Problem solving competency questions
Are you looking to improve your problem solving competency questions for an interview? Or have you applied for a new job and want to prepare for the interview?
In this blog post, we go over the importance of asking problem solving competency questions. We then follow with examples of problem solving interview questions and answers.
What is problem solving competency questions?
Problem solving interview questions test how well candidates respond to problems.
Problem-solving competency questions involve a variety of skills, including analytical thinking, creativity and decision-making. A successful candidate must be able to identify a problem and propose a creative solution.
Why ask problem solving interview questions?
The importance of problem solving competency questions in an interview is that they highlight a candidate's ability to apply their knowledge and skills to new situations.
They also show how an individual approaches problems, which is important for team scenarios. Also to test how well an applicant can think on their feet and provide creative solutions when faced with challenges or obstacles.
What type of interview questions should I ask candidates for problem solving skills?
Recruiters should test to see how applicants will approach a problem and how they think through the problem. The recruiter wants to see if the applicant can find creative solutions to solve problems.
Recruiters are also looking for how well applicants communicate their thoughts and ideas while solving the problem. They want to know if you understand what they are asking or not.
The best questions are often situational questions that require creativity, analytical skills, verbal communication skills, and attention to detail.
The types of questions asked are important too. These include:
Behavioural Focused interview questions
In an interview setting, some questions have been proven to be better predictors of future performance than others. These questions are behavioural focused interview questions .
By focusing on past situations the candidate can demonstrate how they would approach situations specific to your organisation.
These questions help recruiters determine whether an individual has the ability and aptitude to solve problems and make decisions in a variety of situations.
Tests that are most likely to assess problem-solving skills are situational judgement tests. Also, any that assess reasoning, such as inductive reasoning or diagrammatic reasoning tests .
These tests are used as a way of gauging how well candidates can think through and solve problems. The tests also help to find out if the candidate is able to apply their knowledge to new and different scenarios. They also help assess how creative the applicant is, and what their ability is for generating ideas.
Examples of problem solving questions
A series of questions that evaluate a candidate’s problem-solving skills will help you assess the extent to which they can creatively solve problems. You can then evaluate their ability to think outside the box and identify potential solutions.
Candidates should be asked about a time when they solved a problem in a creative way. Or likewise, a time when they were able to come up with an idea that was not immediately obvious.
Below we look at a variety of practice examples of problem solving interview questions.
- Talk about an example of a situation when you realized you won't be able to meet the set deadline.
- What is your most stressful situation and how did you handle it?
- In your opinion, what makes you a great problem solver?
- What do you do in a situation when you cannot seem to find the right solution to a problem?
- When faced with an urgent problem, how do you react? Are you the type of person who jumps right into solving problems or carefully assesses first?
- Give us an example of a situation that would be different if given another chance.
- Tell us about the decisions you have had to make in your current job
- Tell about a time when you were able to develop a different problem-solving approach. What steps did you follow?
- Tell us about a time when you identified a potential problem and resolved the situation before it became a serious issue.
- Do you follow any specific processes or steps while solving a problem?
- When preparing for your interview, think of a time when you successfully solved a problem and include: What the problem was, what steps you took to solve the problem and the outcome.
- Discuss a problem at your current job which you yet have to solve
- Tell me about a time you had to solve a problem at work before deciding on how to solve it and why (give the interviewer more insight)
- Talk about an incident where you came across an unexpected challenge at work
- Discuss a time when you found a creative way to overcome an obstacle
- Describe two improvements you have made in the last six months
- Tell me about a situation in which you came up with a need and went above the call of duty to get things done
How to answer problem solving competency questions?
There are 3 types of problem solving competencies: knowledge, skills and experience.
- Knowledge can be seen as what you know when you have all the information needed.
- Skills can be seen as how well you use your knowledge. When you can apply it in a way that others cannot.
- Experience refers to how much time and effort you have put in for this type of task. When there is no one else who has more experience than you on this particular topic or skill set.
The best type of problem solving answers are those that have a logical and sequential flow. They should try to follow the question and answer it. In some cases, they can even offer more than one solution for a given problem.
In order to provide the best type of answer, they need to know what type of logic is being applied in the question. For example, if it's a math problem then they should be able to find a mathematical solution that will lead them to the desired result.
So what qualities should recruiters look out for to determine if someone is a good problem solver? Successful problem solving candidates should be able to demonstrate the following in their answers:
Exploring and understanding
Candidates should be able to observe, interact, search for information and find limitations to understand and solve a problem.
Candidates should demonstrate how they can handle problems and gather information in a situation
Planning and executing
Candidates should be able to reach a problem solving plan, and demonstrate how they execute it.
Recruiters are interested in how the candidate handles specific situations.
Monitoring and reflecting
Candidates should monitor their solution to their problem and reflect on the outcome. They should demonstrate critical evaluation of their decisions. Can they see where they could have improved? Are they able to improve a similar situation for a future scenario?
Employers believe that people who are passionate about their job and if they go wrong somewhere, they have always the thought in mind that what they would do or could do if given another chance to rectify the mistake.
It is important to be straightforward and accept mistakes even when there are bad decisions made. Employers want candidates who are willing to make changes for different solutions in order to tackle the problem.
Best way to approach problem solving
Problem solving competency questions can be tricky and can lead to some common mistakes. These mistakes can be easily avoided by following these simple guidelines:
1) State the problem: There is power in stating the problem. A clear and concise problem statement forces you to think about the issue and figure out the best ways to solve it.
2) Consider all possible solutions: You should always consider all possible solutions before you decide on a final answer. There may be more than one solution that solves the problem.
3) Evaluate your options: When evaluating your options, consider how they impact each other as well as any unintended consequences. This will help you understand how a solution will affect a person, place, or thing outside of the situation at hand.
Examples of problem solving answers
Below we highlight some brief examples of some answers that help recruiters identify good problem-solving skills.
What steps do you follow to study the problem before making a decision? Why?
I have to make decisions and I try my best not to do so without studying the problem first. This has caused me a lot of stress, but it's also taught me how important it is to prepare before making any decision.
In order to make a decision, I first have to understand the problem and why it exists. The first step is studying the problem and figuring out what information you need in order to make an informed decision. The challenges lay with the many different perspectives on how something should be handled. Therefore, it's important for me not only to hear from those with expertise but also other employees who may not necessarily know as much about the subject as myself.
The decisions I have had to make in my current job are the time I spend on new projects, what tasks I take on, and how much time it takes me to complete them. These decisions are also influenced by the number of people in my team.
Describe a time when you had to solve a problem without all the necessary information beforehand.
When I have a list of pros and cons to help me make a decision, I start by considering whether the cons will hinder me from achieving my desired outcome or cause unnecessary burdens somewhere else. For example: when deciding between two options for work-related projects, one might be more time-intensive but yield greater results in the long run. While another may offer a better short-term return on investment.
First, it's helpful to determine which option is best suited for you and your personal interests before making any rash decisions.
Problem solving questions assesses a candidate's analytical thinking skills. Interviewers may ask the candidate to solve an analytical problem, either alone or as a group, and then judge the answer based on its correctness and the thought process behind it.
As well as assessing candidates' ability to use critical thinking, problem solving is useful for many other skills.
These include analysing what candidates know, determining what is relevant, and analysing how they reach their decisions.
In order to get a good feel for an applicant's problem solving abilities, recruiters can pose a few critical thinking questions. These questions will help you understand the way candidates think and react to challenges to solve problems.
In an interview setting, asking a candidate to solve a problem can be the best way to gauge their ability to think critically and creatively on their feet.
For more information on interview questions to get the top candidates, feel free to read our post on Dive for Results Interview Questions .
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Problem Solving – Interview questions and answers
- October 3, 2023
- Problem Solving , competency questions
Competency Interview Questions on Problem Solving
As today’s market place is dominated by uncertainty, employers are placing an increasingly high value on a candidate’s ability to problem solve, show sound judgement and make quick decisions.
What interview questions can I expect?
The following are examples of “problem solving” competency questions:
- Describe a difficult problem you had to solve in your last job.
- Give me a specific example of a time when you used good judgment and logic in solving a problem.
- Tell me about a time when you had to analyse information and make a recommendation. What kind of thought process did you go through? What was your reasoning behind your decision?
- Describe a time when you had to analyse a problem and generate a solution.
How do I answer competency interview questions on problem solving?
In these questions an employer is looking for your ability to gather and organise all relevant information, to identify cause-effect relationships and to come up with appropriate solutions.
It is helpful to structure your answer as follows:
- Define the problem
- Explain how you analysed it and broke it down
- Show you decided on the best solution
- Describe how you implemented the solution and outline the outcome
- Show how you considered the impact on wider stakeholders
Define the Problem
Describe the problem. What made it a problem? What did the problem involve?
Analyse the Problem
Show how you collected the information and analysed it to look for possible causes. Consider quantitative and qualitative methods. Then describe how you looked for links between the causes, and analysed these “groups of causes” to come up with possible solutions.
Generating Possible Solutions
Describe how you generated a number of possible solutions. Talk about what results you expected to achieve and the risks involved in each course of action. Which solution did you opt for and why?
Consider Impact on Wider Stakeholders
Show how you considered the consequences of your decision on other departments and its wider impact on a range of stakeholders. Highlight how you engaged with stakeholders to get their buy in.
Discuss how you implemented the solution and what you achieved. Highlight what you learnt from that experience.
Use the STAR (Situation, Task, Action, Result) method when answering your questions – this will provide you with a nice framework for your answer and will help keep your response focused and concise. For more information on this look at my article on competency questions
About the Author
Laura McGrath is a qualified executive coach, EMCC Certified with over 20 years’ experience in executive search and recruitment. She’s the owner of Interview Techniques, a leading provider of interview and career coaching services and has been a guest lecturer with Trinity College Dublin and TU Dublin. She has sat on Public Sector Interview Boards and has been trained by PAS. For a consultation, please call 087 669 1192 or go to https://interviewtechniques.ie/contact/
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5 problem-solving questions to prepare you for your next interview
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What is problem-solving, and why do hiring managers care so much about it?
How to answer problem-solving questions
Common problem-solving questions and answers, things to avoid when answering problem-solving questions, how to prepare for problem-solving interview questions, problem solved.
“How would you approach telling a manager that they’ve made a mistake ?”
Hard problem-solving questions like these can catch you off guard in a job interview. They’re hard to prepare for if you don’t know they’re coming, and you might not even see why they’re relevant to the job.
Even the most experienced interviewees might feel like they’re giving a bad interview if they stumble on questions like these.
Preparing and practicing hard questions is one way to ease your fears. Learn to dissect what a hiring manager is really asking and answer problem-solving questions with confidence.
What is problem-solving, and why do hiring managers care so much about it?
Problem-solving is holistically understanding a problem, determining its cause, and identifying creative solutions . Many, if not most, job descriptions ask for problem-solving skills because regardless of industry, they’re an asset in the workplace.
Startups and tech companies like Google famously pose critical thinking and problem-solving questions in job interviews . But hiring managers from all industries use unique questions like these to understand your problem-solving skills. It’s not about the answer you give, or whether it’s correct, but the way you come to that conclusion.
In job interviews, problem-solving questions pose a potential problem or situation typical to the job you’re interviewing for. Your response shows your ability to respond to common problems, even on the spot. Depending on the question, it can also indicate other skills like:
The average business spends $4,700 hiring one new worker , so it wants to make sure you’re the right fit for the job. Even if you have the right skills and experience on paper, hiring managers need a comprehensive idea of what kind of worker you are to avoid choosing the wrong candidate.
Like standard behavioral interview questions , problem-solving questions offer interviewers a more well-rounded view of how you might perform on the job.
Problem-solving questions encourage you to give answers about your past experiences, decision-making process , and ability to arrive at creative solutions . Learning how to answer questions in an interview means learning how to tell a good story , so your answer should have a clear structure, unique topic, and compelling journey to demonstrate your competencies.
The STAR method is a common technique for answering problem-solving interview questions clearly and thoughtfully. The acronym stands for situation, task, action, and result. It provides a simple structure that gives your response a smooth beginning, middle, and end.
Here’s how to use the STAR method to describe past on-the-job experiences or hypothetical situations:
Situation: Start with a problem statement that clearly defines the situation.
Task: Explain your role in the situation. What is, or would be your responsibility?
Action: Recount the steps or problem-solving strategies you used, or would use, to overcome the problem.
Result: Share what you achieved or would hope to resolve through your problem-solving process.
Every job requires problem-solving on some level, so you can expect at least one job interview question to ask about those skills. Here are a few common problem-solving interview questions to practice:
1. Give us an example of when you faced an unexpected challenge at work. What did you do to face it?
What’s a hiring manager really asking? Employers want to know that your problem-solving has a process. They want to hear you break down a problem into a set of steps to solve it.
Sample answer: I was working in sales for a wholesale retailer. A regular client wrongly communicated the pricing of a unit. I realized this immediately, and rather than pointing out the error, I quickly double-checked with my supervisor to see if we could respect the price.
I informed the client of the error and that we were happy to keep the price he was given. It made him feel like he'd gotten a fair deal and trusted my authority as a sales rep even more. The loss wasn't significant, but saving face in front of the client was.
2. How would you manage a frustrated client?
What’s a hiring manager really asking? They want to gauge your ability to stay cool and be patient in stressful situations, even when dealing with difficult people . Keep your answer professional, and don't use the opportunity to bad-mouth a past client. Show that you can stay respectful even if someone isn’t respecting you.
Sample answer: I've had plenty of experience dealing with unhappy clients. I've learned two important things: their frustration isn’t a personal attack against me, and we have the same goal to solve the problem. Knowing that helps me stay calm, listen carefully to the client's situation, and do my best to identify where the situation went astray.
Once we identify the problem, if I can handle it myself, I communicate exactly what we’ll do for the client and how. What steps we’ll take depend on the client, but I always start by proposing solutions to show I care about a path forward, and then keep them updated on my progress to implementing that fix.
3. Describe a time you made a mistake at work. How did you fix it?
What’s a hiring manager really asking? No one is above making an error. Employers want to know that you own up to and learn from your mistakes instead of getting frustrated and walking away from the problem.
Sample answer: My first managerial position was at a public relations agency. When I was promoted to work on client outreach, I struggled to learn to delegate my old responsibilities, which were writing social media copy. I was afraid to let go of control, and I was micromanaging . One day, I wrote out some copy, sent it out, and quickly realized I was using the wrong style guide in my haste.
The client noticed, and we had to work to regain their trust, which put a strain on the entire team. I took full responsibility and used that moment to understand that I wasn't trusting my team's abilities. I apologized to my team for overstepping boundaries and worked to let go of my old role completely.
4. Have you ever had a difficult time working with a team member? How did you deal with the situation?
What’s a hiring manager really asking? Even the most independent job requires some teamwork, whether it’s communicating with clients or other team members. Employers want to know that you can solve interpersonal problems, know when to escalate and help maintain a positive work environment.
Sample answer: At my last job, we were fully remote. I had a coworker that wasn't very communicative about their process, which led to redundancies in our work and miscommunications that set us behind. I asked them to have a one-on-one meeting with me so we could analyze where we were failing to communicate and how to improve.
It wasn't a comfortable process, but we developed a better practice to collaborate and improve our ability to work as a team , including weekly meetings and check-ins.
5. Tell me about a time you created an innovative solution with limited information or resources.
What’s a hiring manager really asking? They want to test your resourcefulness, which is a valuable soft skill. Using a “ Tell me about a time” question lets you demonstrate out-of-the-box thinking and shows that you don't quit when things get difficult.
Sample answer: I worked in project management for a software developer. We were frequently going over budget and needed to limit spending. I instituted a new workflow app across departments and made everyone track every step of their process. We ended up finding information silos between design, sales, and product development.
They were all using different platforms to communicate the status of the same project, which meant we were wasting time and money. We centralized communication and improved operational efficiency, solved our budget problems, and increased productivity by 30%.
Problem-solving questions offer deep insights into the kind of worker you are. While your answer is important, so is your delivery. Here are some things to avoid when trying to answer problem-solving questions:
Don’t clam up: It's okay to take your time to reflect, but never abstain from answering. An interviewer will understand if you need to pause and think. If you’re really stumped, you can ask to return to that question later in the interview.
Avoid generic answers: Generic answers show a lack of creativity and innovation . Use the opportunity to explain what makes you and your problem-solving process unique.
Don’t lose confidence: How you answer is as important as what you answer. Do your best to practice confident body language, like eye contact and strong posture. Practicing ahead of time can help alleviate pressure while you’re answering.
Try not to rush: Rushing through an answer could make it unclear or incoherent, which might reflect poorly on your ability to keep a level head. Practice mindful breathing and pace yourself. Answer slowly and deliberately.
Preparing for an interview will make you feel more comfortable and confident during the hiring process. Rather than thinking of answers on the spot, you can pull from different responses you're already familiar with. Here are some tips for practicing and improving your answers:
Create a list of problem-solving examples from throughout your career. Consider varied past experiences that play into important skills, like time management, project management, or teamwork, to show that you're a well-rounded candidate.
Whenever possible, give metrics to show results. For example, if you improved productivity, share percentages. If you upped sales, share numbers.
Carefully study the job description and connect the skills you find with specific ways you’ve used them.
Identify what you’re good at and choose experiences that play to your strengths.
When talking about mistakes or errors, always finish with the lesson you learned and how you plan on avoiding the same mistake.
Provide details that a hiring manager can recognize within the position they’re hiring for.
It’s normal to feel nervous about a job interview, especially if you’re expecting difficult questions. Learning how to overcome that challenge is the perfect way to put your problem-solving skills to the test.
Like everything else in your career, practice makes perfect, and learning to answer tough problem-solving questions is no different. Take the time to recall moments in your career when you overcame challenges, and practice telling those stories. Craft an answer that hiring managers will be excited to hear.
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10 problem-solving interview questions to find the best candidate
Sophie Heatley, Content Writer
| 03 Oct 2018
| 5 min read
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An interview is a good chance to evaluate how candidates approach difficult situations and by asking problem-solving questions you can separate those that are results orientated from those that crumble under pressure. Asking the right sorts of questions will also reveal a person's suitability for the role and company they are trying to enter.
That being said, this can be hard to assess when you first meet someone, so here are 10 problem-solving competency questions to solve your problem of what to ask:
Problem-solving interview question examples
Question 1: describe a situation where you had to solve a problem. what did you do what was the result what might you have done differently.
This question tests their problem-solving ability. As an employer, you want to hire people that get things done and when faced with a problem actively solve it. There are three steps to solving a problem:
A good answer should show that the applicant took the initiative, didn’t act thoughtlessly and was willing to ask questions and work as a team. Ideally their actions were in that order.
Question 2: Give an example of a situation in which you saw an opportunity in a potential problem. What did you do? What was the outcome?
This question tests if they see opportunities in problems. Every business has problems, both minor and major, and you should be able to trust your employees to identify and solve them. Problems are opportunities for improvement, both for an individual and a company as a whole.
Essentially you are looking for an answer that recognises this. Whether they solved a problem single-handedly or flagged the issue to a superior, you are looking for applicants who played a key part in arriving at a solution.
Question 3: What steps do you take before making a decision on how to solve a problem, and why?
This question tests how they problem solve before making a decision. A strong answer showcases that the candidate is considered in their decision-making and has a formal process of thought, instead of becoming overwhelmed and acting rashly. You should be looking for those that have a formalised process that makes sense, and that shows that they don’t just ask for help the entire time.
Question 4: Give an example of a time that you realised a colleague had made a mistake. How did you deal with this? What was the outcome?
This question tests their interpersonal skills . The best type of employees have great interpersonal skills and help others to succeed. Therefore, a good answer should show the candidate was diplomatic and constructive – someone that helps their colleagues to solve problems and doesn’t just highlight them.
Anyone that proceeds to say unsavoury things about previous co-workers should be treated with caution – respect and kindness are core attributes in the workplace.
This question tests their problem-solving strategies. An impressive answer will showcase awareness of problem-solving strategies, although these may differ from person to person.
You don’t want to hire someone that is constantly asking for help and knowing that a candidate has given some thought to potential strategies will provide you with assurance. Problem-solving strategies could vary from data-driven or logical methods to collaboration or delegation.
Question 6: Describe the biggest work-related problem you have faced. How did you deal with it?
This question tests how they tackle big problems. It reveals three things about a candidate:
1. What they are willing to share about a previous employer.
2. What they consider to be a big problem.
3. How they problem solve.
You want a candidate to be appropriate when discussing their current (or former role) and be positive. Of course what constitutes a big problem is relative, but you should be wary of candidates that sound like they might become overwhelmed by stress or blow things out of proportion.
You’ve found the perfect candidate, what’s next? Check out Perkbox’s administration platform to assist you with onboarding and retaining talent.
Question 7: Tell me about a time where you have been caught off-guard by a problem that you had not foreseen? What happened?
This question tests how they deal with pressure. Even the most careful minds can crash into an unforeseen iceberg, but it is how they deal with it that matters. This question should be a chance for you to catch a glimpse of a candidate’s character and personality. Ideally, you want an answer that shows the following:
- Calmness – They don’t overreact
- Positivity – They don’t complain or blame others
- Solutions – They use problem-solving skills
Question 8: Describe a time where you developed a different problem-solving approach. What steps did you follow?
This question tests their creative problem-solving skills and initiative. If your company was complete you wouldn’t be hiring. Someone that takes initiative and thinks outside of the box can help your business progress and stay ahead of the competition. Creative initiative is a definite bonus as you don’t want an office filled with like-minded people, after all, it’s the new ideas that change the world.
Question 9: Tell me about a time when you became aware of a potential problem and resolved it before it became an issue.
This question tests their ability to identify problems and solve them. Having foresight is important quality and it’s much more than wearing glasses. Foresight is about identifying issues before they actually become issues. Being able to see into the future and red-flagging a problem, is something that you should not only value, but covet – being thoughtful helps avoid disaster.
Question 10: Describe a personal weakness that you had to overcome to improve your performance at work? How did you do it?
This question test their self-awareness and dedication. Self-awareness is crucial to growth and becoming a better employee. A good answer is one that shows a candidates willingness to improve, whether that be learning new skills or honing their talents. This is a hard problem-solving interview question so a successful response is a testament to their ability.
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10 Problem Solving Interview Questions To Hire the Best Candidates
You can't account for every external factor that occurs, and there won't be a single person that can solve every problem. here, we’ll explore why problem-solving questions are crucial to your interview process and offer ten problem solving interview questions to help you hire the best candidate..
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No matter how perfect or well-thought-out a business plan sounds, unforeseen circumstances will always arise. You can't account for every external factor that occurs, and there won't be a single person that can solve every problem. For a company to be successful, you will need to hire a wide array of capable employees who can identify and resolve almost any issue.
You'll have to employ interview problem solving questions that examine how a candidate solves problems during the interview process. Here, we’ll explore why problem solving questions are crucial to your interview process and offer ten problem solving interview questions to help you hire the best candidate.
What Are Problem Solving Interview Questions?
First, it's important to note what problem solving questions are and why they're essential.
Problem solving interview questions are thought provoking inquiries that analyze a candidate's ability to recognize unexpected complications and their process of solving them. This includes planning on multiple levels (having a plan A and a plan B), implementation, and execution.
These types of questions specifically target an interviewee's critical thinking and creativity. By understanding how a person handles problems, you'll get a clearer idea of how they'll fit in the workplace.
Internally solving problems within a business structure is also vital to the synergy and prolonged survival of a company. If its workers can't discern or ignore problems, they will only worsen.
You'll want to consider a prospective worker's problem-solving capabilities before hiring.
It may be wise to research a more in-depth explanation of why problem-solving skills are critical when hiring in the workplace.
Tips For Using Problem Solving Questions To Screen Candidates
A big part of adequately gauging a candidate's abilities during the screening process is how you utilize interview questions about problem solving.
Here are some helpful tips to optimize your interview questions for problem solving and make the most out of your time:
Look Out For Generic Answers
Many resources help people practice interview responses by giving them generic answers to the standard problem solving interview questions based on "what employers want to hear."
You'll want to be on guard for these answers because they don't reflect a person's actual abilities and are easy to replicate.
You'll want to ask questions drawing from a worker's personal experiences to combat this. Candidates who provide unique and genuine answers give more in-depth insights into their problem solving capacity.
Ask Job Specific Questions
Different jobs have different problems.
Asking a computer programmer how to treat a cramped muscle is the same as asking a fitness trainer how to solve an error in the HTML; you won't be getting any insights into their job-specific skills.
Ask questions that are relevant to the interviewee’s potential position. Use common problems in that field and try to pertain to a specific theme.
It's also a good idea to propose real problems at your workplace . Compare and contrast the candidate's solution to how your company resolved the issue.
Their response may not be the same, but it could be vastly more effective than your resolution.
Ask Different Types of Problem Solving Questions
There are different categories of problems. Technical problem solving interview questions gain one perspective on a candidate’s skill set. A relationship problem solving question or a critical thinking problem solving question offers additional insight.
A technical problem might mean an error in the system or a malfunctioning piece of equipment. A candidate should be able to notice early signs of these problems (if applicable) and take action accordingly.
They should also know when the situation is impossible for them to solve alone and that they should go to a higher authority for help.
A relationship problem is when there is a conflict between two or more employees. Teamwork is critical in some fields and a must for cumulative progress.
HR can't resolve every little argument between workers, so it's often up to the individual to take action and compromise.
Assessing a candidate's relationship problem solving ability is essential, especially in team-based environments.
A critical thinking problem is a more complex problem requiring creativity and innovation to solve.
There isn't a simple fix to these problems, and a person will have to get crafty to solve them. Management, organization, and unanticipated issues usually fall under this category and require the greatest attention to resolve.
Give Candidates Multiple Opportunities To Relay Experiences
Keep in mind that not every exceptional employee is good at interviews. Some people panic and freeze up on the spot; it's a natural reaction.
If your screening process has multiple stages, you'll want to capitalize on this by assessing a candidate's problem solving abilities twice. There should be one time when they are asked unexpectedly and another when they have time to formulate their answer.
By doing this, you won't miss out on highly qualified individuals who may not be the best at interviews, and you'll also get a better idea of each candidate's capabilities.
Incorporate Team Related Problems
People cannot always solve problems on their own. A person shouldn't be entirely dependent on others, but they also have to be able to work on a team efficiently .
The way a candidate tackles team-related issues conveys their ability to get along with co-workers, leadership potential, and capacity for compromise.
People on different wavelengths are going to have other ideas and solutions. If no one can agree, then nothing is ever going to get done. You'll also have to consider a candidate's competence at evenly distributing work and versatility in the planning process.
Yes, a person's solo problem solving capabilities are important, but their teamwork skills and communication are vital. Keep this in mind during the screening process.
Build Off of Interviewee Responses
Don't go through a repetitive hit-and-go questioning process. Once you ask a question, try to build on the candidate's response.
This especially goes for questions that draw on a person's real-life experiences. You may have a limited time to ask your questions, but that doesn't mean you have to go through all of them.
Getting in-depth answers to a few questions will better look at a person's problem solving abilities and work ethic.
If there's something you're curious about or something the candidate says piques your interest, speak up and try to pry as much as possible.
10 Problem Solving Interview Questions To Hire the Best Candidate
Here are some excellent base questions to ask prospective employees. Each job is unique and encounters different issues, so you'll likely have to make some modifications to fit your case better.
Nonetheless, these are ten great problem solving interview questions that'll isolate the best candidates during the screening process:
1. What Is Your Approach To Problem Solving?
One of the first things you'll want to assess in a candidate is their approach to solving problems.
Using inefficient, unorganized, or reckless methods can be more detrimental than good, so be sure to comprehend a person's problem solving strategy deeply.
Try to get them to relay the exact structure of their approach and have them explain their reasoning behind each step. Encourage your candidate to draw on past experiences and successes as well.
The problem solving approach also includes a person's attitude towards an issue. Consider elements such as cautiousness, incentive, and reliance on external factors.
2. How Do You Identify Potential Problems?
Problems cannot be solved if they cannot be seen.
Ask the candidate how they have identified different problems throughout their work and personal history. You'll also want to inquire about frequent issues in your business's workplace and common complaints.
Don't just assess a candidate's ability to realize problems. The time it takes to identify a problem is equally important. Problems become more blatant the longer they are left untouched.
An excellent type of question to use here is a scenario question. Propose a simulated setting based on your company's environment and have them pinpoint the problem.
3. How Do You Evaluate The Impact of Potential Problems?
Another skill prospective employees need is the capacity for foresight. They should be able to evaluate the adverse effects of a particular issue. Otherwise, they'd be able to identify the problem but have no incentive to solve it.
Try to ask questions relating to cause and effect. Ex: If [blank] occurs, then what will happen in the short term and the long run.
4. How Do You Prioritize Problems To Be Solved?
A spilled drink likely won't require as much attention as a corporate-wide virus in the systems.
Recognizing where issues lie and knowing how to distribute time can save large sums of money while avoiding catastrophic scenarios.
A candidate's prioritization of problems also indicates their decision-making and organization skills.
To go further in-depth here, give a candidate a series of problems and have them rank them in the order in which they should be solved.
5. How Do You Develop Solutions To Problems?
Developing solutions is a prominent indicator of planning ability and intuitive thinking. Proposing unique problems will test an individual's creative process and reveal how flexible their logic is.
If a person has a single set strategy for solving every problem, they'll eventually fail. You'll need to hire adaptable workers who can think outside of the box.
There will never be a plan that accounts for everything.
You can modify this question to work with different problems, such as technical problems, relationship problems, and critical-thinking problems. Each of them necessitates a distinctive solution, so you'll inadvertently force a candidate to display their plasticity.
6. How Do You Implement Solutions To Problems?
Having a plan is one thing. Putting it into action is an entirely different matter. If you're familiar with the adage "easier said than done," you can probably infer the purpose of this question.
Unfortunately, you probably won't be able to test candidates firsthand on their ability to implement solutions to problems . The next best thing is closely scrutinizing their personal experiences.
Ask about problems they have solved in the past. Inquire about what may have happened if their solution didn't work.
For any theoretical scenarios, you propose, point out flaws in the candidate's plan of action and have them gauge the practicality of performing it.
Be meticulous here and determine how viable their answers are.
7. How Do You Evaluate The Effectiveness of Solutions?
There should be multiple layers to a person's planning process. A candidate can't just propose a well-thought-out plan without evaluating its efficiency.
The easiest or quickest solutions won't always be the most effective. Yes, simplicity and speed are crucial factors in evaluating effectiveness, but they aren't all-encompassing.
Candidates should also consider the resources used and the longevity of their solution. Identify "bandage fix" answers, and look for long-term results.
A candidate should exhibit the ability to compare the pros and cons of different solutions and determine which one will be the most effective.
8. How Do You Learn From Problem Solving Experiences?
Learning from past problems is essential for solving future ones.
A candidate's ability to draw from previous experiences will suggest their effectiveness at problem solving at your workplace.
You will want to hear about the successes of a candidate's problem solving endeavors and their utter failures. Have them relay their gravest mistakes and how they learned from those experiences.
Remember, while succeeding feels good, a person learns more from failure. If a candidate is confident enough to tell you about their most significant shortcoming, they've moved past it and will likely handle adversity more effectively.
9. How Do You Handle A Situation Where a Colleague Made a Mistake?
It is almost always more comfortable to stay in your lane and mind your own business when it comes to working life. However, interacting with others is a crucial part of teamwork and creating an effective workplace environment.
This question gauges your candidate’s interpersonal skills. You would not like to hear your candidate slandering former colleagues or companies.
Instead, a candidate's ability to exhibit diplomacy within the workplace is a far more desirable response. When people can work together well and solve problems, your business is more likely to run like a well-oiled machine.
10. How Have You Overcome Personal Weaknesses To Improve Work Performance?
When looking to gain insight into a candidate's self-awareness, this is a great leading question to get a conversation started.
While self-awareness may seem more relevant to life outside of work, it procures growth in all aspects of a person’s life, leading to a more well-rounded employee.
A promising candidate will be more than willing to acknowledge their weaknesses, using them as a tool to improve performance. Candidates' answer to this question will also gauge their willingness to learn and adjust to various fluid workplace elements.
More examples of questions to identify Problem Solving skills
- Can you tell me about a time when you overcame a significant challenge?
- What is your problem solving process?
- When you have to solve a problem, what do you think is the most important thing to consider?
The Bottom Line
There will always be unaccounted problems in a company's business structure. There are no amount of preventive measures one can take to avoid them all; it's just not possible.
Hiring intuitive employees who can think broadly and resolve issues independently is essential to every company. This is why problem solving interview questions are so vital.
Evaluating this skill set in prospective candidates may require extra work but is ultimately worth it.
Try this free problem solving advanced test if you're looking for a more in-depth evaluation of an applicant's problem solving abilities for your screening process.
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Problem-Solving Interview Questions And Answers (With Examples)
- How To Answer Tell Me About Yourself?
- Elevator Pitch
- Where Do You See Yourself In 5 Years?
- What Are Your Career Goals?
- When Can You Start?
- How Do You Define Success?
- Describe Your Work Ethic
- Where Are Your Current Duties?
- What Are Your Learning Goals?
- Intrinsic Vs Extrinsic Motivation
- What Is Your Desired Salary?
- What Makes You Unique?
- Why Are You The Best Person For This Job?
- Reasons For Termination
- What Are Your Work Values
- How To Make A Hard Decision?
- What Are You Most Proud Of?
- Personal Code Of Ethics
- Problem Solving Interview Questions
- Taking Initiative Example
- How Do You Prioritize Your Work
- Explain Gaps In Employment
- Most Rewarding College Experience
- What Is Your Work Style
- Tell Me About A Time When You Made A Mistake On The Job
- Tell Me About Gaps In Employment
- What Are You Passionate About
- What Skills Would You Bring To The Job
- Who Is Your Mentor?
- How To Answer Tell Me About A Time You Disagreed With Your Boss
- How To Answer Common Screening Questions
Find a Job You Really Want In
Summary. Problem-solving questions are used to focus on a candidates past experience with managing conflicts and overcoming obstacles in the workplace. When answering these questions, be sure to make your answer relevant to the position that you are applying to and be honest about your strengths and weaknesses. Be sure to provide examples from previous experiences.
Are you in the process of searching for a new job ? If so, you might be getting ready to meet with a hiring manager or a recruiter for a job interview. And if you’re like the majority of job candidates, this stage of the job search process is probably making you feel a fair bit of trepidation.
And no wonder! The interview is a completely necessary step for any job search, but that doesn’t make it any less nerve-wracking to meet with a prospective employer and answer questions about your personality , skills, and professional background.
Being able to solve problems is a skill that almost all job positions need.
Problem-solving questions assess a candidate’s ability to think on their feet, handle pressure, and find creative solutions to complex problems.
Make sure your answer to a problem-solving question tells a story of you as an effective team player.
What Is a Problem-Solving Interview Question?
How to answer a problem-solving interview question, eight examples of common problem-solving interview questions and answers, interviewing successfully, curveball questions, problem-solving faq.
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A problem-solving interview question is a question that focuses on a candidate’s past experience with managing conflicts and overcoming unexpected obstacles in the workplace.
Problem-solving questions can come up in many different forms. As a general rule, however, they will be aimed at uncovering your ability to handle stress and uncertainty in a wide variety of contexts.
When you’re answering problem-solving interview questions, there are a few important tips to keep in mind:
Make your answers relevant to the position that you’re applying to. Always bear in mind that the fundamental goal of any interview question is to provide a hiring manager with a glimpse inside the mind of a candidate.
By asking you a problem-solving question, your interviewer is trying to understand whether or not you’re the type of person that could be relied upon under pressure or during a crisis. Every role, furthermore, comes with its own particular type of pressure.
Be honest about your strengths ( and weaknesses ). Hiring managers tend to be quite good at reading people. Therefore, if you give them a bogus response, they’re very likely to see through that – and to subsequently consider you to be untrustworthy.
Of course, it can be tempting at the moment to fabricate certain details in your response in the attempt to make yourself seem like a better candidate. But inventing details – however small – tends to backfire .
Tell stories that will portray you as a team player. Hiring managers and employers are always on the lookout for job candidates who will collaborate and communicate well amongst a broader team.
Be sure to provide examples of moments in which you took charge. Leadership skills are another key quality that hiring managers and employers seek out in job candidates. And being presented with a problem-solving question, as it turns out, is the perfect opportunity to demonstrate your own leadership skills.
Now that we understand the basic principles of problem-solving interview questions and how to respond to them, we’re finally ready to break down some real-world examples. So without any further preamble, here are eight examples of common problem-solving interview questions (as well as some examples of how you might answer them):
Can you tell me about a time when you encountered an unexpected challenge in the workplace? How did you go about dealing with it?
Explanation: With this question , your interviewer will be attempting to get a sense of how well you’re able to adapt to unexpected difficulties. The critical thing to remember when you’re answering this question – as we briefly discussed above – is to recall an incident that will be directly relevant to the role and the organization that you’re applying to.
Here’s an example of a high-quality response to this question:
“I remember a particular day at my previous job when an important deadline was pushed up at the very last minute. As the project manager , it was my responsibility to implement the necessary steps that would enable us to meet this new and truncated deadline. “Many of my peers began to hang their heads, resigning themselves to their belief that there was no hope to meet the new deadline. But I’ve always prided myself on my ability to adapt and thrive within a dynamic and quick-paced work environment – and that’s precisely the personal skill set that I channeled on this occasion. In the end, I reorganized my team’s priorities so that we were able to accommodate the new deadline.”
How would you say you typically respond to problems in general, and in the workplace in particular?
Explanation: This question is primarily designed to gauge a candidate’s ability (or lack thereof) to remain cool, calm, and collected under pressure. The ideal response to this question, in other words, will include a brief personal anecdote that illustrates your level-headedness and your ability to make rational, clear decisions during times of uncertainty.
“I would say that one of the primary qualities that sets me apart from the crowd of other candidates is my ability to remain calm and centered when conditions in the workplace become chaotic. “Looking back, I think that I first began to cultivate this ability during my tenure as a product manager working with a major Silicon Valley start-up. That was a particularly stressful period, but it was also quite instructive – I learned a great deal about staying positive, focused, and productive after an unexpected challenge presented itself. “These days, when I’m confronted by an unexpected problem – whether it’s in my personal life or in my professional life – I immediately channel the conflict management skills that I’ve been honing throughout the duration of my career. This helps a great deal, and my skills in this regard are only continuing to improve.”
Can you tell me about a time when you’ve had to settle a workplace dispute between yourself and a manager or colleague?
Explanation: Always keep in mind that one of the fundamental goals of any problem-solving question is to help a hiring manager gain a clearer sense of a candidate’s ability to work with others.
This question, in particular, is designed to give your interviewer a clearer sense of how well you’re able to communicate and compromise with your colleagues. With that in mind, you should be sure to answer this question in a way that will display a willingness to be fair, empathetic, and respectful to your teammates.
“I recall an incident in my last job in which one of my colleagues felt that I had not provided him with adequate resources to enable him to be successful in a particular project. I was acting as team leader for that particular project, and so it was my responsibility to ensure that everyone in my team was equipped for success. Unfortunately, I had to learn through the proverbial grapevine that this particular colleague bore some ill will toward me. I’ve never been one to participate in idle gossip, and so I decided to speak with this person so that we could begin to find a solution and address his grievances. So I crafted an email to him asking him if he would be interested in joining me for coffee the following day. He accepted the invitation, and during our coffee break, we were able to talk at length about the damage that he felt had been done to him. We devised a mutually agreeable solution on the spot. From then on, we had no significant problems between us.”
Are there any steps that you’ll regularly take during the early stages of a new project to ensure that you’ll be able to manage unexpected problems that occur down the road?
Explanation: This question, above all, is designed to test your ability to plan ahead and mitigate risk. These are both essential qualities that employers typically seek out in job candidates, particularly those who are being vetted for a management or leadership role.
When you’re answering this question, it’s important to emphasize your ability to look ahead towards the future and anticipate potential risks. As with the previous examples that we’ve already examined, the best way to communicate this ability is to provide your interviewer with a concrete example from your previous work history.
“I live my life – and I conduct my work – according to a single, incredibly important motto: “Failing to prepare is preparing to fail.” I’m a firm believer, in other words, of the primacy of careful planning. Without it, projects are almost always doomed to fail. “In my previous role as a marketing content writer with a major software company, I strived to apply this motto to my work every single day. “Here’s an example: About a year ago, I was responsible for overseeing and launching a new content strategy aimed at driving up consumer engagement. From the very outset, I understood that that particular project could be run off the rails if we did not take into account a considerable number of factors. “I won’t bore you with all of the nitty-gritty details, but the point is that this was a particularly sensitive project that required diligent and careful risk assessment. “Having realized that, my colleagues and I devised a comprehensive and flexible strategy for managing many risks that we envisioned would be awaiting us down the road. That initial step – looking ahead towards the future and mapping out the terrain of potential hazards – proved to be an essential measure for the success of the project.”
Do you consider your problem-solving capabilities to be above average?
Explanation: Hiring managers are always on the lookout for job candidates that stand out from the crowd. It’s even better when they can find a job candidate who knows that they stand out and who expresses that knowledge by being confident in their abilities.
At the same time, it’s never in a job candidate’s best interests to come across as egotistical or arrogant. When you’re responding to a question like this (that is, a question that’s focused on your ability to assess your own talents), it’s important to do your best to come across as self-assured but not pompous.
“Yes, all things considered, I would say that I have a talent for risk assessment, problem-solving, and risk mitigation. “That said, I can’t claim complete ownership over these abilities. In most cases, my demonstrated success in managing risk and solving problems in the workplace can be attributed at least as much to my team members as it can to me. For me to be able to be a successful problem-solver, it helps to be surrounded by colleagues whom I can trust.”
How would you describe your typical immediate reaction to unexpected challenges? Do you prefer to jump straight into the problem-solving process, or do you more commonly take some time to analyze and assess the problem before you dive in?
Explanation: This question is aimed at gauging your patience levels. This one can be a bit tricky because employers will sometimes prefer different responses – it all depends on the type of position and employer you’re applying for.
If you’re applying for a role in a quick-paced working environment that demands swift action , it will benefit you to describe your problem-solving strategy as unflinching and immediate.
If, on the other hand, the role you’re applying to does not demand such immediate action, it will probably be better to describe yourself as a more removed and relaxed problem solver.
But as always, you should never lie to your employer. Most of us will fall somewhere in the middle of these two types of problem solvers and will thereby have no difficulty painting ourselves honestly as one or the other.
However, if you’re definitely one type or the other, then you should describe yourself as such. This will make it much more likely that you’ll end up in a position that will be maximally rewarding both for you and for your employer.
“In most cases, my response to an unexpected problem will entirely depend on the nature of the problem at hand. If it demands immediate action, then I’ll dive right in without hesitation. “If, however, I determine that it would be more beneficial to take a step back and analyze the nature of the problem before we begin to meddle with it, then that’s exactly what I’ll do. “Generally speaking, I would say that I prefer the latter approach – that is, to take a step back and think things through before I begin to try to find a solution. In my experience, this makes it much easier for everyone involved to arrive at a practical and sustainable solution. “That said, I’m also perfectly capable of jumping straight into a problem if it demands immediate attention.”
Can you tell us about a time in which you had to explain a technically complicated subject to a client or customer? How did you approach that process, and how did it turn out?
Explanation: Strong communication skills are essential in the modern workplace. That means that employers tend to seek out job candidates that communicate well with their colleagues and individuals who have varying professional backgrounds and skill sets, including clients, customers, and third-party professionals.
“I recall an incident from many years ago – while I was working as a software engineer for a prominent robotics company – in which I found myself in the position of having to describe incredibly complex engineering details to a client. “This client had no prior experience in software engineering or artificial intelligence, so I had to relate this esoteric information more or less in layman terms. “Thankfully, I was able to employ some useful metaphors and analogies to communicate the information in a manner that this client could appreciate and understand. We went on to establish a successful collaborative partnership that flourished for four years.”
How would you rate your ability to work and succeed without direct supervision from your managers?
Explanation: Employers always tend to place a high value on job candidates who are self-motivated and can maintain high levels of productivity without constant supervision.
This is especially true now that the COVID-19 pandemic has suddenly made it necessary for so many millions of employers to transition to a remote workforce model. This question is designed to assess a candidate’s ability to stay focused and motivated while working remotely or without supervision.
“I’ve always considered myself – and my resume and references will support this – to be an exceptionally self-motivated individual, even when I’m working from home. “In fact, like many employees, I often find that my productivity levels tend to increase when I’m working remotely. I strive to set a positive example for my colleagues, even when we’re not all working under the same roof.”
Generally speaking, the best strategy for success in interviewing for a new job is doing your research beforehand. That means that you should be intimately familiar with the role, department, and company that you’re applying to before you step into the room (or log on to the Zoom meeting ) on the day of your interview.
When you preemptively take the time to carefully research the organization as a whole – and the responsibilities of the job opportunity in particular – you’ll minimize your chances of being caught off guard by an unexpectedly difficult question .
Still, there is only so much background information that you can uncover about an organization and a role before a job interview. No matter how carefully you prepare and how much background research you conduct, there are very likely going to be curveball questions during your job interview that you can’t predict.
In fact, many employers prefer to ask curveball questions (in addition to more run of the mill job interview questions) because they provide an insightful glimpse into a job candidate’s analytical thinking skills – not just their ability to memorize and recite answers to more common interview questions .
To that end, many hiring managers will ask job candidates to answer one or more problem-solving questions during a typical job interview. In contrast to traditional interview questions (such as: “Why do you think that you would be a good fit for this role?”
Or: “What do you consider to be your greatest professional achievement up to the current moment?”), problem-solving questions are specifically designed to assess a job candidate’s ability to think on their feet, handle real pressure, and find creative solutions to complex problems.
They’re also commonly referred to as analytical skills interview questions because they’re designed to gauge a candidate’s ability to make analytical decisions in real-time.
What are problem-solving skills?
Problem-solving skills include skills like research, communication, and decision making. Problem-solving skills allow for you to identify and solve problems effectively and efficiently. Research skills allow for you to identify the problem.
Communication skills allow for you to collaborate with others to come up with a plan to solve the problem. Decision making skills allow you to choose the right solution to the problem.
Why do interviewers ask problem-solving interview questions?
Interviewers ask problem-solving interview questions to see how candidate will approach and solve difficult situations. Interviewers want to see how you handle stress and uncertainty before hiring you for a position. Problem-solving is an important part of the everyday workday so they need to be sure you are capable of solving problems.
How do you solve a problem effectively?
To solve problems effectively you should first break the problem down and try different approaches. Breaking the problem up into different parts will help you have a better understanding and help you decide what your next step is going to be.
Once you see the different parts of the problem, trying different approaches to solve the problem can help you solve it faster. This will also help you determine the appropriate tools you need to solve the problem.
U.S. Department of Labor – Interview Tips
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Chris Kolmar is a co-founder of Zippia and the editor-in-chief of the Zippia career advice blog. He has hired over 50 people in his career, been hired five times, and wants to help you land your next job. His research has been featured on the New York Times, Thrillist, VOX, The Atlantic, and a host of local news. More recently, he's been quoted on USA Today, BusinessInsider, and CNBC.
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13 Problem-Solving Interview Questions to Assess a Candidate
Solving problems is something we do every day – whether it be at work or throughout our personal lives. However, what we often tend to forget about is that each one of us has different approaches to finding solutions and solving problems.
As cognitive skills, according to World Economic Forum, especially complex problem-solving in the workplace, are reportedly growing in importance – so is the urgency to be able to assess these skills in candidates. However, these skills cannot be easily assessed by looking at someone’s CV or motivation letter. This is precisely why many employers have turned to assessing problem solving abilities during the interview process.
In this blog, you will find out:
- 5 aspects of what make up problem solving ability
2 different types of problem solving styles
- 13 interview questions to determine problem-solving abilities
Disadvantages of assessing problem-solving in interviews
What is problem-solving skill/ability.
A problem can be defined as a gap between the current situation and the desired outcome. To fill this gap, problem-solving abilities are needed. Problem-solving in the workplace describes our way of thinking and the behaviour we engage in to obtain the desired outcome we seek, which could be attaining a certain goal or finding a satisfactory answer to our questions.
In the workplace, employees are expected to solve problems daily, ultimately ensuring the smooth functioning of the company. Therefore, problem-solving ability is one of the most important aspects which needs to be assessed prior to hiring. Problem-solving ability is associated with several sub-skills depending on the nature of the tasks involved in the profession. For instance, a successful business consultant might want to be equipped with good communication skills, empathy, and analytical thinking, all of which can be considered sub-skills of problem-solving ability.
However, the thing is that assessing whether someone’s problem solving skills are high or low during an interview process is quite challenging . That is why you should focus on asking questions that allow to understand what kind of a problem solving style the candidate possesses.
Individuals might adopt different problem-solving strategies (otherwise also called styles) based on the information available for the problem, the time they spend on planning before they take action, or whether they like to test multiple solutions before deciding on which solution is the optimal one. The main problem-solving styles can be classified as intuitive and systematic, but what are the differences between these two styles of problem-solving?
Individuals with more systematic problem-solving style
- They have a higher tendency to first identify the situation and analytically disentangle problems into several components, then logically evaluate the available alternatives and try to find a rule to solve problems.
- At the end of the process, they may also evaluate the consequence of the whole process to possibly adjust their strategy in the future. However, they might face difficulty when tackling ill-structured or defined problems, whereby they cannot generate a promising plan to act.
- They may also struggle under time constraints when intuitive decisions need to be made.
Individuals that prefer more intuitive problem-solving style
- They prefer relying on their “gut feeling” when solving problems. While they may rely on their intuition to assess facts, they also often take their feelings and non-verbal cues from their surrounding into consideration.
- They are open to quickly switching to alternative solutions when things do not work out. Using this strategy, they are good at dealing with uncertainty, ill-defined problems or novel problems with no real information.
- However, this kind of thinking pattern might work sometimes but can be less effective with more complex problems and end up being more time-consuming overall than a more systematic approach.
Why you should assess problem solving style not ability during interviews?
Problem-solving style refers to an individual’s preferred approach to solving problems, such as relying on intuition or using a systematic approach. This is a relatively stable trait that can be identified through the candidate’s responses to interview questions.
In contrast, problem-solving ability is a multifaceted skill that involves various cognitive processes, such as critical thinking, reasoning, and creativity. It can be difficult to assess a candidate’s problem-solving ability solely through interview questions because the interview setting may not provide a realistic representation of the types of problems the candidate would encounter on the job.
13 problem-solving interview questions to assess candidates
Let’s go through each question and discuss how candidates might answer and what that could indicate about their problem-solving abilities & style:
1.Can you describe a situation where you had to solve a problem without having all the necessary information at hand? How did you approach it?
A systematic problem solver might approach answering this question by explaining that they would find it important to try to gather as much information as possible before making a decision, while an intuitive problem solver might mention they would rely more on their instincts and prior experience to make a quick decision.
2. Let’s say you need to solve an unexpected problem but don’t have much information about it. What steps would you take to solve it efficiently?
A systematic problem solver might approach answering this question by breaking down the problem into smaller components and analyzing each one systematically, while an intuitive problem solver might rely more on their gut instincts and previous experience to quickly identify potential solutions.
If a candidate mentions that they would try to gather more information relating the potential causes of the problem to be able to grasp it better, that’s probably a better answer than just stating that they’d just decide to give up.
- Intuitive. “I would start by identifying the key issues and then brainstorming potential solutions. Once I had a few options, I would test them out and iterate until I found the best solution.”
- Systematic. “I would begin by gathering as much information as possible, researching the problem, and analyzing the data. Then, I would create a plan to address the problem and evaluate the effectiveness of the plan as I go along.”
3. How do you approach making decisions? Do you consider all alternatives before deciding on a solution?
When answering this question by explaining the importance of weighing all available options and then considering each one carefully before making a final decision, the candidate might have a more systematic approach to problem solving. Whereas, someone who has a more intuitive approach to solving problems might be answering the question by explaining they prefer to make decisions quickly and based on their instincts.
4. Can you walk me through a situation where you had to solve a problem? What steps did you take to address it?
The main goal of asking this question during the interview is to be able to determine what steps the person chooses to take when addressing the problem. For example, people who seem to plan less and act more intuitively will likely prefer a more trial-and-error, rather than an analytical approach to solving a problem.
A systematic problem solver might approach this question by breaking down the problem into smaller components and explaining each step in a logical order, while an intuitive problem solver might give a more general overview of how they solved the problem without going into as much detail when describing the situation.
- Intuitive. “There was a time when our team was behind on a project deadline, so I just started throwing out ideas for how we could catch up. We eventually settled on a strategy that worked and were able to finish the project on time.”
- Systematic. “When faced with a problem, I like to break it down into smaller components and analyze each part separately. Then, I create a plan of action and evaluate the effectiveness of the plan as I go along.”
5. Tell me about a time when you made a mistake. How did you handle it, and what did you learn from the experience?
When asking the candidate this question, you are looking for an honest, self-critical answer. The candidate should also be able to explain how making this mistake led them to become better at their job. Their answer to this question will serve as an indication of how they deal with challenging situations.
A systematic problem solver might approach this question by analyzing their mistake and coming up with a detailed plan to prevent it from happening again in the future, while an intuitive problem solver might reflect more on how they felt about the mistake and what they learned from the experience.
6. Describe a situation where you used a creative approach to overcome a problem.
Of course, when hiring new people, we want to hire those who take the most innovative and creative approaches to solving problems, as well as implementing these ideas in reality. In this case, you should be looking for an answer in which the candidate is focusing on explaining the creative approach they took, rather than the problem they were trying to solve. After all, you are looking for someone who can solve problems in a creative way rather than someone who can describe the problem.
An intuitive problem solver might excel in this question by describing a creative solution they came up with on the spot, while a systematic problem solver might struggle more with this question if they prefer to rely on logical and analytical approaches.
- Intuitive. “There was a time when we were running out of storage space at work, so I came up with the idea to repurpose some unused areas of the office as storage. It was a bit unconventional, but it worked.”
- Systematic. “When faced with a problem, I like to think outside the box and consider all possible options. I once used a design thinking approach to come up with a creative solution to a complex issue.”
7. Can you give an example of a time when you saw a potential problem as an opportunity? What did you do, and is there anything you would have done differently?
When answering the question, an intuitive problem solver might be better at recognizing potential opportunities in a problem, while a systematic problem solver might be more likely to focus on identifying and mitigating risks.
8. Imagine you’re in a stressful situation at work and you need to come up with a solution quickly. What would you do?
When asking this question to a candidate, you should be on the lookout for an answer that includes all of the following: an example story, placing their focus on how they handled the stressful situation. Basically – focusing more on actions rather than feelings, and highlighting what skills allowed them to deal with the situation successfully.
Candidates’ answers to this question will allow you to determine whether they are better and more inclined to think on their feet and come up with quick solutions (more intuitive). Or in contrast, more comfortable dealing with stressful situations if there are a set of guidelines or procedures to follow (more systematic).
- Intuitive. “In a stressful situation, I like to take a deep breath and then start brainstorming possible solutions. I find that staying calm and thinking creatively helps me come up with the best solution quickly.”
- Systematic. “When faced with a high-pressure situation, I like to rely on the processes and systems that I have in place. I also prioritize the most important tasks and delegate when possible to ensure that everything gets done efficiently.”
9. Are you someone who prefers to solve problems very quickly, or very carefully and slowly?
This question can give insights into whether the candidate is more of an intuitive or systematic problem solver, with intuitive problem solvers often preferring to act quickly and systematically preferring to take a more measured approach.
10. Tell me about a situation where you were faced with multiple problems. How did you choose which problem to prioritize?
This question has everything to do with how the candidate works under pressure. As well as the extent to which they are capable of prioritizing. When faced with multiple problems, the individual should be able to prioritize between tasks that are of high importance and those that are not as urgent.
When answering this question, the candidate should be able to walk you through their prioritization process and rationally argue their choices. While also placing focus on explaining their planning strategies to ensure that no problem is left unsolved.
A systematic problem solver might approach this question by analyzing each problem and weighing the potential impact of each one before making a decision, while an intuitive problem solver might rely more on their instincts and prioritize the problem that seems most urgent.
- Intuitive. “When faced with multiple problems, I prioritize the ones that have the most immediate impact or are the most pressing. I also try to tackle the problems that I feel most confident in solving first.”
- Systematic. “I like to use a decision matrix to evaluate and prioritize multiple problems. I analyze each problem based on factors such as urgency, impact, and feasibility, and then choose the one that has the highest priority.”
11. How do you know when to solve a problem by yourself? And when to ask for help from someone else?
An intuitive problem solver might be more likely to trust their instincts and try to solve the problem on their own, while a systematic problem solver might be more willing to ask for help if they feel that the problem is outside of their area of expertise.
What you should be looking for in the answer to this question is someone’s ability to be able to gauge in which situations they should most definitely ask for help. And in contrast, in which situations it’s not really necessary. This way you will be able to tell whether this person is capable of solving a problem independently or is always asking for help even when it comes to the little things.
12. What do you do in a situation when you cannot seem to find the right solution to a problem?
An intuitive problem solver might be more likely to experiment with different solutions and try to think outside the box, while a systematic problem solver might be more likely to analyze the problem in greater detail and break it down into smaller components to identify potential solutions.
- Intuitive. “When I’m stuck on a problem, I like to step away from it for a bit and come back to it with fresh eyes. I also try to approach the problem from different angles and see if I can find a new perspective.”
- Systematic. “If I can’t find the right solution to a problem, I’ll go back to the data and information I have collected to see if there’s anything I missed. I’ll also consult with colleagues or experts in the field to get their input and ideas.”
13. How would you react when your manager tells you to think more before taking action?
Lastly, save the best for last – a question that will show to you how the candidate deals with feedback provided about the process of solving a problem and the solution itself.
A systematic problem solver might take this feedback as an opportunity to slow down and approach problems more carefully, while an intuitive problem solver might perceive this as a constraint.
In summary, the answers to these questions can provide insights into a candidate’s problem-solving style. While there isn’t necessarily a “right” or “wrong” style, understanding how a candidate approaches problem-solving can help employers identify individuals who are well-suited for different roles and environments.
Interviews are often perceived as the ultimate gateway to finding the perfect candidate, however, in reality, it’s littered with many pitfalls:
- Interviewer bias. The interview process is where our unconscious biases tend to cloud our judgement of a candidate the most.
- Interviews are often inconsistent. Using solely interview questions to assess problem-solving skills allows for no standardized way of presenting results as each candidate you interview will give a different answer to your question and it will become gradually more difficult to compare candidates with each other.
- Interview answers are easily manipulable. Candidates can prepare their answers to these questions, thus leading to unreliable assessment from your side on whether they have the problem-solving skills you are looking for.
- Extremely time-consuming & costly. You’ll probably end up interviewing more people than you should. Just imagine all the time spent interviewing, talking, asking questions, taking notes of the candidate’s answers, and then later on comparing them.
Read more about the 6 downsides assessing candidates problem-solving abilities solely through interviews.
What interview structure allows to best assess candidates problem-solving skills?
According to research , a structured interview is more reliable, valid, and less discriminatory than an unstructured interview. When you structure your interview process, the assessment of personality becomes a designed process. Every question should be carefully chosen to assess the candidate’s skills and knowledge.
Guide: How to set up a structured interview process
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