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Problem-solving interview questions and answers

Use these sample problem-solving interview questions to discover how candidates approach complex situations and if they can provide effective solutions.

Christina Pavlou
Christina Pavlou

An experienced recruiter and HR professional who has transferred her expertise to insightful content to support others in HR.

problem-solving interview questions

10 good problem-solving interview questions

  1. Describe a time when you had to solve a problem without managerial input. How did you handle it, and what was the result?
  2. Give an example of a time when you identified and fixed a problem before it became urgent.
  3. Share a situation where you predicted a problem with a stakeholder. How did you prevent it from escalating?
  4. Describe a time when you faced challenges in doing your job efficiently. How did you overcome them?
  5. Recall a time when you successfully used crisis-management skills.
  6. How would you handle a new project with great revenue potential but potential legal implications for the company?
  7. How do you determine when to solve a problem on your own or ask for help?
  8. Describe a time when you faced a difficult situation at work that required critical thinking and decision-making under pressure.
  9. Have you ever used intuition or prior experience to anticipate and address a problem effectively? Provide an example.
  10. Share an example of a project or task that initially seemed overwhelming. How did you approach it, and what strategies did you use to ensure successful completion?

1. Describe a time when you had to solve a problem without managerial input. How did you handle it, and what was the result?

This question assesses candidates’ ability to take initiative and solve problems independently. Look for their problem-solving approach, the actions they took, and the outcome of their efforts.

Sample answer:

“In my previous role, we encountered a sudden technical issue that disrupted our operations. As the team lead, I gathered all available information, analyzed the root cause, and facilitated a brainstorming session with the team. We implemented a temporary workaround and collaborated with the IT department to resolve the issue. Our proactive approach ensured minimal disruption, and we were able to restore normal operations within 24 hours.”

2. Give an example of a time when you identified and fixed a problem before it became urgent.

This question evaluates candidates’ ability to anticipate and address problems proactively. Look for their ability to identify potential issues and take preventive measures.

Sample answer:

“While working as a project manager, I noticed a potential bottleneck in our production process that could have led to delays if left unaddressed. I conducted a thorough analysis, identified the root cause, and proposed process improvements. By implementing these changes proactively, we eliminated the bottleneck and increased efficiency. As a result, we consistently met project deadlines, and our team’s productivity significantly improved.”

3. Share a situation where you predicted a problem with a stakeholder. How did you prevent it from escalating?

This question assesses candidates’ ability to identify and mitigate potential conflicts. Look for their communication and problem-solving skills in managing stakeholder relationships.

Sample answer:

“While working on a cross-functional project, I anticipated a miscommunication issue that could arise with a key stakeholder due to conflicting expectations. I scheduled a meeting with the stakeholder, listened to their concerns, and facilitated a discussion among the team members. By proactively addressing the issue, we established clear communication channels, built trust, and ensured a smooth collaboration throughout the project.”

4. Describe a time when you faced challenges in doing your job efficiently. How did you overcome them?

This question evaluates candidates’ ability to handle challenges and find solutions to improve efficiency. Look for their problem-solving strategies and their adaptability to overcome obstacles.

Sample answer:

“In a previous role, I faced a situation where the workload significantly increased due to unexpected circumstances. To maintain efficiency, I assessed the situation, identified tasks that could be delegated, and communicated with my colleagues to seek their support. By redistributing responsibilities and fostering a collaborative environment, we successfully managed the increased workload without compromising quality or missing deadlines.”

5. Recall a time when you successfully used crisis-management skills.

This question assesses candidates’ ability to remain calm and make effective decisions under pressure. Look for their problem-solving approach and their ability to handle high-stress situations.

Sample answer:

“In a previous role as a customer service representative, we experienced a sudden surge in customer complaints due to a product quality issue. I quickly coordinated with relevant departments, identified the root cause, and developed an action plan. By prioritizing urgent cases, maintaining open communication with affected customers, and providing timely updates, we regained customer satisfaction and prevented further damage to our brand reputation.”

6. How would you handle a new project with great revenue potential but potential legal implications for the company?

This question assesses candidates’ ability to balance potential risks and rewards. Look for their ethical considerations, problem-solving approach, and willingness to seek guidance when faced with legal implications.

Sample answer:

“If faced with a project that carries both revenue potential and potential legal implications, I would approach it with caution and thorough evaluation. I would research and seek legal guidance to fully understand the implications and compliance requirements. I would then collaborate with legal experts, cross-functional teams, and stakeholders to develop a comprehensive plan that minimizes legal risks while maximizing revenue potential.”

7. How do you determine when to solve a problem on your own or ask for help?

This question assesses candidates’ judgment and collaboration skills. Look for their ability to assess situations and make decisions about when to seek assistance.

Sample answer:

“When faced with a problem, I first evaluate its complexity and impact on the project or task at hand. If it’s within my capabilities and doesn’t significantly hinder progress, I take the initiative to solve it on my own. However, if the problem is complex or could have a significant impact, I believe in seeking help from relevant team members or subject matter experts. Collaboration often leads to more comprehensive and effective solutions.”

8. Describe a time when you faced a difficult situation at work that required critical thinking and decision-making under pressure.

This question assesses candidates’ ability to think critically and make sound decisions in challenging situations. Look for their problem-solving approach, decision-making process, and the outcomes of their decisions.

Sample answer:

“In a previous role, I faced a tight deadline for a project with limited resources. It required careful resource allocation and prioritization. I gathered all available data, analyzed the project requirements, and consulted with team members. Through strategic planning and effective delegation, we managed to complete the project successfully within the given timeframe, exceeding client expectations.”

9. Have you ever used intuition or prior experience to anticipate and address a problem effectively? Provide an example.

This question assesses candidates’ ability to leverage intuition and past experiences to navigate problem-solving situations. Look for their ability to reflect on past situations, apply lessons learned, and make informed decisions.

Sample answer:

“In a previous role, I noticed a recurring issue in our supply chain that had caused delays in the past. Drawing upon my prior experience, I anticipated the problem and suggested process improvements to streamline the supply chain. By implementing these changes, we minimized delays and improved overall efficiency, resulting in cost savings for the company.”

10. Share an example of a project or task that initially seemed overwhelming. How did you approach it, and what strategies did you use to ensure successful completion?

This question assesses candidates’ ability to tackle complex projects and break them down into manageable tasks. Look for their problem-solving approach, organization skills, and ability to persevere in the face of challenges.

Sample answer:

“I once undertook a project that involved a significant amount of data analysis and reporting within a tight deadline. Initially, it felt overwhelming, but I broke it down into smaller tasks and created a detailed timeline. I prioritized the most critical aspects and sought assistance from colleagues with specialized skills. Through effective time management, collaboration, and diligent effort, we successfully completed the project on time and delivered high-quality results.”

Why you should ask candidates problem-solving interview questions

Employees will face challenges in their job. Before you decide on your next hire, use your interview process to evaluate how candidates approach difficult situations.

Problem-solving interview questions show how candidates:

  • Approach complex issues
  • Analyze data to understand the root of the problem
  • Perform under stressful and unexpected situations
  • React when their beliefs are challenged

Identify candidates who are results-oriented with interview questions that assess problem-solving skills. Look for analytical and spherical thinkers with the potential for technical problem solving.

Potential hires who recognize a problem, or predict one could potentially occur, will stand out. Candidates should also demonstrate how they would fix the issue, and prevent it from occurring again.

These sample problem-solving interview questions apply to all positions, regardless of industry or seniority level. You can use the following questions to gauge your candidates’ way of thinking in difficult situations:

Tips to assess problem-solving skills in interviews

  • During your interviews, use hypothetical scenarios that are likely to occur on the job. It’s best to avoid unrealistic problems that aren’t relevant to your company.
  • Examine how candidates approach a problem step-by-step: from identifying and analyzing the issue to comparing alternatives and choosing the most effective solution.
  • Pay attention to candidates who provide innovative solutions. Creative minds can contribute fresh perspectives that add value to your company.
  • When problems arise, employees should show commitment and a can-do attitude. Test candidates’ problem-solving skills in past situations. If they were determined to find the best solution as soon as possible, they will be great hires.
  • Most complex situations require a team effort. Candidates’ previous experiences will show you how they collaborated with their colleagues to reach decisions and how comfortable they felt asking for help.
  • If you’re hiring for a technical role, ask questions relevant to the work your future hires will do. Technical problem-solving interview questions, like “How would you troubleshoot this X bug?” will reveal your candidates’ hard skills and their ability to effectively address problems on the job.

Red flags

  • No answer. If a candidate can’t recall an example of a problem they faced in a previous position, that’s a sign they may avoid dealing with difficult situations.
    Canned answers. A generic answer like “Once, I had to deal with a customer who complained about the pricing. I managed to calm them down and closed the deal,” doesn’t offer much insight about the candidate’s thought process. Ask follow-up questions to get more details.
  • Focus on the problem, not the solution. Identifying the problem is one thing, but finding the solution is more important. Candidates who focus too much on the problem may be too negative for the position.
  • Feeling stressed/uncomfortable. It’s normal to feel slightly uncomfortable when put on the spot. But, if candidates are so stressed they can’t answer the question, that’s an indicator they don’t handle stressful situations well.
  • Superficial answers. Candidates who choose the easy way out of a problem usually don’t consider all aspects and limitations of the situation. Opt for candidates who analyze the data you’ve given them and ask for more information to better dig into the problem.
  • Cover up the problem or minimize its significance. Unaddressed problems could quickly escalate into bigger issues. Employees who leave things for later mightn’t be result-oriented or engaged in their jobs.

In conclusion, problem-solving interview questions provide valuable insights into candidates’ abilities to approach challenges, think critically, and provide effective solutions. By asking these questions and considering the tips provided, you can assess candidates’ problem-solving skills and make informed hiring decisions that align with your organization’s needs.

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