When interviewers talk about resolving problems, they talk 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. This is also the reason why problem-solving questions are often asked during job interviews.
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 Ask Problem-solving Questions In a Job Interview
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
- Creative thinking
- Decision making
- Active listening
The skills mentioned above are needed in every career at every level to be successful. There are several ways which 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 problem-solving 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 for interviewers to assess your problem-solving skills is by asking you a hypothetical question on how you would handle a situation if 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.
The reason for asking questions about your behavior in the workplace is because, for interviewers, the most accurate predictor of future performance is your past performance in similar situations.
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?
Hypothetical interview questions are also called situational or scenario-based interview questions. Learn everything you need to know about situational interview questions and how to answer them.
Tips To Improve 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 additional knowledge can be acquired through courses, training, development, or practice.
Another way to work on your skills is by seeking out challenges or opportunities to solve them. 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 work temporarily 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 To Structure Answers To Problem-solving Questions
The most efficient way to provide the interviewer with a structured answer is by using the STAR interview technique. This interview technique helps you structure your answer in a logical and concise way. STAR is an acronym that stands for the (S) situation you were in, the (T) tasks you had in that situation, the (A) actions you took to address the situation and the (R) results you got from those actions.
Below we break down the STAR interview technique into steps that you can use to create your own sample answers to interview questions that you’re expecting.
When you answer a behavioral interview question, start by providing context and background about the situation that you were in. Also, make sure to provide relevant details. When the interviewer asks you questions about challenging situations that you have encountered, make sure that you provide all the details necessary for them to understand what you were up against.
After you describe the situation, talk about your specific responsibilities and what your role was. It’s important that the interviewer gets an understanding of your task during the specific situation that you discuss.
Next, discuss the actions you took to solve the problem. Highlight the desirable traits that the interviewer is looking for. You can find what these are by thoroughly analyzing the job description and company.
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 Answers To Problem-solving Interview Questions
Below we discuss two answers to the interview questions about problem-solving. However, these are just general examples. Make sure you tailor your answers to your specific situation and the position you’re applying for.
Example 1 – Behavioral Question ‘Tell me about a time you had to solve a challenging problem at work’
‘In my position as a business development manager at ABC Software, I’m responsible for organizing all client events and conferences. ABC Software is a major player in the IT market, and during our events, we invite industry experts to speak on market developments. These events are used to attract new clients but also to maintain our relationship with our existing ones.
Over the last two years, we analyzed our attendee data and found that our event attendance dropped by almost 10%. Furthermore, we discovered that the retention rate of our clients also decreased. When we had to plan the next event, my team and I knew that we had to get our attendance levels back up in order for the events to stay successful. The goal was to get our networking event popular and recurring again.
I had an idea why the attendance levels dropped, but to get more information, I interviewed several sales consultants as well. The main feedback was that we should focus more on attracting new clients through social media channels. I communicated this with our marketing team, and we decided to also reach out to our client base and ask them what they would like to see on our future events. This led to interesting new insights on topics and speakers that we could invite, plus we also received input on how to improve networking possibilities during our events. Based on our research and feedback, I created a new plan of action to market our events through our social media channels to increase exposure.
After launching our marketing campaign, we immediately gained traction online, which led to an increase in advance registrations. For that specific event, we saw a total increase in attendance of 20% in comparison to the previous year. An online survey showed that the attendees were happy with how the way the new event was structured, and 80% of respondents said that it would be likely that they would recommend our events within their network.
My approach to increasing attendance at our events did not go unnoticed. My department director asked me to make a presentation about how I tackled this problem and present this to the board.’
Example 2 – Situational Question ‘Describe your approach to handling conflicts during team projects’
‘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 address it immediately. I always first try to reach the core of the issue and analyze the circumstances that created it. This way, I make sure I thoroughly understand what I’m up against so that I can make an effective and efficient plan of action.
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, how it came about, and how I can provide support to make sure we tackle this challenge together.
Also, if needed, I would encourage this team member to take responsibility for his or her actions, the same as I would do in a similar situation. In these cases, it’s essential to show empathy, and improve work processes and communication. I also use these opportunities to strengthen the relationship between my colleagues and me as well.’
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!
- Career Change
- Career Goals
- Conflict Resolution
- Creative Thinking
- Cultural Fit
- Customer Service
- Growth Potential
- Honesty & Integrity
- Job Satisfaction
- Entry-Level & No experience
- Prioritization & Time Management
- Situational & Scenario-based
- Stress Management
- Telephone Interview
- Work Ethic