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How to Answer Problem-Solving Interview Questions

Why are they assessing your problem-solving skills? No business runs smoothly all the time, and employers need to know they can rely on their team when problems arise. Interviewers are looking for candidates who can solve complex problems, analyze data efficiently, and handle high-pressure situations. Whether you’re good at solving technical issues or predicting when problems will arise, prepare yourself with a few scenarios to highlight what your strengths are.

How to answer problem solving skills interview questions

What are the most common problem-solving questions?

Information to keep in mind when answering these questions:

  • Interviewers will hit you with problems related to the industry you’re applying to work in, so research relevant scenarios and solutions. 
  • They will analyze the process you use. 
  • Coming up with inventive ways to solve problems will show what makes you uniquely fit for this role.
  • A positive attitude in dealing with problems is key. The examples you give should show an eagerness to find solutions.
  • Can you work well as part of a team when solving problems? And are you able to ask for help if you need it?

Have you ever solved a problem without the advice of your supervisor? If so, what was the result? 

Here, your interviewer wants to see if you can step up and address issues without waiting for instructions. What approach did you take? Are you able to make decisions independently? A self-motivated candidate is ideal in a climate where working remotely has become the norm. Choose an example that lets you go into details about your problem-solving skills.

Sample answer: “With COVID forcing us to be homebound, there were times I wasn’t able to reach my manager for input while a client was waiting for a solution. In one case, the client insisted that their invoice had not been processed correctly. I contacted our accounting department for a full list of transactions which showed that the rep from the client’s company had signed off on a purchase that the client was unaware of. The client was apologetic, and we kept their business.”

Describe a time when you were able to resolve an issue before it became urgent.

Start your answer with the steps you took to anticipate obstacles you might encounter with your project. How did you mitigate those risks? So, if a problem arose, you can show that you were prepared for it and had a Plan B in place. If it was something unexpected, did you act immediately, or did you take the time to analyze the problem before deciding on the right action? Depending on the situation, either answer may be correct.

Sample answer: As an executive assistant, I was tasked with copying and assembling a new contract with a procurement service provider. As I studied the document, I noticed that one of the numbers in the contract had a decimal point omitted. I brought the error to the attention of my boss, and we managed to produce amended contracts before they were signed by the parties involved.”

Has there been an instance when you used your skills to manage a crisis?

Can you keep your cool under pressure? That is what your interviewer is trying to establish here. The logical process you worked through to solve the problem should clarify how you evaluated the situation and acted decisively, leading to a successful outcome. Also, mention whether you reviewed the case to avoid similar crises in the future.

Sample answer: “A passenger complained of dizziness and nausea during a flight. While I was getting the appropriate medication, the passenger collapsed. I assessed the situation using my CPR training and determined that the passenger was still breathing but unconscious. After turning her on her side to help her breathe, I administered 100% oxygen and made her comfortable. I then called a doctor on board, who later determined that the passenger was anemic.” 

When should you attempt to fix a situation on your own, and when should you ask for assistance?

This is an opportunity to demonstrate your initiative, independent thinking, and ability to work as a team. Hiring managers love an applicant who can meet the general challenges of the job without constant supervision. However, an employee should know when to seek help before the problem affects other factors.

Sample answer: “I’m an advocate of the 15-minute rule. I will take at least 15 minutes to try and solve the problem on my own. In that time, I will identify the problem, decide what the ideal result would be, and work out tasks to reach my goal. I’d rule out any options that might not work and consider the consequences of the options I’m left with. If I achieve the desired outcome after applying the best solutions, I will review the process I used. If I’m not able to come up with a workable solution in those 15 minutes, I will consult with a colleague or supervisor.”

Give an example of a time when obstacles prevented you from performing your job and how you adapted.

You can expect to encounter challenges in your job. Depending on how you work around them, your interviewers may find some insights into your strengths and weaknesses. Be honest about how the situation played out, but make sure you choose one with a positive outcome.

Sample answer: “Having been in the accounting industry for many years, it is sometimes hard to keep up with technology that’s meant to streamline our processes. There’s a sense of distrust and insecurity when new technology is used. I had to overcome my own bias of sticking with the old methods as the company evolved and using the new systems became mandatory. I approached my team leader and asked for additional training to build my confidence in adopting the new protocols.”

Ready for your interview? 

If you’re presented with a problem to solve, take the time to analyze the information provided and ask questions if necessary. When discussing examples, make sure you focus on the solution rather than the problem, as this can be interpreted as pessimistic. And, above all, let your positive character traits shine in your prepared interview answers.

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