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Interview questions about problem-solving

Use these interview questions about problem-solving to discern how candidates approach complex situations and find out whether they can solve problems effectively.

Why you should ask candidates about problem-solving

Everyone is confronted with problems at work. Before you recruit anyone, therefore, you should test candidates’ ability to solve problems in the questions you ask at the interview.

Problem-solving questions show you how candidates:

  • tackle complex problems;
  • handle data to get to the bottom of the problem;
  • perform in stressful situations;
  • respond when their assumptions are being challenged.

Use your interview questions to identify candidates who are focused on getting results. Look for people who think analytically and show potential for solving problems. Candidates with the ability to spot, foresee, or even avoid a problem will stand out. Applicants should also be able to explain how they would solve a problem and prevent it from happening again.

These sample interview questions about problem-solving are designed to help you be able to follow how candidates go about finding solutions.

Use these questions in combination with those about analytical skills and critical thinking.

Sample interview questions about problem-solving

  • Tell me about a problem that you had to solve without any input from a manager. How did you do it and what was the outcome?
  • Tell me about a problem that you identified and solved before it became urgent.
  • Tell me about a problem that you were able to foresee happening. How did you prevent the situation from escalating?
  • Describe a situation in which you faced serious difficulties in carrying out your work. What were these difficulties and how did you overcome them?
  • Tell me about a time when you successfully applied your crisis management skills.
  • A new project that you are looking after has the potential to bring in a lot of revenue but could put your company in a tricky position from a legal perspective. How would you handle it?
  • How do you know whether you can solve a problem on your own or whether you should ask for help?

Tips for assessing candidates’ problem-solving skills

  • During your conversation, invent hypothetical scenarios that could easily arise on the job. Avoid unrealistic problems that are not relevant to your company.
  • Observe how candidates tackle a problem step by step, from identifying and analyzing it through to comparing different solutions and picking the most effective one.
  • Look for candidates who come up with innovative approaches to solving a problem. Creative minds can open up new perspectives and add value to companies.
  • Staff should show commitment and a willingness to perform when problems occur. Ask about situations in the past that called for problem-solving skills. If the candidates were determined to find the best approach to solving the problem, they will make good employees.
  • Most complex situations require teamwork. Good candidates will be those who have also been able to work well with other people in their previous jobs to reach decisions. This means that they will also ask for help when they need it.
  • If you are seeking employees for a technical position, ask questions related to the vacancy and the work the job would involve. Questions like “How would you fix bug XY?” will show you whether the candidate is able to tackle the problem effectively.

Warning signs

  • Applicants don’t answer the question. If candidates can’t think of any examples from their previous experience, this could indicate that they tend to avoid difficult situations.
  • Applicants give pre-rehearsed answers. A general comment such as “I once had a customer who complained about the price. I managed to calm him down and still sealed the deal,” doesn’t reveal much about the candidate’s thought process. Ask follow-up questions to hear more detailed information from them.
  • Applicants focus on the problem, not the solution. Identifying the problem is only one piece of the puzzle. Finding out how to solve it, however, is more important. Candidates who pay too much attention to the problem and largely ignore the solution could have too negative an attitude for the position.
  • Applicants seem very stressed. Being a bit nervous and flustered in an interview is completely normal. If candidates are so stressed that they can’t answer any questions, however, this could indicate that they handle stressful situations badly.
  • Applicants give superficial answers. Candidates who seek the quickest way out of a problematic situation often ignore many aspects of the problem. For this reason, look for candidates who analyze information and scrutinize it more closely.
  • Applicants try to portray a problem as insignificant or trifling. Issues that are left unaddressed can quickly grow into bigger problems. The sort of employee who simply lets things be might not be dedicated or results-focused enough for their work.

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