Problem-Solving Interview Questions

Before the iPhone, “touch phones” relied on a stylus for navigation. The stylus had several drawbacks that hampered usability and made them unpopular. However, no mobile company could find a better solution, until Apple introduced the iPhone.

“Who wants a stylus? We are going to use the best-pointing device in the world that we are all born with. We are born with ten of them; we are gonna use our fingers.” This quote by Steve Jobs highlights his innovative approach and the importance of thinking outside the box when seeking a solution. And this new approach changed the way smartphones and tablets have been used ever since.

Employees face challenges of different scales every day in the workplace. Thus, employers are always on the lookout for individuals with strong problem-solving skills. Problem-solving questions help us understand how candidates:

  • Approach complex problems
  • Uncover the source of any issue by analysing data
  • Excel in unpredictable and challenging conditions
  • Behave when their views are questioned

As such, recruiters often ask candidates a variety of problem-solving interview questions. Here are some common problem-solving interview questions that recruiters can use:

Describe a time when you faced a difficult situation in the workplace and how you solved it.

This question helps recruiters get a detailed insight into a candidate’s problem-solving skills. The interviewer wants to hear about the steps the candidate took to find a solution and how well they solved the problem. A real-life example provides a vivid picture of the candidate’s problem-solving abilities.

Provide an example of when you had to solve a problem without any help from the manager or higher authorities. How did you do? What was the outcome?

This question helps the interviewer assess a candidate’s ability to take charge and come up with solutions independently. It also shows if a candidate can take responsibility for their actions and handle difficult situations without seeking help from external sources.

Tell me about a time you failed to solve a problem.

This question helps gauge how a candidate handles failure and if they learn from their mistakes. The interviewer will be looking for the candidate to talk about the steps they took and what they learned from the experience.

How do you know whether it would be best to find a solution yourself or seek outside help?

This question helps assess a candidate’s decision-making skills. A good answer would show that the candidate can weigh the pros and cons of each option and make an informed decision. The answer should include instances where the candidate has been able to identify when it is best to seek help from external sources.

How do you communicate a complex problem to other people in the organization?

This question helps evaluate a candidate’s communication skills. A good answer would demonstrate that the candidate can explain complex issues simply and concisely. It should also show that the candidate can tailor their message for the audience.

What if you can’t find a solution on your own?

This question helps recruiters understand how a candidate approaches difficult problems. A good answer should show that the candidate is willing to seek help from other people and resources to find a solution. It should also demonstrate that the candidate is open to trying different approaches to find an answer.

What makes a great problem-solver?

This question helps recruiters understand a candidate’s views on problem-solving. A good answer should indicate qualities such as being able to think analytically, being creative in finding solutions, and taking risks when necessary. It should also demonstrate an understanding of the importance of staying organised and efficient when solving problems.

When faced with a problem, do you jump right in and try to solve it, or do you take your time and analyse the situation first?

This question helps assess a candidate’s ability to strategise. A good answer should demonstrate that the candidate can assess a situation and determine the best approach for solving it. The interviewee should be able to explain what steps they take to come up with an effective solution.

As Albert Einstien famously said, “If I had an hour to solve a problem, I’d spend 55 minutes thinking about the problem and 5 minutes thinking about solutions.”

What if a team member comes up with a solution you don’t agree with?

This question helps recruiters understand how a candidate interacts with team members when solving a problem. It demonstrates the ability to be collaborative and open-minded when faced with different opinions. A good answer should show that the candidate can listen to other people’s ideas and make an informed decision without disregarding the opinions of others.

How do you stay motivated when faced with a particularly difficult problem?

Motivation is key when it comes to problem-solving. This question helps recruiters understand the candidate’s ability to stay motivated and focused when faced with challenging problems. So, the interviewer will be looking for an answer that shows a commitment to finding creative solutions and staying focused, even when the going gets tough. A good answer should demonstrate that the candidate can stay positive and use any setbacks as opportunities for growth.

Describe a moment when your company gave you an assignment, but you lacked the required expertise to finish it.

This question helps evaluate a candidate’s problem-solving skills in situations where they lack the necessary knowledge or experience. The answer should show that the candidate can identify gaps in their knowledge and take steps to fill them.

This could include researching online, seeking advice from mentors or colleagues, or even taking courses or attending workshops to gain new skills. Most importantly, the candidate should demonstrate the ability to apply new information to complete a task.

How do you ensure that a problem doesn’t happen again?

This question helps recruiters understand how the candidate identifies potential issues before they arise. A good answer should demonstrate that the candidate can analyse the situation, identify the root cause of the problem, and create a plan of action. This could include creating systems, processes, or protocols that prevent the same problem from recurring.

How do you handle unexpected, high-priority multiple problems simultaneously?

This question helps recruiters identify how a candidate can prioritise and manage unexpected, high-priority problems. A good answer should demonstrate an ability to assess the situation and prioritise tasks accordingly. The candidate should be able to explain their decision-making process and how they manage competing priorities to solve the problem effectively.

Describe a project that you solved with minimal resources or guidance.

This question helps recruiters understand how the candidate solves problems independently. A good answer should demonstrate an ability to manage limited resources and come up with creative solutions. The candidate should be able to explain the steps they took and how they were able to stay motivated despite having limited resources or guidance.

How do you measure success when it comes to problem-solving?

Finally, this question helps recruiters understand how the candidate evaluates progress and measures success when it comes to problem-solving. A good answer should demonstrate an understanding of the importance of setting realistic goals and tracking progress against them. The candidate should be able to explain how they measure success and the steps they take to ensure that goals are met.

Overall, these questions help recruiters identify candidates who can think creatively, stay motivated, and make informed decisions when faced with difficult problems. By assessing the candidate’s problem-solving skills and ability to use limited resources, recruiters can identify the best fit for any job.

Tips for assessing problem-solving skills

When assessing candidates for problem-solving skills, here are some tips we recommend to ensure that you get the best information from your interviews:

  • Ask open-ended questions that allow candidates to explain their thought process
  • Listen for answers that demonstrate the candidate’s willingness to take risks, think outside the box, and ask for help when needed
  • Pay attention to how candidates communicate their ideas and solutions
  • Encourage candidates to provide examples of how they have solved difficult problems in the past
  • Observe their body language and pick up non-verbal cues that may indicate how the candidate is feeling about their answers
  • Provide hypothetical scenarios for the candidate to solve
  • Use follow-up questions to explore their thought process even further

These tips can help us better understand the candidate’s problem-solving abilities, allowing us to make an informed decision when hiring for the role.

Conclusion

Good problem-solving skills are essential to any organization. Thus, it is important to ensure that we select the right person for each position.

We hope this article has helped you understand the importance of assessing problem-solving skills when interviewing candidates. Asking the right questions and being mindful of body language and non-verbal cues can help us identify the right candidate for any job.

You can check out our list of interview questions to assess other skills and traits that can help you find the best candidate for a position.

Good luck with your hiring process!

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