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!
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
Get your guide here, our inspirational blogs, podcasts and video’s, listen to what they say about our product offering right here, inside the mind (part 1): exploring psychological safety and inclusion at work with bogdan manta.
- November 21, 2023
- November 8, 2023
Unbiased Recruitment with Frank Poll
- November 7, 2023
Shaping the world of unbiased hiring
A game-based assessment, introduced at the beginning of the hiring process, to see the true potential of your candidates. Based on science, not bias.
- How it Works
- Game-based assessments
- Objective hiring framework
- Login to dashboard
- Bias glossary
- Hiring guides
- Breaking Bias Summit 2024 [Event]
- About Equalture
- Equal opportunity hiring
- Security & Compliance
How it works
Transform your enterprise with the scalable mindsets, skills, & behavior change that drive performance.
Explore how BetterUp connects to your core business systems.
Build leaders that accelerate team performance and engagement.
Unlock performance potential at scale with AI-powered curated growth journeys.
Build resilience, well-being and agility to drive performance across your entire enterprise.
Transform your business, starting with your sales leaders.
Unlock business impact from the top with executive coaching.
Foster a culture of inclusion and belonging.
Accelerate the performance and potential of your agencies and employees.
See how innovative organizations use BetterUp to build a thriving workforce.
Discover how BetterUp measurably impacts key business outcomes for organizations like yours.
A demo is the first step to transforming your business. Meet with us to develop a plan for attaining your goals.
- For Individuals
Best practices, research, and tools to fuel individual and business growth.
View on-demand BetterUp events and learn about upcoming live discussions.
The latest insights and ideas for building a high-performing workplace.
- BetterUp Briefing
The online magazine that helps you understand tomorrow's workforce trends, today.
Innovative research featured in peer-reviewed journals, press, and more.
Founded in 2022 to deepen the understanding of the intersection of well-being, purpose, and performance
We're on a mission to help everyone live with clarity, purpose, and passion.
Join us and create impactful change.
Read the buzz about BetterUp.
Meet the leadership that's passionate about empowering your workforce.
5 problem-solving questions to prepare you for your next interview
Understand Yourself Better:
Big 5 Personality Test
Jump to section
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.
Content Marketing Manager, ACC
10 interview skills, techniques and examples to land your dream job
9 jobs you can get with an economics degree, the best jobs for introverts and how to find your path, 6 tips on how to answer promotion interview questions, worried about your job in a recession how to protect yourself, get help from a career advisor to map your professional path, breathe in, breathe out: 15 tips to prepare for an interview, answer “how do you define success” like a pro, how to answer “why do you want to be a supervisor” in a job interview, similar articles, 10 problem-solving strategies to turn challenges on their head, how to ace your second interview questions, 31 examples of problem solving performance review phrases, how to answer “what motivates you” in a job interview, land a promotion: prepare for these internal interview questions, 18 questions to ask in a performance self-evaluation, 30 star interview method questions to prepare for, answer “what’s your greatest accomplishment” with ease, stay connected with betterup, get our newsletter, event invites, plus product insights and research..
3100 E 5th Street, Suite 350 Austin, TX 78702
- Platform Overview
- BetterUp Lead
- BetterUp Manage™
- BetterUp Care™
- Sales Performance
- Diversity & Inclusion
- Case Studies
- Why BetterUp?
- News and Press
- Leadership Team
- Become a BetterUp Coach
- BetterUp Labs
- Center for Purpose & Performance
- Leadership Training
- Business Coaching
- Contact Support
- Contact Sales
- Acceptable Use Policy
- Trust & Security
- Cookie Preferences
Get 25% off all test packages.
Get 25% off all test packages!
Click below to get 25% off all test packages.
Top 10 Problem Solving Interview Questions You May Be Asked
Problem-solving questions are common in interviews - you may be asked specific questions related to the job you’ve applied for or about your approach and methodology to solving them.
This useful guide will help you get prepared for common problem-solving questions in your next interview with advice on how to answer them.
1. What are some of the most difficult problems you have solved?
When interviewers ask “What are some of the most difficult problems you have solved,” they usually want to know two things:
- The types of difficult problems you have solved and
- How you coped with or overcame these difficulties.
To answer this question effectively, first, take a few moments to think about and jot down the types of difficult problems you have faced in your work. Then, for each problem, briefly describe the steps you took to solve it. Be sure to highlight a few key learnings or lessons that you took away from overcoming these difficulties.
Some examples of difficult problems that job seekers have solved include:
- Being assigned a project with an impossible deadline
- Having to manage a team member who was not meeting expectations
- Having to come up with an innovative solution to a long-standing problem
2. How do you go about solving problems?
When you are asked how you go about solving problems during an interview, focus on what works for you specifically - there is no one ‘right’ way to solve problems, so don’t try to fit yourself into that mold.
You should have a clear process and some examples to help support your answer.
Remember to keep it positive - interviews are about selling yourself and your skills, so make sure your answer reflects that.
3. Describe the result of a recent problem you solved
For this question, the interviewer is looking to understand the impact you’ve had on solving problems and how important the problems you’ve described are. The bigger the impact the better the example.
4. Give an example of a time when you had to think outside the box to solve a problem.
When answering this question, it’s important to provide a specific example of a time when you had to think outside the box to solve a problem. Avoid generalities or platitudes like “I’m a creative person” or “I always look for new and innovative ways to solve problems.”
Instead, focus on describing a concrete situation where you were faced with a difficult problem and had to come up with an original solution. Be sure to describe the steps you took to solve the problem and what resulted from your efforts.
If you can illustrate that you can think creatively and come up with innovative solutions, you’ll be sure to impress potential employers and set yourself apart from other candidates.
5. What is a time when you went above and beyond to solve a problem?
Be prepared to answer this question with a great story.
Think of a time when you were faced with a difficult situation at work. Maybe there was a big project that needed to be completed or a customer that was particularly challenging. Whatever the situation was, make sure it’s something that you were able to successfully overcome.
Next, describe what steps you took to solve the problem. Did you come up with an innovative solution? Did you put in extra hours to make sure the job got done? Was it a team effort? Whatever it was that you did, be sure to highlight your role in the story.
Lastly, include details of the results and how they impacted others.
6. Tell me about a time when you predicted a problem before it occurred?
This question shows the interviewer your proactiveness and vigilance.
Try to think about a time when you were able to identify a potential issue and take steps to prevent it from happening. It may be a problem that you had anticipated occurring - how did you know it would happen? What would have been the impact if it did?
Showing that you have the ability to think ahead and predict problems before they occur is a strong skill for any potential employee to have, and by providing specific examples of your own experience, you can demonstrate that you possess it.
7. Give an example of a time when you had to use your creativity to solve a problem
When interviewers ask this question, they are looking to see if you have the ability to come up with new and innovative solutions to problems. They want to know if you are able to think outside the box and come up with creative solutions that others may not have thought of.
To answer this well you should:
- Give an example of a time when you had to use your creativity to solve a problem.
- Explain how you were able to come up with a creative solution and what the outcome was.
- Be sure to highlight any challenges that you faced and how you overcame them.
8. How do you know when to solve a problem on your own or to ask for help?
There’s no single answer to this question, as the best course of action will vary depending on the situation. However, here are a few general tips to keep in mind:
First, try to assess the difficulty of the problem and whether you have the necessary skills and knowledge to solve it. If it’s a simple issue that you’re confident you can handle, then go ahead and take care of it yourself.
However, if the problem is more complex or outside of your area of expertise, then it’s probably best to seek out help from someone who knows more about it.
9. How do you know when a problem is solved?
This is a great opportunity to show off your critical thinking skills.
First, take a step back and assess the situation. What are the goals that need to be accomplished? What does “solved” look like? What are the constraints that you’re working within?
Defining success criteria will ultimately determine when the problem is solved.
10. Do you enjoy problem-solving?
Almost all roles require some form of problem-solving. A strategic “yes” is always recommended when answering this question.
If you have experience solving problems in previous roles, be sure to mention that. This will show the interviewer that you have the ability to handle challenges.
For example, you might say something like: “I actually enjoy problem-solving quite a lot. There’s something satisfying about being able to find a solution to something that was once a mystery. One time, I was able to help my team solve a big issue we were having with our website. We were able to identify the problem and put together a plan to fix it.”
This response shows that you not only have the ability to solve problems but that you also enjoy doing so. It also gives the interviewer a specific example of a time when you were successful in this area.
Enjoy what you’ve read? Let others know!
- Share on whatsapp
- Share on linkedin
- Share on twitter
- Share on facebook
- Share via email
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..
Subscribe and stay up-to-date with everything recruitment related by receiving a monthly content digest and email updates on new resources!
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.
How To Streamline Your Retail Volume Hiring Strategy
For any business owner, the process of recruitment can be daunting. Not only do you have to find the right candidates, but you also need to ensure that they're a good fit for your company culture and can hit the ground running. When it comes to high-volume hiring, the stakes are even higher. A bad hire can cost you time and money, so it's essential to get it right.
High Volume Recruitment: What You Need to Know
Finding the best candidates in a competitive hiring market can be challenging. When looking for a lot of talent, you need to think differently. Volume recruitment presents a fantastic opportunity for organizations to connect with many qualified candidates without requiring lengthy screening processes.
Essential Tips for Recruiting Interns
If you're an HR manager or recruiter planning your next hire, you're probably thinking about hiring interns. You may have questions about the intern recruitment process or the best way to attract, find and hire interns for your company. Find out in this article our tips for your next intern hiring.
Common Hiring Biases to Watch Out For
HR professionals are aware that inherent biases in hiring practices can cause problems. The wrong candidates might get hired and then leave shortly after. What’s worse is that your company could get hit with a lawsuit over hiring biases if they violate equal opportunity laws.
- Interview Questions
Problem-Solving Interview Questions
Problem-solving interview questions are designed to test a candidate's ability to identify obstacles, potential issues, or key opportunities, and then implement effective solutions accordingly. Our collection of problem-solving interview questions includes explanations and red flags to look out for during an interview.
Problem-Solving Interview Questions — PDF Download:
Download our list of problem-solving interview questions in PDF format and use them in your next interview.
Problem-Solving Questions to Ask in an Interview:
1. what was your biggest work-related problem, and how did you resolve it.
This is a great introductory question since it allows the candidate to describe their problem-solving process in as much detail as they like. Top candidates will explain why the problem occurred, how they resolved it, and why they chose that method.
Red flags: the candidate cannot think of anything specific or describes a problem that was resolved quickly and easily.
2. Think of a time when a coworker made a mistake that affected your work. How did you handle the situation?
Not only does this question analyze the candidate's problem-solving abilities, but also their teamwork, communication, and interpersonal skills. Look for candidates who demonstrated a noncombative, collaborative approach to solving the problem.
Red flags: the candidate did not take any steps to resolve the situation or engaged with their coworker unconstructively.
3. What is your troubleshooting process?
This question gives the candidate a chance to explain their general approach to troubleshooting. It should highlight how the candidate usually processes and acts on information.
Red flags: the candidate demonstrates limited insight into their troubleshooting process or describes ineffective problem-solving techniques.
4. If you were given two very urgent tasks by different members of the management team at roughly the same time, how would you decide which task to tackle first?
This question tests the candidate's ability to communicate effectively. In this instance, candidates should approach both managers about the other's request. If no clear guidance is given, the candidate should provide a reasonable time estimate of when each task would be completed.
Red flag: the candidate rushes to complete both tasks in the order they were given.
5. How do you decide when a different problem-solving approach is needed?
Not all problems can be solved in the same way. This question reveals whether the candidate can analyze a problem fully before applying an appropriate solution, remain agile during the problem-solving process, and reflect on systems once they have been implemented.
Red flag: the candidate will only try a different approach if the outcome is a failure the first time.
6. Tell me about a time when you predicted a problem related to staffing or structural changes in your department. What did you do to resolve the issue?
This question tests the candidate's ability to identify a concern and bring it to the attention of management before it becomes a problem. Look for candidates who speak up, propose reasonable alternatives, and assist with changes.
Red flags: the candidate has never identified any issues in the workplace, or they didn't want to get involved even though they knew there would be a problem.
7. What do you do when you cannot seem to find an effective solution to a problem?
Everyone gets stuck sometimes. This question reveals how the candidate finds new ideas on how to proceed.
Red flag: the candidate is unable to be resourceful and gives up.
8. What improvements have you made to your workplace in the last year?
Candidates with great problem-solving abilities should be able to identify areas that can be improved, and either take steps to implement those changes or initiate the process.
Red flag: the candidate has not contributed to any improvements in the workplace.
9. Provide an example of a time when you solved a problem without the input of management. What was the result?
This question highlights the candidate's ability to make decisions and solve problems by themselves.
Red flag: the candidate did not inform management about a major decision that could affect the business.
10. How do you organize your daily workload to ensure that all your tasks are complete?
Reveals whether the candidate has an effective system that allows for setbacks and problem-solving in the workplace.
Red flags: the candidate has never thought of implementing a system to plan their work or cater for delays or they are unable to execute such a strategy.
11. How do you motivate yourself to achieve your goals when you have minimal supervision?
Self-motivation is a major part of problem-solving if issues arise. This question simply reveals the candidate's methods for staying motivated.
Red flags: the candidate has never been in a situation where they needed to work without supervision or they cannot think of creative and effective ways to self-motivate.
12. What do you do when asked to resolve an urgent issue without being given all the information?
Thoroughness and forethought are key components of problem-solving, even when under time constraints. Identify whether the candidate tries to solve the problem immediately or asks for more information.
Red flag: the candidate tries to resolve the issue without all the pertinent details and gets stuck.
13. Can you describe a time when you thought outside of the box to solve a problem in either your personal or professional life?
Evaluates whether the candidate can devise innovative ideas to solve problems.
Red flag: the candidate describes a solution that you would not describe as out-of-the-box thinking.
14. Describe a time when you disagreed with a decision by management. What happened?
Reveals whether the candidate can speak up when they see a problem in the workplace.
Red flag: even if management still went ahead with their original decision, candidates should feel comfortable pointing out problems in the workplace. A red flag would be if the candidate noticed an issue but chose to ignore it.
15. Tell me about a time you tried to solve a problem but ended up making it worse. What happened?
This is a great question to learn more about the candidate's personality and problem-solving skills. It tests honesty and whether the candidate was able to incorporate what they learned into future decisions.
Red flags: the candidate claims they have never made a problem worse, or they've never thought about how they could learn from their mistakes.
- Common interview questions .
- Situational interview questions .
- Cultural fit interview questions .
- Stress interview questions .
- Emotional intelligence interview questions .
- Illegal interview questions .
- Behavioral interview questions .
- Personality interview questions .
What are problem-solving interview questions?
Problem-solving interview questions are those that test a candidate's ability to identify potential issues, obstacles, or opportunities for improvement, and then implement solutions accordingly.
Why do hiring managers ask problem-solving interview questions?
Problem-solving interview questions help determine how a candidate approaches problems in their professional and personal lives. Problems — however small — are bound to occur in the workplace, and hiring managers want to be sure that candidates are equipped to address them successfully.
What are some examples of problem-solving interview questions?
- What is your troubleshooting process?
- How do you decide when a different problem-solving approach is needed?
- What was your biggest work-related problem, and how did you resolve it?
- What do you do when you cannot seem to find an effective solution to a problem?
- Describe a time when you disagreed with a decision by management. What happened?
What is the best way to answer a problem-solving question in an interview?
Think about what the interviewer is trying to learn and direct your response accordingly. Provide a comprehensive answer and be sure to explain your reasoning.
50 most common interview questions, how to interview candidates, star method, pre-screening interviews - how-to guide with sample questions, how an open interview works.