Every day we face a ton of issues — from a glitching app to a misplaced important document. Some are tiny ones and rarely have an impact on our work. Other events tinder to push a manageable problem into a likely crisis (unless you take decisive action).
So it follows that companies are looking for people with strong problem-solving abilities — candidates with strong analytical, critical thinking, and conceptual skills. You need to demonstrate these on your resume and during the job interview to land a solid job.
In this post, we provide a set of common problem-solving interview questions employers use to screen candidates (with sample answers included!). But first, let’s recap the basics!
What Are Some Examples of Problem-Solving Skills?
As the name implies, problem-solving skills indicate your ability to effectively resolve different issues and move past various bottlenecks in your day-to-day work. Essentially, it’s a collection of conceptual and critical thinking skills, indicative of your strong cognitive abilities, creative thinking, and proactive approach to work.
Common examples of problem-solving skills include:
- Data analysis
- Issue resolution
- Conflict management
- Strategic thinking
- Process optimization
- Deductive reasoning
- Strategic planning
- Industry analysis
How Do You Show Problem-Solving Skills in an Interview?
Problem-solving skills are rather hands-on. They indicate your ability to tackle an array of challenges in different situations. Therefore, the best way to show your strong problem-solving skills in a job interview is by using contextual examples. When answering interview problem-solving questions, first describe the general situation. Next, talk about the task (problem) you’ve had. Then explain what actions you took. Finally, conclude with an outcome (result) gained.
The above approach is called the STAR interview method. It’s a highly effective approach to excelling at different types of problem-solving interview questions that we are covering in this post!
6 Problem-Solving Interview Questions and Answers Examples
The universe of problem-solving interview questions can be conditionally broken down to:
- Situational interview questions — such as when the interviewer asks you to explain your response/actions in a certain setting.
- Case challenges (studies) — context-rich, modeled business scenarios you are given some time to review and respond to.
- Tests and exercises — shorter puzzles or quiz-style questions you need to complete within a certain time.
Some interviewers also like to throw in a couple of weird interview questions, aimed at challenging your on-the-stop problem-solving skills. For example, Jeff Bezos once asked an interviewee to try counting the number of windows in Seattle.
What stays the same in every case is the purpose of such questions: An interviewer aims to understand your thought process and logical reasoning abilities.
To help you successfully do just that, we’ve made a list of common problem-solving skills interview questions with sample answers you can use to model your responses.
1. Tell Me About The Time You’ve Faced a Major Challenge At Work
This question can be more context-specific. For example, the interviewer may prompt you to talk about meeting an unrealistic deadline, resolving a professional mishap, or dealing with another type of out-of-the-ordinary work situation. In every case, you must not just describe the problem, but clearly communicate what you’ve done to resolve it.
“My sales team spent 6+ months preparing for a major demo for this manufacturing client. It was an important strategic deal for Acme Inc. Two days before the presentation, the main Account Manager fell sick with COVID-19 and couldn’t do the meeting. Since I worked closely with him, I volunteered to moderate the presentation and facilitate the discussion. We’ve notified the client team about the changes and I’ve invited their management to a quick lunch a day ahead to meet up and “break the ice”. Then helped conduct the negotiation. We’ve successfully closed this deal.”
2. What’s Your Standard Approach to Resolving Blockers at Work?
The answer to this problem-solving interview question will be somewhat different for regular employees and managers.
- As a regular employee, you should focus your reply on your personal time-management and organizational skills.
- As a manager, you should lean more towards your administrative and leadership skills.
Below is a sample answer from a manager’s perspective:
“I’d describe my management style as a facilitator. As a UX Design Lead, I spend a lot of time prioritizing our backlog in line with the company-wide product roadmap and collecting regular input from other teams. Based on it, I set different levels of priorities for design tasks and map dependencies between them. Then I communicate the main priorities in this Sprint to the design team every 2-3 months. Weekly, I go through the work backlog to analyze progress and reach out to individual members on status reports. If the person is stuck, I try to figure out the root cause for that first, then get back to them with different suggestions on how to move forward.”
3. You Have Two Vendors: One Has Lower Prices, Another Proposes Faster Shipping. Which One Would You Pick?
Many interviewers like to pose short case study-based questions as a prompt for you to describe your approaches to decision-making. In most cases, there’s no right or wrong answer to them. Instead, the interviewer wants to understand how you access different options when making operational calls. Give them a walkthrough.
“I’d check two metrics first — planned deadlines and current budgets. If a later delivery doesn’t affect the manufacturing schedule, I’d go with a cheaper vendor. If the materials are time-sensitive, I’d approach the CFO regarding the matter and explain why paying a higher supply price is more favorable than risking manufacturing delays (and bearing direct and indirect costs of that). To make my case, I’d use ERP data and a business intelligence app to model different scenarios.”
4. You Need to Proceed with the Project Execution, But You Lack Important Data. What Are Your Next Steps?
For most companies, the current economic realities are rather volatile — from ongoing supply chain disruptions to rapid changes in consumer preferences. Thus, operational decisions have to be taken fast, often with incomplete data.
By posing this question, the interviewer likely wants to assess your general business acumen skills, as well as approaches to strategic planning.
“As a marketing manager, I fully understand that good data may not always be available. In such cases, I try to generate my own data and test assumptions. First, I try to split test different types of creative and run them by a sample target audience group. Based on the response rates (e.g. average click-through rates), I then select the main creative to use in the campaign.”
5. A Customer Asks for a Certain Product, But It’s Out of Stock. They are Unhappy. How Would You Respond?
For customer-facing roles, you may be probed with a problem-solving interview question presenting some sort of a customer issue. Such questions are common in hospitality, restaurant, and retail industries among others.
Your goal is to showcase your stellar customer service skills and ability to manage potential conflicts effectively.
“First, I’d ask the customer if they’d be open to some alternatives — and provide a range of similar products we currently have in stock. If neither works for them, I’d look up the restock information and offer to put them on a notification list. Or, if they are open to that — suggest placing a backorder. If they are still not happy, I’d politely ask them to wait for a moment and approach the manager about the possibility of issuing a discount for them or offering free expedited shipping once the product is back in stock.”
6. You Are Last to Leave the Office, But Can’t Find Your Keys. It’s Late and No One Else is Around. What Would You Do?
This is another sample situational interview question, prompting you to talk about your approaches to responding to unexpected circumstances. The other party wants to understand whether you’d be following the protocol or acting erratic (or unprofessional).
Here’s how you should answer this question:
“Well, I’d first re-check if I haven’t misplaced my keys and search all my belongings. If I truly don’t have them on me, I can’t leave the office without properly securing it, right? So I’d try calling my manager to see if they could help — or another employee, whom I know to leave close by. I believe one of them would be able to come and help me out or direct me towards the right HR person to contact about this.”
Even More Problem-Solving Interview Questions To Practice!
- You’ve hatched a detailed plan, but there were some last-moment changes. How would you respond?
- Your colleague proposes an alternative plan. The team can’t decide between the two ideas. What would you do?
- How do you usually handle workplace conflict between employees of the same level?
- What is your approach to collecting data before the project kick-off? Please describe your usual steps.
- What was the biggest professional problem you’ve managed to successfully overcome? How did you tackle it?
- A senior colleague is looking for your recommendation on X. How would you prepare it?
- You and your team are stuck in a traffic jam. You are running late to an important client meeting. What would you do?
- What would you do if you got stuck on an office balcony without your cell phone?
- During a regular equipment inspection, you’ve found that one machine is behaving oddly. How will you do the troubleshooting?
- Can you count how many tennis balls would fit into this room?
- What does “being resourceful” mean for you?
- Could you exemplify your “self-sufficiency” abilities? How do you ensure high personal performance?
How to Approach Problem-Solving Interview Questions?
When presented with any type of a problem-solving interview question your main goal is to narrate how you’ll use your analytics, situational analysis, and critical-thinking skills to best navigate the matter. You should always clearly communicate what you plan to do and why. Then highlight the outcome you’d aim to achieve.
Remember: the interviewer doesn’t expect you to come up with a highly elaborate multi-step roadmap. They just want to hear how you’ve solved similar issues in the past and how you might react to new challenges!