recommend a Course of Action: Select the best solution and provide a rationale.
- Handle Pressure: Stay composed and confident throughout the interview.
Problem Solving in Group Settings
Collaborative problem solving is vital in today's team-oriented work environments. Here's how to excel in group problem-solving scenarios:
- Active Listening: Pay close attention to others' perspectives and ideas.
- Effective Communication: Clearly articulate your thoughts and suggestions.
- Encourage Participation: Create an inclusive environment where everyone feels comfortable contributing.
- Respect Diverse Opinions: Value the input of all team members, even if opinions differ.
- Build on Each Other's Ideas: Expand on others' suggestions to develop comprehensive solutions.
- Manage Conflict: Handle disagreements respectfully and seek common ground.
Situational Judgment Tests (SJTs)
Situational judgment tests assess your ability to handle realistic workplace scenarios. Approach SJTs with these tips:
- Read Carefully: Pay attention to the details and instructions in each scenario.
- Prioritize Solutions: Identify the most appropriate course of action based on the situation.
- Consider the Consequences: Anticipate the potential outcomes of your chosen response.
- Adhere to Company Values: Ensure your solutions align with the organization's principles.
Effective decision making is integral to successful problem solving. Improve your decision-making skills with these strategies:
- Gather Information: Collect relevant data and insights before making a decision.
- Analyze Options: Evaluate the potential outcomes of different choices.
- Consider Risks and Benefits: Weigh the risks against the potential benefits of each option.
- Seek Input: If appropriate, consult with colleagues or experts to gain different perspectives.
- Trust Your Instincts: Sometimes, intuition can guide you toward the right decision.
Behavioral-Based Problem Solving Interview Questions
1. "describe a challenging problem you encountered and how you resolved it.".
How to Answer: When responding to this question, follow the STAR method (Situation, Task, Action, Result) to structure your answer effectively:
- Situation: Set the context by describing the problem you faced.
- Task: Explain your role and responsibilities in addressing the problem.
- Action: Detail the steps you took to solve the problem, highlighting your problem-solving approach.
- Result: Share the positive outcomes of your efforts and any valuable lessons learned.
Sample Answer: "In my previous role as a project manager, we faced a significant budget overrun due to unexpected delays in material delivery. To address this challenge, I first analyzed the root cause of the delay by collaborating with the procurement team and suppliers. Then, I devised a contingency plan that involved working with alternative suppliers and streamlining the project timeline. As a result, we were able to bring the project back on track, saving 15% on costs and meeting the project deadline."
What to Look For: Look for candidates who demonstrate strong problem-solving skills, proactive decision-making, and the ability to collaborate across teams. A well-structured response with quantifiable results is a positive indicator of their problem-solving capabilities.
2. "Tell me about a time when you had to think creatively to solve a problem."
How to Answer: Encourage candidates to walk through the situation, focusing on the following points:
- Context: Describe the situation and the specific problem that required creative thinking.
- Creativity: Explain the innovative approach or out-of-the-box solution you came up with.
- Implementation: Describe how you implemented the creative solution and the results achieved.
Sample Answer: "During a marketing campaign, we faced a sudden drop in engagement. To tackle this, I organized a brainstorming session with the team and encouraged everyone to contribute ideas. We decided to experiment with interactive social media polls and contests, which not only boosted engagement but also increased brand visibility by 20%."
What to Look For: Look for candidates who display creative thinking, openness to collaboration, and the ability to take initiative in solving problems. Consider their approach to risk-taking and how they evaluate the potential impact of their creative solutions.
Technical Problem Solving Interview Questions
3. "how would you troubleshoot [specific technical problem]".
How to Answer: Candidates should approach this question systematically:
- Clarify the Issue: Ask for any additional details to fully understand the technical problem.
- Methodical Approach: Describe the steps you would take to diagnose the issue.
- Expertise: Showcase your technical knowledge and problem-solving ability.
Sample Answer: "If I encountered a server outage issue, I would first check the network connections and power supply. Then, I would review server logs to identify any error messages. If necessary, I would conduct hardware tests and isolate the faulty component. Once the issue is identified, I would take appropriate corrective actions, such as replacing the faulty part or applying software updates."
What to Look For: Pay attention to candidates' technical knowledge, their ability to troubleshoot methodically, and how they communicate technical information concisely.
4. "Walk us through your approach to [technical challenge] in your previous role."
How to Answer: Instruct candidates to provide a clear and structured response:
- Context: Set the stage by explaining the technical challenge they faced.
- Methodology: Describe the approach they took to tackle the challenge.
- Outcome: Highlight the results achieved and any lessons learned.
Sample Answer: "In my previous role as a software developer, we encountered a performance bottleneck in our application. To address this, I conducted a thorough code review, identified areas of inefficiency, and optimized critical algorithms. Additionally, I implemented caching mechanisms to reduce database queries. As a result, the application's performance improved by 30%, leading to higher user satisfaction."
What to Look For: Assess their problem-solving process, technical expertise, and the impact of their solutions on overall performance.
Case Interviews Questions
5. "you are the manager of a manufacturing plant experiencing a decline in production output. what steps would you take to identify the root cause and improve production efficiency".
How to Answer: Candidates should structure their response as follows:
- Identify the Issue: Understand the scope of the decline in production output.
- Investigate Root Causes: Explain how they would gather data and analyze potential factors affecting production.
- Propose Solutions: Outline the strategies they would implement to improve production efficiency.
Sample Answer: "To address the decline in production output, I would first gather production data and conduct a thorough analysis of equipment performance and maintenance logs. I would also interview production staff to identify any workflow inefficiencies. Based on the findings, I would implement a maintenance schedule, provide additional training to staff, and introduce process improvements to optimize production efficiency."
What to Look For: Look for candidates who can analyze complex situations, prioritize solutions, and develop actionable plans.
6. "You are a consultant advising a retail client experiencing a drop in sales. How would you approach this problem and recommend solutions?"
How to Answer: Guide candidates to structure their response effectively:
- Understanding the Situation: Gather information on the client's current market position and challenges.
- Analysis and Diagnosis: Analyze the market trends and customer behavior to identify potential reasons for the sales decline.
- Solutions and Recommendations: Propose actionable strategies tailored to the client's specific situation.
Sample Answer: "As a consultant, I would start by conducting a comprehensive market analysis to understand the competitive landscape and consumer preferences. I would also review the client's sales data and customer feedback. Based on my findings, I might suggest implementing targeted marketing campaigns, enhancing the customer experience through personalized offers, and optimizing the product mix to meet customer demands."
What to Look For: Assess their analytical skills, industry knowledge, and ability to recommend effective solutions based on data-driven insights.
Situational Judgment Tests (SJTs) Interview Questions
7. "you are a team leader, and two of your team members have conflicting ideas about how to approach a project. how do you handle the situation".
How to Answer: Encourage candidates to outline a thoughtful approach:
- Active Listening: Stress the importance of understanding both team members' perspectives.
- Mediation and Collaboration: Emphasize the need to facilitate open communication and find common ground.
- Decision-Making: Describe how they would make a final decision, considering the project's objectives and team dynamics.
Sample Answer: "As a team leader, my first step would be to listen to both team members individually and understand their reasoning. Then, I would hold a team meeting to foster open communication and encourage them to find a compromise that aligns with the project's goals. If necessary, I would make a decision based on a thorough assessment of both ideas and explain the rationale behind the chosen approach to the team."
What to Look For: Look for candidates who demonstrate effective leadership, conflict resolution skills, and the ability to make decisions based on team input.
Decision-Making Skills Interview Questions
8. "describe a time when you had to make a difficult decision with limited information.".
How to Answer: Candidates should structure their response to highlight the decision-making process:
- The Context: Explain the circumstances that led to the difficult decision.
- Assessment: Describe how they evaluated the available information and potential consequences.
- The Decision: Explain the choice they made and the reasoning behind it.
Sample Answer: "In my previous role, we faced a tight deadline on a project, and key team members were unexpectedly unavailable. With limited information, I had to decide whether to proceed with the available resources or postpone the project. I carefully analyzed the potential impact of both options on project quality and client expectations. Ultimately, I decided to postpone the project, as rushing it could compromise its success and client satisfaction."
What to Look For: Assess their ability to make informed decisions under pressure, considering the available information and long-term implications.
9. "How do you handle situations where you need to make a quick decision?"
How to Answer: Encourage candidates to follow these steps:
- Assess Urgency: Determine the level of urgency and potential consequences of the decision.
- Prioritize Information: Identify the critical information needed to make an informed choice.
- Trust Your Instincts: When time is limited, rely on experience and intuition to guide the decision.
Sample Answer: "In situations requiring quick decisions, I prioritize identifying the core information necessary for making an informed choice. I draw on my previous experiences and knowledge to trust my instincts and make swift decisions. However, I always stay open to feedback and reevaluate the decision if new information emerges."
What to Look For: Look for candidates who can maintain composure and make well-founded decisions under time constraints.
Creativity and Innovation Interview Questions
10. "how do you foster creativity and innovation in your problem-solving approach".
How to Answer: Candidates should explain their methods for encouraging creativity:
- Encourage Idea Generation: Describe how they create an environment that promotes brainstorming and idea sharing.
- Diverse Perspectives: Highlight the importance of involving team members with diverse backgrounds and expertise.
- Support Risk-Taking: Emphasize the value of encouraging innovative thinking and being open to experimentation.
Sample Answer: "To foster creativity, I encourage team brainstorming sessions and create a safe space for everyone to share ideas, no matter how unconventional they may seem. I believe that diversity enhances creativity, so I ensure that all team members are actively involved in problem-solving discussions. Additionally, I support risk-taking, understanding that not all innovative ideas will yield immediate results, but they contribute to long-term growth."
What to Look For: Assess their ability to create an environment that stimulates creative thinking and their openness to new ideas.
Core Problem Solving Skills Interview Questions
11. "how do you approach complex problems that seem overwhelming".
How to Answer: Guide candidates to outline a systematic approach:
- Break it Down: Advise them to divide the complex problem into smaller, manageable components.
- Prioritize: Encourage them to identify the most critical aspects to address first.
- Seek Support: Suggest they collaborate with others to gain different perspectives and potential solutions.
Sample Answer: "When faced with complex problems, I first break them down into smaller parts to gain a clear understanding of each component. I then prioritize the issues based on urgency and potential impact. If I find the problem overwhelming, I seek support from colleagues or mentors to gain fresh insights and alternative approaches."
What to Look For: Assess their ability to handle complex challenges methodically and their willingness to seek assistance when needed.
12. "Tell me about a time when you encountered a problem without a clear solution. How did you approach it?"
How to Answer: Encourage candidates to demonstrate adaptability and resilience:
- Assess the Situation: Describe how they evaluated the problem's complexity and uncertainty.
- Explore Options: Explain how they brainstormed various potential solutions.
- Learn from Challenges: Highlight any lessons learned from the experience.
Sample Answer: "During a project, we faced unexpected regulatory changes that left us without a clear solution. To address this, I organized a cross-functional team to explore multiple potential approaches. We ran pilot tests and iterated until we found a viable solution. Though it was challenging, the experience taught me the importance of adaptability and the value of embracing uncertainty in problem-solving."
What to Look For: Look for candidates who demonstrate resilience, resourcefulness , and the ability to adapt to unexpected situations.
Frameworks for Problem Solving Interview Questions
13. "which problem-solving framework do you find most effective, and why".
How to Answer: Encourage candidates to explain their preferred framework and its benefits:
- Framework Selection: Describe the reasons behind their choice of a particular problem-solving framework.
- Application: Illustrate how they have successfully applied the chosen framework in past situations.
- Results: Highlight the positive outcomes achieved through the framework's use.
Sample Answer: "I find the PDCA (Plan-Do-Check-Act) framework highly effective because it promotes a systematic approach to problem-solving. By planning carefully, executing the solution, and reviewing the results, it ensures continuous improvement. In my previous role, I used PDCA to optimize our team's project management process, resulting in a 20% increase in project efficiency."
What to Look For: Assess their understanding of problem-solving frameworks and their ability to select and apply the most appropriate one for different scenarios.
14. "How do you tailor problem-solving approaches based on the specific needs of a project or situation?"
How to Answer: Encourage candidates to consider the following factors when adapting their approach:
- Project Scope: Explain how they align their approach with the project's objectives and scope.
- Stakeholder Needs: Emphasize the importance of considering the perspectives of stakeholders involved.
- Flexibility: Highlight their ability to pivot and adjust the approach as new information arises.
Sample Answer: "To tailor problem-solving approaches, I always start by understanding the project's unique requirements and the expectations of stakeholders. I then assess the resources available and the timeline for completion. Flexibility is key, and I remain open to adjusting the approach as the project evolves, ensuring the best possible outcomes for all involved."
What to Look For: Look for candidates who can customize their problem-solving strategies based on the specific context of each situation.
Group Problem Solving Scenarios Interview Questions
15. "describe a time when you led a team in resolving a complex problem. how did you ensure effective collaboration and decision-making".
How to Answer: Guide candidates to address the following key points:
- Leadership Approach: Explain their role in leading the team and facilitating collaboration.
- Team Dynamics: Describe how they managed conflicts and encouraged diverse perspectives.
- Decision-Making Process: Highlight the methodology used to reach a collective decision.
Sample Answer: "In my previous role as a project manager, we faced a complex client issue that required a team effort to resolve. As a leader, I encouraged open communication and organized regular team meetings to discuss progress and challenges. By fostering a culture of trust and respect, team members freely shared their ideas, which led to innovative solutions. We used a combination of majority voting and consensus to make critical decisions, ensuring everyone's voice was heard."
What to Look For: Look for candidates who showcase effective leadership skills, the ability to foster collaboration, and a well-defined decision-making process when handling group problem-solving scenarios.
How to Excel in Problem Solving Interviews?
You've learned about problem-solving skills, frameworks, and how to tackle various types of problem-solving questions. Now, let's explore additional tips to excel in your problem-solving interviews:
Effective Communication in Problem Solving
- Clearly articulate your thought process to interviewers.
- Use concise and structured responses to explain your solutions.
- Practice active listening to understand the interviewers' questions fully.
Time Management and Prioritization Strategies
- Allocate sufficient time to analyze the problem before proposing solutions.
- Demonstrate the ability to manage time effectively during the interview.
- Emphasize the importance of prioritizing critical issues in problem solving.
Demonstrating Resilience and Adaptability
- Stay calm and composed when faced with challenging scenarios.
- Showcase your ability to adapt to unexpected changes during problem-solving exercises.
- Highlight past experiences where you demonstrated resilience in overcoming obstacles.
Mock Interview Practice
Prepare for your problem-solving interviews by engaging in mock interviews. Mock interviews provide valuable feedback and boost your confidence. Here's how to make the most of them:
- Choose a Partner: Find a friend or mentor willing to act as the interviewer.
- Set Up a Mock Interview: Create a setting similar to a real job interview.
- Practice Various Scenarios: Include behavioral, technical, and case-based questions.
- Receive Feedback: After the mock interview, seek feedback to identify areas for improvement.
- Iterate and Improve: Use feedback to refine your responses and approach.
Mastering problem-solving interview questions is crucial for excelling in job interviews. As candidates, it is essential to showcase our critical thinking, analytical abilities, and creative problem-solving skills. By utilizing various frameworks, such as the 5 Whys or PDCA, we can approach challenges systematically.
Behavioral-based questions provide an opportunity to demonstrate our problem-solving capabilities through past experiences. Meanwhile, technical questions test our expertise in solving real-world issues. Case interviews assess our ability to think on our feet and propose viable solutions under pressure.
Collaborative problem-solving in group settings highlights our leadership, communication, and conflict resolution skills. Situational Judgment Tests test our decision-making and problem-solving acumen in ambiguous scenarios.
Remember, preparation is key. Engaging in mock interviews, refining responses, and seeking feedback will boost our confidence and improve interview performance. By showcasing our problem-solving prowess, we set ourselves apart as valuable assets to any organization. So, approach problem-solving interviews with confidence and seize the opportunity to demonstrate your problem-solving excellence. Best of luck in your future interviews!
15 Common Problem-Solving Interview Questions
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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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:
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.
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%.
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.
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.
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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10 Problem Solving Interview Questions To Hire the Best Candidates
You can't account for every external factor that occurs, and there won't be a single person that can solve every problem. here, we’ll explore why problem-solving questions are crucial to your interview process and offer ten problem solving interview questions to help you hire the best candidate..
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No matter how perfect or well-thought-out a business plan sounds, unforeseen circumstances will always arise. You can't account for every external factor that occurs, and there won't be a single person that can solve every problem. For a company to be successful, you will need to hire a wide array of capable employees who can identify and resolve almost any issue.
You'll have to employ interview problem solving questions that examine how a candidate solves problems during the interview process. Here, we’ll explore why problem solving questions are crucial to your interview process and offer ten problem solving interview questions to help you hire the best candidate.
What Are Problem Solving Interview Questions?
First, it's important to note what problem solving questions are and why they're essential.
Problem solving interview questions are thought provoking inquiries that analyze a candidate's ability to recognize unexpected complications and their process of solving them. This includes planning on multiple levels (having a plan A and a plan B), implementation, and execution.
These types of questions specifically target an interviewee's critical thinking and creativity. By understanding how a person handles problems, you'll get a clearer idea of how they'll fit in the workplace.
Internally solving problems within a business structure is also vital to the synergy and prolonged survival of a company. If its workers can't discern or ignore problems, they will only worsen.
You'll want to consider a prospective worker's problem-solving capabilities before hiring.
It may be wise to research a more in-depth explanation of why problem-solving skills are critical when hiring in the workplace.
Tips For Using Problem Solving Questions To Screen Candidates
A big part of adequately gauging a candidate's abilities during the screening process is how you utilize interview questions about problem solving.
Here are some helpful tips to optimize your interview questions for problem solving and make the most out of your time:
Look Out For Generic Answers
Many resources help people practice interview responses by giving them generic answers to the standard problem solving interview questions based on "what employers want to hear."
You'll want to be on guard for these answers because they don't reflect a person's actual abilities and are easy to replicate.
You'll want to ask questions drawing from a worker's personal experiences to combat this. Candidates who provide unique and genuine answers give more in-depth insights into their problem solving capacity.
Ask Job Specific Questions
Different jobs have different problems.
Asking a computer programmer how to treat a cramped muscle is the same as asking a fitness trainer how to solve an error in the HTML; you won't be getting any insights into their job-specific skills.
Ask questions that are relevant to the interviewee’s potential position. Use common problems in that field and try to pertain to a specific theme.
It's also a good idea to propose real problems at your workplace . Compare and contrast the candidate's solution to how your company resolved the issue.
Their response may not be the same, but it could be vastly more effective than your resolution.
Ask Different Types of Problem Solving Questions
There are different categories of problems. Technical problem solving interview questions gain one perspective on a candidate’s skill set. A relationship problem solving question or a critical thinking problem solving question offers additional insight.
A technical problem might mean an error in the system or a malfunctioning piece of equipment. A candidate should be able to notice early signs of these problems (if applicable) and take action accordingly.
They should also know when the situation is impossible for them to solve alone and that they should go to a higher authority for help.
A relationship problem is when there is a conflict between two or more employees. Teamwork is critical in some fields and a must for cumulative progress.
HR can't resolve every little argument between workers, so it's often up to the individual to take action and compromise.
Assessing a candidate's relationship problem solving ability is essential, especially in team-based environments.
A critical thinking problem is a more complex problem requiring creativity and innovation to solve.
There isn't a simple fix to these problems, and a person will have to get crafty to solve them. Management, organization, and unanticipated issues usually fall under this category and require the greatest attention to resolve.
Give Candidates Multiple Opportunities To Relay Experiences
Keep in mind that not every exceptional employee is good at interviews. Some people panic and freeze up on the spot; it's a natural reaction.
If your screening process has multiple stages, you'll want to capitalize on this by assessing a candidate's problem solving abilities twice. There should be one time when they are asked unexpectedly and another when they have time to formulate their answer.
By doing this, you won't miss out on highly qualified individuals who may not be the best at interviews, and you'll also get a better idea of each candidate's capabilities.
Incorporate Team Related Problems
People cannot always solve problems on their own. A person shouldn't be entirely dependent on others, but they also have to be able to work on a team efficiently .
The way a candidate tackles team-related issues conveys their ability to get along with co-workers, leadership potential, and capacity for compromise.
People on different wavelengths are going to have other ideas and solutions. If no one can agree, then nothing is ever going to get done. You'll also have to consider a candidate's competence at evenly distributing work and versatility in the planning process.
Yes, a person's solo problem solving capabilities are important, but their teamwork skills and communication are vital. Keep this in mind during the screening process.
Build Off of Interviewee Responses
Don't go through a repetitive hit-and-go questioning process. Once you ask a question, try to build on the candidate's response.
This especially goes for questions that draw on a person's real-life experiences. You may have a limited time to ask your questions, but that doesn't mean you have to go through all of them.
Getting in-depth answers to a few questions will better look at a person's problem solving abilities and work ethic.
If there's something you're curious about or something the candidate says piques your interest, speak up and try to pry as much as possible.
10 Problem Solving Interview Questions To Hire the Best Candidate
Here are some excellent base questions to ask prospective employees. Each job is unique and encounters different issues, so you'll likely have to make some modifications to fit your case better.
Nonetheless, these are ten great problem solving interview questions that'll isolate the best candidates during the screening process:
1. What Is Your Approach To Problem Solving?
One of the first things you'll want to assess in a candidate is their approach to solving problems.
Using inefficient, unorganized, or reckless methods can be more detrimental than good, so be sure to comprehend a person's problem solving strategy deeply.
Try to get them to relay the exact structure of their approach and have them explain their reasoning behind each step. Encourage your candidate to draw on past experiences and successes as well.
The problem solving approach also includes a person's attitude towards an issue. Consider elements such as cautiousness, incentive, and reliance on external factors.
2. How Do You Identify Potential Problems?
Problems cannot be solved if they cannot be seen.
Ask the candidate how they have identified different problems throughout their work and personal history. You'll also want to inquire about frequent issues in your business's workplace and common complaints.
Don't just assess a candidate's ability to realize problems. The time it takes to identify a problem is equally important. Problems become more blatant the longer they are left untouched.
An excellent type of question to use here is a scenario question. Propose a simulated setting based on your company's environment and have them pinpoint the problem.
3. How Do You Evaluate The Impact of Potential Problems?
Another skill prospective employees need is the capacity for foresight. They should be able to evaluate the adverse effects of a particular issue. Otherwise, they'd be able to identify the problem but have no incentive to solve it.
Try to ask questions relating to cause and effect. Ex: If [blank] occurs, then what will happen in the short term and the long run.
4. How Do You Prioritize Problems To Be Solved?
A spilled drink likely won't require as much attention as a corporate-wide virus in the systems.
Recognizing where issues lie and knowing how to distribute time can save large sums of money while avoiding catastrophic scenarios.
A candidate's prioritization of problems also indicates their decision-making and organization skills.
To go further in-depth here, give a candidate a series of problems and have them rank them in the order in which they should be solved.
5. How Do You Develop Solutions To Problems?
Developing solutions is a prominent indicator of planning ability and intuitive thinking. Proposing unique problems will test an individual's creative process and reveal how flexible their logic is.
If a person has a single set strategy for solving every problem, they'll eventually fail. You'll need to hire adaptable workers who can think outside of the box.
There will never be a plan that accounts for everything.
You can modify this question to work with different problems, such as technical problems, relationship problems, and critical-thinking problems. Each of them necessitates a distinctive solution, so you'll inadvertently force a candidate to display their plasticity.
6. How Do You Implement Solutions To Problems?
Having a plan is one thing. Putting it into action is an entirely different matter. If you're familiar with the adage "easier said than done," you can probably infer the purpose of this question.
Unfortunately, you probably won't be able to test candidates firsthand on their ability to implement solutions to problems . The next best thing is closely scrutinizing their personal experiences.
Ask about problems they have solved in the past. Inquire about what may have happened if their solution didn't work.
For any theoretical scenarios, you propose, point out flaws in the candidate's plan of action and have them gauge the practicality of performing it.
Be meticulous here and determine how viable their answers are.
7. How Do You Evaluate The Effectiveness of Solutions?
There should be multiple layers to a person's planning process. A candidate can't just propose a well-thought-out plan without evaluating its efficiency.
The easiest or quickest solutions won't always be the most effective. Yes, simplicity and speed are crucial factors in evaluating effectiveness, but they aren't all-encompassing.
Candidates should also consider the resources used and the longevity of their solution. Identify "bandage fix" answers, and look for long-term results.
A candidate should exhibit the ability to compare the pros and cons of different solutions and determine which one will be the most effective.
8. How Do You Learn From Problem Solving Experiences?
Learning from past problems is essential for solving future ones.
A candidate's ability to draw from previous experiences will suggest their effectiveness at problem solving at your workplace.
You will want to hear about the successes of a candidate's problem solving endeavors and their utter failures. Have them relay their gravest mistakes and how they learned from those experiences.
Remember, while succeeding feels good, a person learns more from failure. If a candidate is confident enough to tell you about their most significant shortcoming, they've moved past it and will likely handle adversity more effectively.
9. How Do You Handle A Situation Where a Colleague Made a Mistake?
It is almost always more comfortable to stay in your lane and mind your own business when it comes to working life. However, interacting with others is a crucial part of teamwork and creating an effective workplace environment.
This question gauges your candidate’s interpersonal skills. You would not like to hear your candidate slandering former colleagues or companies.
Instead, a candidate's ability to exhibit diplomacy within the workplace is a far more desirable response. When people can work together well and solve problems, your business is more likely to run like a well-oiled machine.
10. How Have You Overcome Personal Weaknesses To Improve Work Performance?
When looking to gain insight into a candidate's self-awareness, this is a great leading question to get a conversation started.
While self-awareness may seem more relevant to life outside of work, it procures growth in all aspects of a person’s life, leading to a more well-rounded employee.
A promising candidate will be more than willing to acknowledge their weaknesses, using them as a tool to improve performance. Candidates' answer to this question will also gauge their willingness to learn and adjust to various fluid workplace elements.
More examples of questions to identify Problem Solving skills
- Can you tell me about a time when you overcame a significant challenge?
- What is your problem solving process?
- When you have to solve a problem, what do you think is the most important thing to consider?
The Bottom Line
There will always be unaccounted problems in a company's business structure. There are no amount of preventive measures one can take to avoid them all; it's just not possible.
Hiring intuitive employees who can think broadly and resolve issues independently is essential to every company. This is why problem solving interview questions are so vital.
Evaluating this skill set in prospective candidates may require extra work but is ultimately worth it.
Try this free problem solving advanced test if you're looking for a more in-depth evaluation of an applicant's problem solving abilities for your screening process.
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26 Good Examples of Problem Solving (Interview Answers)
By Biron Clark
Published: November 15, 2023
Employers like to hire people who can solve problems and work well under pressure. A job rarely goes 100% according to plan, so hiring managers will be more likely to hire you if you seem like you can handle unexpected challenges while staying calm and logical in your approach.
But how do they measure this?
They’re going to ask you interview questions about these problem solving skills, and they might also look for examples of problem solving on your resume and cover letter. So coming up, I’m going to share a list of examples of problem solving, whether you’re an experienced job seeker or recent graduate.
Then I’ll share sample interview answers to, “Give an example of a time you used logic to solve a problem?”
It is the ability to identify the problem, prioritize based on gravity and urgency, analyze the root cause, gather relevant information, develop and evaluate viable solutions, decide on the most effective and logical solution, and plan and execute implementation.
Problem-solving also involves critical thinking, communication, listening, creativity, research, data gathering, risk assessment, continuous learning, decision-making, and other soft and technical skills.
Solving problems not only prevent losses or damages but also boosts self-confidence and reputation when you successfully execute it. The spotlight shines on you when people see you handle issues with ease and savvy despite the challenges. Your ability and potential to be a future leader that can take on more significant roles and tackle bigger setbacks shine through. Problem-solving is a skill you can master by learning from others and acquiring wisdom from their and your own experiences.
It takes a village to come up with solutions, but a good problem solver can steer the team towards the best choice and implement it to achieve the desired result.
Watch: 26 Good Examples of Problem Solving
Examples of problem solving scenarios in the workplace.
- Correcting a mistake at work, whether it was made by you or someone else
- Overcoming a delay at work through problem solving and communication
- Resolving an issue with a difficult or upset customer
- Overcoming issues related to a limited budget, and still delivering good work through the use of creative problem solving
- Overcoming a scheduling/staffing shortage in the department to still deliver excellent work
- Troubleshooting and resolving technical issues
- Handling and resolving a conflict with a coworker
- Solving any problems related to money, customer billing, accounting and bookkeeping, etc.
- Taking initiative when another team member overlooked or missed something important
- Taking initiative to meet with your superior to discuss a problem before it became potentially worse
- Solving a safety issue at work or reporting the issue to those who could solve it
- Using problem solving abilities to reduce/eliminate a company expense
- Finding a way to make the company more profitable through new service or product offerings, new pricing ideas, promotion and sale ideas, etc.
- Changing how a process, team, or task is organized to make it more efficient
- Using creative thinking to come up with a solution that the company hasn’t used before
- Performing research to collect data and information to find a new solution to a problem
- Boosting a company or team’s performance by improving some aspect of communication among employees
- Finding a new piece of data that can guide a company’s decisions or strategy better in a certain area
Problem Solving Examples for Recent Grads/Entry Level Job Seekers
- Coordinating work between team members in a class project
- Reassigning a missing team member’s work to other group members in a class project
- Adjusting your workflow on a project to accommodate a tight deadline
- Speaking to your professor to get help when you were struggling or unsure about a project
- Asking classmates, peers, or professors for help in an area of struggle
- Talking to your academic advisor to brainstorm solutions to a problem you were facing
- Researching solutions to an academic problem online, via Google or other methods
- Using problem solving and creative thinking to obtain an internship or other work opportunity during school after struggling at first
You can share all of the examples above when you’re asked questions about problem solving in your interview. As you can see, even if you have no professional work experience, it’s possible to think back to problems and unexpected challenges that you faced in your studies and discuss how you solved them.
Interview Answers to “Give an Example of an Occasion When You Used Logic to Solve a Problem”
Now, let’s look at some sample interview answers to, “Give me an example of a time you used logic to solve a problem,” since you’re likely to hear this interview question in all sorts of industries.
Example Answer 1:
At my current job, I recently solved a problem where a client was upset about our software pricing. They had misunderstood the sales representative who explained pricing originally, and when their package renewed for its second month, they called to complain about the invoice. I apologized for the confusion and then spoke to our billing team to see what type of solution we could come up with. We decided that the best course of action was to offer a long-term pricing package that would provide a discount. This not only solved the problem but got the customer to agree to a longer-term contract, which means we’ll keep their business for at least one year now, and they’re happy with the pricing. I feel I got the best possible outcome and the way I chose to solve the problem was effective.
Example Answer 2:
In my last job, I had to do quite a bit of problem solving related to our shift scheduling. We had four people quit within a week and the department was severely understaffed. I coordinated a ramp-up of our hiring efforts, I got approval from the department head to offer bonuses for overtime work, and then I found eight employees who were willing to do overtime this month. I think the key problem solving skills here were taking initiative, communicating clearly, and reacting quickly to solve this problem before it became an even bigger issue.
Example Answer 3:
In my current marketing role, my manager asked me to come up with a solution to our declining social media engagement. I assessed our current strategy and recent results, analyzed what some of our top competitors were doing, and then came up with an exact blueprint we could follow this year to emulate our best competitors but also stand out and develop a unique voice as a brand. I feel this is a good example of using logic to solve a problem because it was based on analysis and observation of competitors, rather than guessing or quickly reacting to the situation without reliable data. I always use logic and data to solve problems when possible. The project turned out to be a success and we increased our social media engagement by an average of 82% by the end of the year.
Answering Questions About Problem Solving with the STAR Method
When you answer interview questions about problem solving scenarios, or if you decide to demonstrate your problem solving skills in a cover letter (which is a good idea any time the job description mention problem solving as a necessary skill), I recommend using the STAR method to tell your story.
STAR stands for:
It’s a simple way of walking the listener or reader through the story in a way that will make sense to them. So before jumping in and talking about the problem that needed solving, make sure to describe the general situation. What job/company were you working at? When was this? Then, you can describe the task at hand and the problem that needed solving. After this, describe the course of action you chose and why. Ideally, show that you evaluated all the information you could given the time you had, and made a decision based on logic and fact.
Finally, describe a positive result you got.
Whether you’re answering interview questions about problem solving or writing a cover letter, you should only choose examples where you got a positive result and successfully solved the issue.
Situation : We had an irate client who was a social media influencer and had impossible delivery time demands we could not meet. She spoke negatively about us in her vlog and asked her followers to boycott our products. (Task : To develop an official statement to explain our company’s side, clarify the issue, and prevent it from getting out of hand). Action : I drafted a statement that balanced empathy, understanding, and utmost customer service with facts, logic, and fairness. It was direct, simple, succinct, and phrased to highlight our brand values while addressing the issue in a logical yet sensitive way. We also tapped our influencer partners to subtly and indirectly share their positive experiences with our brand so we could counter the negative content being shared online. Result : We got the results we worked for through proper communication and a positive and strategic campaign. The irate client agreed to have a dialogue with us. She apologized to us, and we reaffirmed our commitment to delivering quality service to all. We assured her that she can reach out to us anytime regarding her purchases and that we’d gladly accommodate her requests whenever possible. She also retracted her negative statements in her vlog and urged her followers to keep supporting our brand.
What Are Good Outcomes of Problem Solving?
Whenever you answer interview questions about problem solving or share examples of problem solving in a cover letter, you want to be sure you’re sharing a positive outcome.
Below are good outcomes of problem solving:
- Saving the company time or money
- Making the company money
- Pleasing/keeping a customer
- Obtaining new customers
- Solving a safety issue
- Solving a staffing/scheduling issue
- Solving a logistical issue
- Solving a company hiring issue
- Solving a technical/software issue
- Making a process more efficient and faster for the company
- Creating a new business process to make the company more profitable
- Improving the company’s brand/image/reputation
- Getting the company positive reviews from customers/clients
Every employer wants to make more money, save money, and save time. If you can assess your problem solving experience and think about how you’ve helped past employers in those three areas, then that’s a great start. That’s where I recommend you begin looking for stories of times you had to solve problems.
Tips to Improve Your Problem Solving Skills
Throughout your career, you’re going to get hired for better jobs and earn more money if you can show employers that you’re a problem solver. So to improve your problem solving skills, I recommend always analyzing a problem and situation before acting. When discussing problem solving with employers, you never want to sound like you rush or make impulsive decisions. They want to see fact-based or data-based decisions when you solve problems.
Next, to get better at solving problems, analyze the outcomes of past solutions you came up with. You can recognize what works and what doesn’t. Think about how you can get better at researching and analyzing a situation, but also how you can get better at communicating, deciding the right people in the organization to talk to and “pull in” to help you if needed, etc.
Finally, practice staying calm even in stressful situations. Take a few minutes to walk outside if needed. Step away from your phone and computer to clear your head. A work problem is rarely so urgent that you cannot take five minutes to think (with the possible exception of safety problems), and you’ll get better outcomes if you solve problems by acting logically instead of rushing to react in a panic.
You can use all of the ideas above to describe your problem solving skills when asked interview questions about the topic. If you say that you do the things above, employers will be impressed when they assess your problem solving ability.
If you practice the tips above, you’ll be ready to share detailed, impressive stories and problem solving examples that will make hiring managers want to offer you the job. Every employer appreciates a problem solver, whether solving problems is a requirement listed on the job description or not. And you never know which hiring manager or interviewer will ask you about a time you solved a problem, so you should always be ready to discuss this when applying for a job.
Related interview questions & answers:
- How do you handle stress?
- How do you handle conflict?
- Tell me about a time when you failed
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Problem-Solving Interview Questions And Answers (With Examples)
- How To Answer Tell Me About Yourself?
- Elevator Pitch
- Where Do You See Yourself In 5 Years?
- What Are Your Career Goals?
- When Can You Start?
- How Do You Define Success?
- Describe Your Work Ethic
- Where Are Your Current Duties?
- What Are Your Learning Goals?
- Intrinsic Vs Extrinsic Motivation
- What Is Your Desired Salary?
- What Makes You Unique?
- Why Are You The Best Person For This Job?
- Reasons For Termination
- What Are Your Work Values
- How To Make A Hard Decision?
- What Are You Most Proud Of?
- Personal Code Of Ethics
- Problem Solving Interview Questions
- Taking Initiative Example
- How Do You Prioritize Your Work
- Explain Gaps In Employment
- Most Rewarding College Experience
- What Is Your Work Style
- Tell Me About A Time When You Made A Mistake On The Job
- Tell Me About Gaps In Employment
- What Are You Passionate About
- What Skills Would You Bring To The Job
- Who Is Your Mentor?
- How To Answer Tell Me About A Time You Disagreed With Your Boss
- How To Answer Common Screening Questions
Find a Job You Really Want In
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.
Being able to solve problems is a skill that almost all job positions need.
Problem-solving questions assess a candidate’s ability to think on their feet, handle pressure, and find creative solutions to complex problems.
Make sure your answer to a problem-solving question tells a story of you as an effective team player.
What Is a Problem-Solving Interview Question?
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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December 15, 2022
The Problem-Solving Interview: 16 Questions for Better Hires
We’ve all been there. You hire the wrong candidate, resulting in wasted time, money and energy. You’ve learned the true cost of a bad hire the hard way. And you want to make sure your future interview process is as goof-proof as possible.
That’s where problem-solving interviews can change the game.
Though traditional interviews haven’t gone by the wayside, more companies are taking a practical approach when it comes to vetting candidates based on actual workplace scenarios.
Problem-solving interviews use questions that evaluate how candidates deal with difficult situations they may actually face in a given role. With scenario-based and behavioral questions for all of your problem-solving needs, consider this your totally bookmarkable resource to keep coming back to when prepping for candidate interviews.
Examples of problem-solving interview questions:
- Tell me about a project where you had to manage a cross-functional team.
- Describe a situation where you succeeded in motivating team performance.
- What is the most creative idea or project you've generated in your current role?
- In what ways have you encouraged your work team to be more innovative?
- Have you ever improved project workflows based on your analysis?
- Have you ever had a deadline you weren't able to meet? What happened?
- Give an example of a time when you had to explain something complex to a frustrated client.
- Talk about a time when you worked under extremely loose supervision. How did you handle that?
Help your hiring team get more out of your candidate interviews while still keeping things human for applicants. Breezy is the candidate-friendly applicant tracking system that includes custom interview guides so that every interviewer on your team knows exactly what to ask.
What's the buzz about problem-solving interviews?
Problem-solving interview questions occasionally go by other names.
From behavioral interview questions, scenario-based interview questions, or simply ‘second job interview questions’ — if you’re like most employers, you probably already have an unofficial term for the part of the hiring process where you really lean in and learn how a candidate might act in a given situation.
Whatever you call it, a problem-solving interview is essentially:
A behavioral interview asking questions that provide insight into how a candidate has dealt with challenging workplace issues in the past . The candidate’s answers often reveal their actual level of experience and potential to handle similar situations in the future.
To get a real flavor for what this type of interview will entail, and the types of problems and problem-solving skills we’re considering, we’ve compiled a go-to list of top examples of problem-solving interview questions. Feel free to adjust these questions, the problem-solving abilities and the potential problems these questions address to suit your specific role and employer brand .
15 examples of problem-solving interview questions
Each interviewing situation is unique. Questions for an entry-level position obviously won't get you very far with an executive-level candidate . Similarly the questions you ask for a technical role like software engineer are going to be far different from those you’d ask of a sales candidate.
Before you launch into any problem-solving interview, take time to match your questions to your open role. And remember, the more structured your interview process , the easier it'll be to make the right call.
Here are three of the most common problem-solving interview scenarios, plus our top questions for each.
Question #1: Describe the most difficult team you've had to lead? What made it challenging? How did you go about overcoming the issues?
Why it works: Asking a candidate to rate the difficulty of working with others is a great way to see whether they throw their team under the bus or focus more on the problem/solution aspect of the question. A strong candidate will map out how they overcame the situation and prevented it from becoming a long-term issue within the company.
Question #2: What do you consider your proudest moment or greatest achievement in the workplace? What were the practical steps that got you there?
Why it works: Some leadership skills come naturally — but most require careful planning and the ability to take inspired action. A candidate who doesn’t just regurgitate their resume but gives actual insight into how they achieve the impossible is someone who's willing to think about process and the importance of why they're in a leadership position in the first place.
Question #3: Tell me about a project where you had to manage a cross-functional team to achieve a specific goal or outcome. How did you adapt your leadership style to achieve this objective?
Why it works: The ability to adapt is crucial for strong leaders. No single leadership style matches every work situation. Exceptional leaders know how to tune into their teams and adapt accordingly.
Question #4: Describe a situation where you succeeded in motivating your team to improve their performance. What actions were the most effective?
Why it works: Performance management is a tough nut to crack . You're looking for an executive candidate who has the right mix of diplomacy and energy to get the best work out of every employee.
Question #5: Describe a leadership role you've undertaken outside of work. Why did you choose to commit to this role? How did you benefit from it?
Why it works: Great leaders don’t leave their leadership hats in the office. Knowing your candidate takes on leadership roles in their community — be it volunteering, coaching or running a professional group — helps you get a better understanding of their leadership characteristics both within and outside of the office.
Question #1: What is the most creative idea or project you've generated in your current role? How was it received?
Why it works: Creativity can mean something completely different based on the role and organization — but a true creative will have a unique approach to problem-solving even if they aren’t interviewing for the role of Art Director. A candidate’s ability to take criticism will also shine through in this question.
Question #2: In what ways have you encouraged your team to be more creative and innovative?
Why it works: A truly creative person will help others think outside the box. How your candidate answers this question will give you insight into their teamwork skills and help clue you into how they apply their creativity at the strategic level.
Question #3: Every creative needs an outlet. What creative work do you like to do in your own time?
Why it works: Do those creative juices flow into other areas of life? If your creative candidate lights up when you ask about their hobbies and work outside the office, you know that same energy will flood into the workplace too.
Question #4: What tech tools do you use daily?
Why it works: Creatives tend to love tech and knowing how they keep their tech skills sharp gives you a glimpse into what strategies they'll bring to the table to help keep your company on the cutting edge.
Question #5: What do you think of our creative materials?
Why it works: If your candidate is truly invested in your brand, they probably did their homework. The right person will be eager to offer insight into your marketing, branding or other creative projects. Someone who shows up with their A-game and isn’t afraid to deliver their very own 'like it, love it, leave it' feedback is a keeper.
Question #1: Have you ever improved a project workflow based on your analysis? If so, how did you do this?
Why it works: If there's one thing every great techie should have, it's laser-precise attention to detail. You want a candidate who takes a proactive approach to optimizing workflows and doesn’t hang back hoping for someone else to step in and make things more efficient.
Question #2: Have you ever had a deadline you weren't able to meet? What happened? How did you handle it?
Why it works: In a fast-paced tech environment, deadlines can get pushed back due to things beyond your candidate’s control. If they own up to this and demonstrate that they know how to stay cool under pressure, it’s a good sign they can handle the heat.
Question #3: When you’re working with a large number of clients, it’s tricky to deliver excellent service to them all. How do you go about prioritizing your clients’ needs?
Why it works: Time management skills are crucial in technical roles. A candidate who's not only able to deliver the coding and programming goods but can also manage a tight schedule and full plate of internal and external client requests is a true unicorn.
Question #4: Give an example of a time when you had to explain something fairly complex to a frustrated client. How did you handle this delicate situation?
Why it works: Technical workers usually have their own jargon, but it’s important for your candidate to be able to convey their work to the everyday client or team member. If they can’t explain what they do in simple terms, this could be a red flag for any role with a client-facing or cross-departmental component.
Question #5: Talk about a time you worked under extremely loose supervision. How did you handle that?
Why it works: Many tech employees work remotely or with flex schedules. It’s important for your candidate to be a self-starter. Look for specific insights about the tactics and methods they use to manage their own schedule, meet deadlines and deliver on project expectations.
Questions #6 : What resources do you follow to stay current with changes in technology?
Why it works: Technical roles require candidates to stay current. It’s important to ask the candidate how they keep up with an. Because when you’re hiring for roles like SEO , IT coordinator or software engineer , they need to think outside the box (and into the future).
Red flags to look out for in your problem-solving interviews
While problem-solving interview questions’ answers can help best-fit candidates truly shine, they can also cast a harsh light on people who aren’t fit for the job.
Here are some red flags you should look out for, from possibly ok-ish to definitely not the right fit.
Vague (or nonexistent) answers 🚩
If the interviewee can’t remember a time they thought outside of the box or were challenged in the workplace or handled a stressful situation, it might mean they steer clear of tough situations and difficult decisions. So if they offer up a super vague answer with little to no specifics, try to ask follow-up questions to get some insight into their mentality.
Over-the-top uneasiness 🚩🚩
Problem-solving questions are designed to make candidates think critically about their work style, and being put on the spot like that is bound to be a little uncomfortable. But if candidates are so stressed they can’t give you a straight answer, it’s probably a sign that they don’t deal with pressure well.
Scripted responses 🚩🚩🚩
Candidates who give superficial responses are more likely to choose the easy way out instead of thinking critically about the best way to handle a scenario. Run-of-the-mill answers also show a lack of creativity. Go for candidates who analyze the situation and really dig into the issue at hand to come up with a more thorough answer.
Problem-oriented mindset 🚩🚩🚩🚩
The name says it all: problem-solving interview questions are about solving the problem, not dwelling on the difficulties. So if a candidate answering a problem-solving question seems too hung up on the issue at hand rather than how they rose above and dealt with it, they might not be the culture add you’re looking for.
Tips to ask the right problem-solving interview questions
A problem-solving interview is only as good as the questions you ask. So if you want to identify results-oriented candidates and analytical problem-solvers, here’s how to ask the right questions .
Use hypothetical scenarios with real-world applications
Don’t waste your time on unrealistic scenarios and improbable outcomes. Ask hard-hitting questions with real-life solutions.
Illuminate the candidate’s thought process
Ask questions that give insight into a candidate’s thought process. Pay special attention to how candidates approach a scenario, working through the problem step-by-step and arriving at a clear (and effective) solution. Oh, and keep an eye out for innovative perspectives!
Gauge team spirit
The best solutions are often collaborative ones. Ask questions about a situation that required a team effort, and pay special attention to how they characterize their colleagues and the collective decision-making process. You want candidates who are comfortable asking for help and have a knack for teamwork.
Know what you can (and can’t) ask
Some interview questions are awkward, others are straight-up illegal.
We know you're not out to violate anyone's rights, but even the most well-meaning hiring managers can end up asking lousy interview questions. How lousy, you ask?
These ones top our list of major no-nos:
“Tell me about your biggest weakness.”
Oh, you mean like the time I accidentally disconnected the server and left thousands of customers without service for hours? Get real. No one's going to reveal their Kryptonite during an interview. This question generates the most canned answers imaginable ranging from “I’m a workaholic,” to “I over-deliver and exceed expectations.” 🙄
“If a song described you, what would it be.”
Avoid this and any other overly abstract question asking a candidate to describe themselves in bizarre metaphors. Be direct. Relate the questions to the position and interviewee, not some over the top hypothetical about whether someone sees themself as a shark or a unicorn.
“Tell me about your [sexual orientation, relationship status, ethnicity, race, religion, political affiliation].”
One word: creepy. Oh, and: illegal. (Okay, that's two words but you get the idea...)
Fact is, any question that doesn't jive with the EEOC not only violates the candidate’s rights, it may also have you searching for a new career. Just don't go there.
Avoid the ‘gotchyas’ and keep your interview q’s focused on solving real problems
At the end of the day, no single thread of interview questions will work as a one-size-fits-all.
Human hiring requires human thinking. By analyzing and hand-selecting thoughtful questions, you can ensure a consistent interview flow with all candidates while avoiding generic replies and those dreaded awkward silences.
Just make sure they're interview questions that both you and your candidate can feel good about.
With Breezy’s modern recruitment platform, you can access over 400 free interview guides , schedule interviews with one click, and deliver a first-rate hiring experience candidates love.
Try it yourself totally free.
How to Predictably Hire the Most Successful Candidates Using Structured Interview Questions (Part 2)
We’re going to show you how to run a structured interview — using consistent interview questions that show you the best people for the job, every time.
How to Lead the Type of Interview Working Moms Can Appreciate
Working moms are the ambitious, multitasking, unsung heroes of the workplace. Here’s how you can attract and retain them the right way.
Soft Skills? Hard Yes. Here's What to Look for in Your Next Candidate
Not sure which soft skills matter most? The truth is, it depends. Don’t miss this list of soft skills for the modern world of work, plus steps to find and hire candidates that fit the bill.
13 Problem-Solving Interview Questions to Assess a Candidate
Solving problems is something we do every day – whether it be at work or throughout our personal lives. However, what we often tend to forget about is that each one of us has different approaches to finding solutions and solving problems.
As cognitive skills, according to World Economic Forum, especially complex problem-solving in the workplace, are reportedly growing in importance – so is the urgency to be able to assess these skills in candidates. However, these skills cannot be easily assessed by looking at someone’s CV or motivation letter. This is precisely why many employers have turned to assessing problem solving abilities during the interview process.
In this blog, you will find out:
- 5 aspects of what make up problem solving ability
2 different types of problem solving styles
- 13 interview questions to determine problem-solving abilities
Disadvantages of assessing problem-solving in interviews
What is problem-solving skill/ability.
A problem can be defined as a gap between the current situation and the desired outcome. To fill this gap, problem-solving abilities are needed. Problem-solving in the workplace describes our way of thinking and the behaviour we engage in to obtain the desired outcome we seek, which could be attaining a certain goal or finding a satisfactory answer to our questions.
In the workplace, employees are expected to solve problems daily, ultimately ensuring the smooth functioning of the company. Therefore, problem-solving ability is one of the most important aspects which needs to be assessed prior to hiring. Problem-solving ability is associated with several sub-skills depending on the nature of the tasks involved in the profession. For instance, a successful business consultant might want to be equipped with good communication skills, empathy, and analytical thinking, all of which can be considered sub-skills of problem-solving ability.
However, the thing is that assessing whether someone’s problem solving skills are high or low during an interview process is quite challenging . That is why you should focus on asking questions that allow to understand what kind of a problem solving style the candidate possesses.
Individuals might adopt different problem-solving strategies (otherwise also called styles) based on the information available for the problem, the time they spend on planning before they take action, or whether they like to test multiple solutions before deciding on which solution is the optimal one. The main problem-solving styles can be classified as intuitive and systematic, but what are the differences between these two styles of problem-solving?
Individuals with more systematic problem-solving style
- They have a higher tendency to first identify the situation and analytically disentangle problems into several components, then logically evaluate the available alternatives and try to find a rule to solve problems.
- At the end of the process, they may also evaluate the consequence of the whole process to possibly adjust their strategy in the future. However, they might face difficulty when tackling ill-structured or defined problems, whereby they cannot generate a promising plan to act.
- They may also struggle under time constraints when intuitive decisions need to be made.
Individuals that prefer more intuitive problem-solving style
- They prefer relying on their “gut feeling” when solving problems. While they may rely on their intuition to assess facts, they also often take their feelings and non-verbal cues from their surrounding into consideration.
- They are open to quickly switching to alternative solutions when things do not work out. Using this strategy, they are good at dealing with uncertainty, ill-defined problems or novel problems with no real information.
- However, this kind of thinking pattern might work sometimes but can be less effective with more complex problems and end up being more time-consuming overall than a more systematic approach.
Why you should assess problem solving style not ability during interviews?
Problem-solving style refers to an individual’s preferred approach to solving problems, such as relying on intuition or using a systematic approach. This is a relatively stable trait that can be identified through the candidate’s responses to interview questions.
In contrast, problem-solving ability is a multifaceted skill that involves various cognitive processes, such as critical thinking, reasoning, and creativity. It can be difficult to assess a candidate’s problem-solving ability solely through interview questions because the interview setting may not provide a realistic representation of the types of problems the candidate would encounter on the job.
13 problem-solving interview questions to assess candidates
Let’s go through each question and discuss how candidates might answer and what that could indicate about their problem-solving abilities & style:
1.Can you describe a situation where you had to solve a problem without having all the necessary information at hand? How did you approach it?
A systematic problem solver might approach answering this question by explaining that they would find it important to try to gather as much information as possible before making a decision, while an intuitive problem solver might mention they would rely more on their instincts and prior experience to make a quick decision.
2. Let’s say you need to solve an unexpected problem but don’t have much information about it. What steps would you take to solve it efficiently?
A systematic problem solver might approach answering this question by breaking down the problem into smaller components and analyzing each one systematically, while an intuitive problem solver might rely more on their gut instincts and previous experience to quickly identify potential solutions.
If a candidate mentions that they would try to gather more information relating the potential causes of the problem to be able to grasp it better, that’s probably a better answer than just stating that they’d just decide to give up.
- Intuitive. “I would start by identifying the key issues and then brainstorming potential solutions. Once I had a few options, I would test them out and iterate until I found the best solution.”
- Systematic. “I would begin by gathering as much information as possible, researching the problem, and analyzing the data. Then, I would create a plan to address the problem and evaluate the effectiveness of the plan as I go along.”
3. How do you approach making decisions? Do you consider all alternatives before deciding on a solution?
When answering this question by explaining the importance of weighing all available options and then considering each one carefully before making a final decision, the candidate might have a more systematic approach to problem solving. Whereas, someone who has a more intuitive approach to solving problems might be answering the question by explaining they prefer to make decisions quickly and based on their instincts.
4. Can you walk me through a situation where you had to solve a problem? What steps did you take to address it?
The main goal of asking this question during the interview is to be able to determine what steps the person chooses to take when addressing the problem. For example, people who seem to plan less and act more intuitively will likely prefer a more trial-and-error, rather than an analytical approach to solving a problem.
A systematic problem solver might approach this question by breaking down the problem into smaller components and explaining each step in a logical order, while an intuitive problem solver might give a more general overview of how they solved the problem without going into as much detail when describing the situation.
- Intuitive. “There was a time when our team was behind on a project deadline, so I just started throwing out ideas for how we could catch up. We eventually settled on a strategy that worked and were able to finish the project on time.”
- Systematic. “When faced with a problem, I like to break it down into smaller components and analyze each part separately. Then, I create a plan of action and evaluate the effectiveness of the plan as I go along.”
5. Tell me about a time when you made a mistake. How did you handle it, and what did you learn from the experience?
When asking the candidate this question, you are looking for an honest, self-critical answer. The candidate should also be able to explain how making this mistake led them to become better at their job. Their answer to this question will serve as an indication of how they deal with challenging situations.
A systematic problem solver might approach this question by analyzing their mistake and coming up with a detailed plan to prevent it from happening again in the future, while an intuitive problem solver might reflect more on how they felt about the mistake and what they learned from the experience.
6. Describe a situation where you used a creative approach to overcome a problem.
Of course, when hiring new people, we want to hire those who take the most innovative and creative approaches to solving problems, as well as implementing these ideas in reality. In this case, you should be looking for an answer in which the candidate is focusing on explaining the creative approach they took, rather than the problem they were trying to solve. After all, you are looking for someone who can solve problems in a creative way rather than someone who can describe the problem.
An intuitive problem solver might excel in this question by describing a creative solution they came up with on the spot, while a systematic problem solver might struggle more with this question if they prefer to rely on logical and analytical approaches.
- Intuitive. “There was a time when we were running out of storage space at work, so I came up with the idea to repurpose some unused areas of the office as storage. It was a bit unconventional, but it worked.”
- Systematic. “When faced with a problem, I like to think outside the box and consider all possible options. I once used a design thinking approach to come up with a creative solution to a complex issue.”
7. Can you give an example of a time when you saw a potential problem as an opportunity? What did you do, and is there anything you would have done differently?
When answering the question, an intuitive problem solver might be better at recognizing potential opportunities in a problem, while a systematic problem solver might be more likely to focus on identifying and mitigating risks.
8. Imagine you’re in a stressful situation at work and you need to come up with a solution quickly. What would you do?
When asking this question to a candidate, you should be on the lookout for an answer that includes all of the following: an example story, placing their focus on how they handled the stressful situation. Basically – focusing more on actions rather than feelings, and highlighting what skills allowed them to deal with the situation successfully.
Candidates’ answers to this question will allow you to determine whether they are better and more inclined to think on their feet and come up with quick solutions (more intuitive). Or in contrast, more comfortable dealing with stressful situations if there are a set of guidelines or procedures to follow (more systematic).
- Intuitive. “In a stressful situation, I like to take a deep breath and then start brainstorming possible solutions. I find that staying calm and thinking creatively helps me come up with the best solution quickly.”
- Systematic. “When faced with a high-pressure situation, I like to rely on the processes and systems that I have in place. I also prioritize the most important tasks and delegate when possible to ensure that everything gets done efficiently.”
9. Are you someone who prefers to solve problems very quickly, or very carefully and slowly?
This question can give insights into whether the candidate is more of an intuitive or systematic problem solver, with intuitive problem solvers often preferring to act quickly and systematically preferring to take a more measured approach.
10. Tell me about a situation where you were faced with multiple problems. How did you choose which problem to prioritize?
This question has everything to do with how the candidate works under pressure. As well as the extent to which they are capable of prioritizing. When faced with multiple problems, the individual should be able to prioritize between tasks that are of high importance and those that are not as urgent.
When answering this question, the candidate should be able to walk you through their prioritization process and rationally argue their choices. While also placing focus on explaining their planning strategies to ensure that no problem is left unsolved.
A systematic problem solver might approach this question by analyzing each problem and weighing the potential impact of each one before making a decision, while an intuitive problem solver might rely more on their instincts and prioritize the problem that seems most urgent.
- Intuitive. “When faced with multiple problems, I prioritize the ones that have the most immediate impact or are the most pressing. I also try to tackle the problems that I feel most confident in solving first.”
- Systematic. “I like to use a decision matrix to evaluate and prioritize multiple problems. I analyze each problem based on factors such as urgency, impact, and feasibility, and then choose the one that has the highest priority.”
11. How do you know when to solve a problem by yourself? And when to ask for help from someone else?
An intuitive problem solver might be more likely to trust their instincts and try to solve the problem on their own, while a systematic problem solver might be more willing to ask for help if they feel that the problem is outside of their area of expertise.
What you should be looking for in the answer to this question is someone’s ability to be able to gauge in which situations they should most definitely ask for help. And in contrast, in which situations it’s not really necessary. This way you will be able to tell whether this person is capable of solving a problem independently or is always asking for help even when it comes to the little things.
12. What do you do in a situation when you cannot seem to find the right solution to a problem?
An intuitive problem solver might be more likely to experiment with different solutions and try to think outside the box, while a systematic problem solver might be more likely to analyze the problem in greater detail and break it down into smaller components to identify potential solutions.
- Intuitive. “When I’m stuck on a problem, I like to step away from it for a bit and come back to it with fresh eyes. I also try to approach the problem from different angles and see if I can find a new perspective.”
- Systematic. “If I can’t find the right solution to a problem, I’ll go back to the data and information I have collected to see if there’s anything I missed. I’ll also consult with colleagues or experts in the field to get their input and ideas.”
13. How would you react when your manager tells you to think more before taking action?
Lastly, save the best for last – a question that will show to you how the candidate deals with feedback provided about the process of solving a problem and the solution itself.
A systematic problem solver might take this feedback as an opportunity to slow down and approach problems more carefully, while an intuitive problem solver might perceive this as a constraint.
In summary, the answers to these questions can provide insights into a candidate’s problem-solving style. While there isn’t necessarily a “right” or “wrong” style, understanding how a candidate approaches problem-solving can help employers identify individuals who are well-suited for different roles and environments.
Interviews are often perceived as the ultimate gateway to finding the perfect candidate, however, in reality, it’s littered with many pitfalls:
- Interviewer bias. The interview process is where our unconscious biases tend to cloud our judgement of a candidate the most.
- Interviews are often inconsistent. Using solely interview questions to assess problem-solving skills allows for no standardized way of presenting results as each candidate you interview will give a different answer to your question and it will become gradually more difficult to compare candidates with each other.
- Interview answers are easily manipulable. Candidates can prepare their answers to these questions, thus leading to unreliable assessment from your side on whether they have the problem-solving skills you are looking for.
- Extremely time-consuming & costly. You’ll probably end up interviewing more people than you should. Just imagine all the time spent interviewing, talking, asking questions, taking notes of the candidate’s answers, and then later on comparing them.
Read more about the 6 downsides assessing candidates problem-solving abilities solely through interviews.
What interview structure allows to best assess candidates problem-solving skills?
According to research , a structured interview is more reliable, valid, and less discriminatory than an unstructured interview. When you structure your interview process, the assessment of personality becomes a designed process. Every question should be carefully chosen to assess the candidate’s skills and knowledge.
Guide: How to set up a structured interview process
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