Tell me about a time when you took a specific action to resolve a problem

When interviewers talk about resolving problems, they are talking about your ability to handle and resolve difficult or unexpected work situations. For companies, people who are creative in their thinking and are able to adapt to situations are essential for success. Companies rely on employees who can assess situations and calmly focus on identifying solutions. Needless to say, problem-solving skills are essential in the workplace.

In order to effectively solve challenges or problems in your work, you need problem-solving skills. These are skills such as active listening, creative thinking, and communication. These abilities are essential in virtually any position in a company that you can think of. You can, therefore, imagine that these questions are commonly asked during job interviews.

In this article, we discuss why the interviewer is asking you about your problem-solving skills and how you should answer these questions. Furthermore, read more about frequently asked job interview questions here and check our job interview preparation checklist.

Why interviewers want to assess your problem-solving skills

The ability to solve problems during your work is about using logic, creativity, and imagination to make sense of a challenging situation to come up with an intelligent solution. Problem-solving skills are related to several skills, such as taking initiative, communication, resilience, creativity, decision making, team-building, research, analysis, and active listening. These skills are needed in every career at every level.

There are several ways how interviewers can assess your problem-solving skills. Interviewers can, for instance, do this by asking you for examples of how you solved problems or challenges in the past during work. The interviewer could ask you, ‘Tell me about a time when you took a specific action to resolve a problem.’ As you can see, this question requires you to provide an example of a time you took action to solve a problem.

Examples of competency-based interview questions are:

  • Tell me about a time you were part of a team, and you had to solve a problem.
  • Describe a time when you ran into a problem on a project. How did you approach the situation, and what did you do to solve it?
  • Tell me about a time when you identified a potential problem and took action to stop it from becoming one.

Another way interviewers can assess your problem-solving skills is by asking you a hypothetical question on how you would handle a situation, should you encounter it. Both these types of questions are examples of so-called behavioral interview questions. They are used by interviewers to analyze your behavior in the workplace.

Other examples of hypothetical interview questions to assess your problem-solving skills are:

  • How would you deal with a conflict in your team?
  • How would you respond if a customer or client raised a complaint?
  • What would you do if you received negative feedback from a manager?

Tips for answering job interview questions about your problem-solving skills

There are several ways how you can improve your problem-solving skills. Think, for instance, of acquiring more technical knowledge in your specific field. Depending on the industry in which you’re active, it can be easier to solve issues. Any addition knowledge can be acquired through courses, training, and development, or practice.

Another way to work on your skills is by seeking out challenges or opportunities to solve. By experiencing new situations, you are more likely to be exposed to challenges to solve. To experience new situations, you probably need to get out of your comfort zone and for instance, volunteer for new projects in your current role or ask to temporarily work on another team.

You can also learn by observing others in their roles. There are probably skilled colleagues at work or more senior workers with more experience. Observing how they go about their work and how they solve problems can benefit you and improve your skills.

STAR Interview Technique

The most efficient way to provide the interviewer with a structured answer is by using the STAR method. This is an interview technique that is easy to remember when structuring your answers. STAR is an acronym that stands for the situation you were in, the tasks you had in that situation, the actions you took to address the situation, and the results you got from those actions.

Below we breakdown the STAR interview technique down into steps that you can use to create your own sample answers to interview questions that you’re expecting.

Situation

When you answer a behavioral interview question, start by providing context and background about the situation that you were in.

Task

After you walk the interviewer through the situation, talk about your tasks. Explain the tasks you need to complete. Highlight any specific challenges, such as deadlines. Tell the interviewer what needed to done and why.

Action

Next, discuss the actions you took to complete your task. Highlight the desirable traits that the interviewer is looking for. You can find what these are by thoroughly analyzing the job description and company.

Result

Finish your answer by telling the interviewer the results you got from your actions. If possible, include figures or amounts to quantify the results. This way you can give your answer more weight.

Example answer to a hypothetical interview question about problem-solving skills:

‘If I notice at any point during a project that there are any errors in the teamwork or an issue arises as a result of miscommunication, I would address it immediately. I would first try to reach the core of the issue and review the circumstances that created it. 

Once I identify the problem, I will try to track the points that were the basis of the issue. If the issue can be traced back to a specific team member, I would talk to this person to discuss the situation and how it came about. Also, if needed, I would encourage this team member to take responsibility for his or her actions. 

In these cases, it’s important to improve work processes, and this opportunity can be used to strengthen the bond between team members. If a team member is able to admit their mistake, any issues can be resolved by pooling in the strengths of other team members and procuring a suitable ground for this particular member to avoid such a mistake in the future.’

Job Interview Topics – Common Job Interview Questions & Answers

Below you can find a list of common job interview topics. Each link will direct you to an article regarding the specific topics that discuss commonly asked interview questions. Furthermore, each article discusses why the interviewer asks these questions and how you answer them!

  1. Accomplishments
  2. Adaptability
  3. Admission
  4. Behavioral
  5. Career Change
  6. Career Goals
  7. Communication
  8. Competency
  9. Conflict Resolution
  10. Creative Thinking
  11. Cultural Fit
  12. Customer Service
  13. Direct
  14. Experience
  15. Government
  16. Graduate
  17. Growth Potential
  18. Honesty & Integrity
  19. Illegal
  20. Inappropriate
  21. Job Satisfaction
  22. Leadership
  23. Management
  24. Entry-Level & No experience
  25. Performance-Based
  26. Personal
  27. Prioritization & Time Management
  28. Problem-solving
  29. Salary
  30. Situational & Scenario-based
  31. Stress Management
  32. Teamwork
  33. Telephone Interview
  34. Tough
  35. Uncomfortable
  36. Work Ethic