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Problem Solving Interview Questions

To help you prepare for your job interview, here are 25 interview questions that will test your problem solving ability.

Problem Solving was written by and updated on April 6th, 2018. Learn more here.

Question 1 of 25

Tell me about the most challenging problem you have encountered in your professional career.

How to Answer

Everyone has had their share of challenges in their career. The interviewer knows that you are not perfect; however, they need to know that you can professionally overcome work-related roadblocks. Maybe you had a significant project that almost went sideways. Perhaps you had a conflict in the workplace that you could have handled more professionally. Explain your approach to resolving the issue and be sure to highlight the steps you took to reach that resolution.

Written by Rachelle Enns

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List of 25 Problem Solving Interview Questions & Answers

  • 1.

    Tell me about the most challenging problem you have encountered in your professional career.

      How to Answer

      Everyone has had their share of challenges in their career. The interviewer knows that you are not perfect; however, they need to know that you can professionally overcome work-related roadblocks. Maybe you had a significant project that almost went sideways. Perhaps you had a conflict in the workplace that you could have handled more professionally. Explain your approach to resolving the issue and be sure to highlight the steps you took to reach that resolution.

      Written by Rachelle Enns

      1st Answer Example

      "The most challenging problem I have encountered in my professional career was with my most recent employer. I had an incredibly important project that made up the majority of my annual budget. The client was challenging to work with as he was rarely available for comment, due to extensive international travel. I needed this deal to work out so, for the 6-month span of the project, I made my work hours reflect his time zone. This shift allowed us to communicate via Skype on a daily basis which meant a fair share of late night and early morning calls for me! It was a sacrifice, and I would do it again. I understand that sacrifices need to happen to gain successful outcomes."

      Written by Rachelle Enns

      Admin

      "The most challenging problem that I encountered in my career was when my former company experienced a major merger. It was a lot to adjust to but, after some time, I was able to get a good pace again."

      Written by Rachelle Enns

      Manager

      "The most significant challenge I have faced as a manager would be the labor dispute and lockout that our company went through in 2016. Many of our permanent employees are union based. We could not come to a new collective agreement, and so I ended up having to utilize a lot of temporary staffing options during that time. It was a lot of re-training, and strain on the company culture overall."

      Written by Rachelle Enns

      Marketing

      "The biggest challenge that I face as a marketer, and it's an ongoing challenge, is to manage my expectations on projects. I lean on the side of perfectionism and often put more pressure on myself than even a client would. The positive side of this; however, is that I always deliver an immaculate product."

      Written by Rachelle Enns

      Retail

      "I'd say the most challenging problem I have encountered was when my manager suddenly resigned. I was then in charge of the department. Now, I was mostly ready for the responsibility, as the assistant manager in the department. However, I had never completed inventory reconciliation, and on the first day, this was my first task. I was asked to give projections so that our buyer could stock us for next season. I had no idea what to do, so I researched until I came up with the answer. Also, other managers in other departments helped to guide me. Ultimately the work paid off because our next season projections were perfect. Since then, I've learned more effective ways to do our inventory management and projections, but I don't think I've ever learned anything as quickly as I did that week."

      Written by Rachelle Enns

      Sales

      "The most challenging problem I've encountered is the misstep of taking my current role. The initial pitch to me on company growth and my duties is not my reality. This factor has been a challenge to my career growth. I know that even if it was a misstep, there are lessons to be learned, and I approach each day with interest and a positive attitude to try to learn those lessons and grow professionally."

      Written by Rachelle Enns

      Teacher

      "The most significant challenge I've faced is nearly having my department eliminated due to budgetary cuts. I was lucky to have an active parent community rally behind me and the department which saved the program, in the end. The other challenge that comes to mind was getting back into the swing of teaching after taking a few years off to be home with my children. There was a learning curve on getting up to speed with curriculum and the lesson planning, but my love for teaching made it all that much easier!"

      Written by Rachelle Enns

  • 2.

    In your opinion, what makes you a great problem solver?

      How to Answer

      Employers want to know that you have a methodical approach to problem-solving. Consider the skills and qualities that help you successfully face problems. Perhaps you have a keen eye for detail. Maybe you can see opportunity when others can only focus on the issue. Share your strengths as a problem solver, and your ability to come up with innovative solutions.

      Strong problem solvers are:

      - Systematic thinkers
      - Open minded
      - Okay with being wrong sometimes
      - Always researching and exploring
      - Able to identify the core problem
      - Able to reverse engineer a challenge to avoid future issues
      - Able to come up with multiple avenues that work well for all stakeholders
      - Are do-ers and not worriers

      Written by Rachelle Enns on June 17th, 2018

      1st Answer Example

      "I am a great problem solver because I can compartmentalize all aspects of a problem before studying it. I also like to bring more experienced team members in to add to the solution. I will never try to be a hero and solve a complicated problem without tapping into the resources around me."

      Written by Rachelle Enns on June 17th, 2018

      Admin

      "What makes me a great problem solver is that I have a keen ability to research, read, and explore so that my recommendations are based on fact and study rather than guesses."

      Written by Rachelle Enns

      Manager

      "I have been told that I am an excellent problem solver and I believe this is because I have a bit of an engineering mind. I can take the issue, work backward to solve it, and then use that resolution as a basis for avoiding future issues to come up. I am also a big-picture thinker which allows me to come up with various resolutions per problem."

      Written by Rachelle Enns

      Marketing

      "I am a great problem solver because I do not allow stress to cloud my judgment and mute my creativity. I am a keen observer with a great memory which allows me to recall unique solutions or ideas."

      Written by Rachelle Enns

      Retail

      "I am a great problem solver because I draw from the experience of others, whether solicited advice or through my prior observations and then I improve upon that, where possible. My memory and years in the industry have exposed me to many types of situations and problems, so I feel I have a vast amount of experience to draw from, allowing me to be creative and effective in the way I approach any challenge. Not to mention, I'm not afraid to ask for help or advice along the way. I know that I don't know everything, so I like to ask for input when I feel I am not fully equipped to do the job alone. There is no shame in that."

      Written by Rachelle Enns

      Sales

      "I believe I am a great problem solver because I am sure to gather as many facts as possible, I look at the problem and its potential solutions from multiple angles, and I am not afraid to make a creative decision, that might seem off the beaten path."

      Written by Rachelle Enns

      Teacher

      "I consider myself a great problem solver and believe my skills are in my emotional intelligence. I can be really in tune with the tone of the group, who is feeling what, and how they are each best reached. This skill applies to both adults and children, so it is beneficial both inside of the classroom and out! By being aware of what is at the heart of the matter and how each person needs his or her needs met, I'm able to accomplish a lot while avoiding many common landmines."

      Written by Rachelle Enns

      Community Answer

      "My analytical skills from the reconciliations point of view, once that I am familiar with an account, I am able to spot any differences and say which is the reason for that difference. And I am able to give the instructions to solve the problem."

      Written by an Anonymous User

      Cindy Ramsey

      Our Professional Interview Coach
      Cindy Ramsey Reviewed the Above Answer

      Great that you are applying your real-world, industry-specific experience as you answer this question. You can make it even better by giving a concrete example.

  • 3.

    Tell me about a time when you discovered a problem and went beyond regular expectations to fix it.

      How to Answer

      Your innovative approach may be exciting and unconventional, but can you implement it realistically? Ideas are one thing, but putting them into practice and providing measurable results is where you can add genuine value. Think of a time you worked long hours and made sacrifices to overcome a challenging problem. Demonstrate your impact and the significance of your solution.

      Written by Rachelle Enns

      1st Answer Example

      "During our busy tax season I noticed that one of our primary spreadsheets was not formulated properly. I am not an expert with Excel; however, with everyone being in peak stress mode - I decided it was something I could learn on my own. I watched a few online tutorials and ended up resolving the issue without the need to involve the rest of the team."

      Written by Rachelle Enns

      Admin

      "When I worked as an admin assistant at my last job, I was in charge of purchasing office and kitchen supplies. I noticed we had been spending quite a bit of money on paper and plastic-ware. I compared the cost of disposables to the cost of buying permanent dishes and utensils for the kitchen. It turned out we were able to save the company hundreds of dollars each year by simply investing in dishes and silverware!"

      Written by Rachelle Enns

      Manager

      "I had a staff member who was stealing supplies. Rumors were going around that she was dishonest; however, there was no evidence. I carefully waited and, after two days, the rumored infractions were caught on camera. At that point, I was able to terminate her employment. I went beyond regular expectations by gaining evidence before terminating her. I knew this would prevent a human resources issue down the road, and it also saved my company from having to pay this employee any severance pay."

      Written by Rachelle Enns

      Marketing

      "Our agency performed a major client launch last month that tested well. Upon implementing, I noticed that their new website was not functioning correctly. I wanted our client to be happy with our services, so I worked late into the night with our IT team to troubleshoot the site and ensure that by morning, there were no more kinks to work out. In the end, our client was thrilled with my dedication, and they ended up writing an amazing review online and even mentioned me in the review!"

      Written by Rachelle Enns

      Retail

      "I managed a coat department previously and, depending on the season; these coats were very high ticket items. I had two salespeople who were consistently battling for the sale. It was unbecoming, to say the least, and impacted the department's morale. To incentivize everyone to go for the sale, I made a sales contest on non-coat merchandise. The more items they upsold, despite being a smaller sale, the more tickets they received towards various other compensation incentives like gift cards or extra time for breaks. The other sales reps felt reinvigorated, and it pushed my two coat-fighters to step outside of their perceived territory."

      Written by Rachelle Enns

      Sales

      "In my first role, there was a regular lane of shipments that was difficult to cover. The issue didn't cause us to fall short as far as the customer was concerned. However, we were in danger of potentially having the customer poached due to waiting times. After several late nights attempting to come through for a key customer, I got tired of running in a hamster wheel. I decided to find some carriers that could assist. Long story short, after staying late many days and making some creative calls to find a backhaul, I was able to secure a new carrier, at a great rate, and keep the customer happy."

      Written by Rachelle Enns

      Teacher

      "When I was reworking lesson plans, I noticed that there was a gap between the programs and some policy. So, rather than hand them back to the team to fix, I took it upon myself to write the remaining lessons and tweak the existing ones to make them cohesive. It took about seven days of working on my own time, but it was worth it when I saw the lessons in action during the school year."

      Written by Rachelle Enns

  • 4.

    Tell me about a time where you had to analyze a set of data and then make a recommendation.

      How to Answer

      Talk about your attention to detail and sharp focus when it comes to data and statistics. You may not consider yourself a highly analytical person. However, this is a skill that you have indeed exercised in the past.

      Written by Rachelle Enns

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  • 5.

    When a problem requires a quick solution, how do you respond?

      How to Answer

      When it comes to complex problem solving, decisions are not always readily reached. It takes practice, experience, and confidence to learn what sorts of decisions yield the best results. Walk the interviewer through your process when it comes to making quick decisions. Do you rely on past experiences? Perhaps you go with a gut feeling. Maybe you have read case studies that you lean on in these instances.

      Problems that require you to act quickly can be emergency situations such as knowing where the fire extinguisher is and grabbing it fast enough to put out a small grease fire in the company kitchen. Other quick decisions could be if you are asked to take on a new responsibility and are only given five minutes to decide if it's something you are prepared to take on. Going with your gut is a skill, and the more you learn to trust your intuition, the easier it becomes to make these types of decisions. Demonstrate that you are confident and able to react swiftly when the need arises.

      Written by Rachelle Enns

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  • 6.

    When it comes to problem solving, are you a strong collaborator?

      How to Answer

      Show off your teamwork skills by giving an example of when you successfully collaborated with your coworkers. Be sure to demonstrate how you communicated your thoughts or opinions. Highlight how your contributions, or ability to ask for help, made a difference. Explain how you are a team player who enjoys working alongside others.

      Written by Rachelle Enns

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  • 7.

    When you cannot seem to find the right solution to a problem, how do you deal?

      How to Answer

      Sometimes, problems just seem too impossible to solve, at first glance. Your creative problem-solving skills may be at a stand-still from time to time, and the interviewer wants to know how you deal with that.

      Taking a brief break and stepping away from the problem can help you to see things from a different perspective. When you are in a rut, you can waste time plugging away at something, resulting in a decline in productivity. Discuss with the interviewer how you handle being in a rut like this.

      Written by Rachelle Enns

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  • 8.

    When faced with a problem, how do you decide on the best solution?

      How to Answer

      There may be more than one solution to a problem, and the interviewer would like to know how you make a final choice when you're in a situation like that. Effectively comparing and contrasting, or weighing the pros and cons, is essential when choosing the best way to solve a problem. The interviewer wants to see that you are capable when it comes to calculating risk vs. reward. Think about a time when you have compared the risk and reward to a potential solution.

      Written by Rachelle Enns

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  • 9.

    How do you prioritize multiple projects when they all seem equally important?

      How to Answer

      Prioritizing is a skill that requires practice. There are many approaches you can take. Here are some suggestions:

      1) Make a list. By thinking through and writing down each item that needs completion, you can see it on paper.
      2) Mark what is urgent or essential. Take into account deadlines and meetings.
      3) Order each task based on effort and estimated value.
      4) Consider due dates and how long it will take to do each item.

      When answering this question, show the interviewer that you have a system in place that helps you to think through what needs to happen, and when. The better you can prioritize, the more productive you will be, making you an asset to their company!

      Written by Rachelle Enns

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  • 10.

    Tell me about a recurring problem that you run into in your current position, and how you handle it.

      How to Answer

      The interviewer wants to see that, despite this recurring problem, you take action to find a resolution. They want to make sure they aren't hiring a chronic complainer who is easily defeated! Be careful to avoid complaining about your current (or most recent) position. A recurring problem could be a glitchy software system, an employee who is regularly late, or even an unpredictable work schedule. Remain optimistic in your reply!

      Written by Rachelle Enns

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  • 11.

    Tell me about a time when you failed to solve a problem. How did you overcome the failure?

      How to Answer

      'Success is bouncing from failure to failure without losing momentum,' or so they say. Your resilience shines through when you can learn from your mistakes and keep going. Give an example that shows you can accept fault and learn from challenging experiences.

      Written by Rachelle Enns on June 17th, 2018

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  • 12.

    What sources do you look to when you need to solve a complicated problem?

      How to Answer

      The interviewer wants to know that you can think outside the box, or even ask for help when you are stuck on a complicated problem. Maybe you look to a mentor or boss for advice. Perhaps you have handbooks, manuals and systems you turn to for help. Offer some relevant examples based on your industry. If you work in the medical field, you may turn to textbooks, online research, colleagues or even patient's history to find the right solution. If you work in customer service, you may ask the customer what they need to find the best way to solve the problem. Show the interviewer that you are knowledgeable and equipped to handle these types of scenarios.

      Written by Rachelle Enns

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  • 13.

    After you implement a solution to a problem, how do you test the effectiveness of that solution?

      How to Answer

      The interviewer wants to see that you have strong follow-through skills and the ability to use data and analytics to support your decisions. The only way to test the effectiveness of a new solution is to keep a close eye on the immediate, and often longer-term, results!

      Depending on the situation, you can use data, run reports, and compare/contrast your findings. If you have records of the data before your problem-solving solution, you can track the results of your new solution and analyze in a month, or beyond.

      It can take time to see the results, so having a method for measuring them is essential. Give an example of a time you implemented a solution and found a way to measure the results to check its efficacy.

      Written by Rachelle Enns

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  • 14.

    When a major problem arises, what is your first reaction?

      How to Answer

      The interviewer wants to know if your reactions to problems reflect maturity and professionalism. How you react will significantly determine how you fit with their existing team.

      Perhaps your computer crashes, and you realize you may have just lost all of your hard work. Or maybe you are limited on time and have a deadline rapidly approaching. Demonstrate to the interviewer that you take a very methodical approach to problem-solving, rather than reacting impulsively when a problem occurs.

      Written by Rachelle Enns on June 17th, 2018

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  • 15.

    What steps do you take when you have to make an immediate decision without all the relevant information?

      How to Answer

      Sometimes we have to make decisions without all of the pertinent information at our fingertips. The interviewer wants to know that you are capable of taking educated guesses and that you are confident enough in your abilities that you can make a firm decision without all pieces of the problem being present.

      Written by Rachelle Enns

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  • 16.

    How do you deal with distracting coworkers who stand in the way of your progress?

      How to Answer

      Even the most well-meaning coworkers can distract you from getting things done at work from time to time. The funny and entertaining coworkers who like to chat online and send YouTube videos are often the ones who can get in the way of your productivity if you let them. How do you respond? Show off your ability to set professional boundaries, when needed.

      Written by Rachelle Enns

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  • 17.

    Tell me about a time when you had to troubleshoot to solve a problem.

      How to Answer

      Troubleshooting is like reverse engineering - it takes skill, effort, and patience. You have to understand the problem to know how to work backward from it to find a solution.
      Knowing how to solve problems with technical equipment is always a solid skill, and a great way to demonstrate your example. Show that you are insightful in your approach.

      Written by Rachelle Enns

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  • 18.

    Tell me about a time when your analysis of a problem was deemed to be incorrect. What would you have done differently?

      How to Answer

      Everyone makes mistakes when analyzing a situation. The interviewer isn't concerned with perfection; instead, they want to know how you deal the aftermath of rejection! Sometimes you can't correct your mistakes, but you can certainly learn from them. Highlight your ability to learn from your mistakes and move on, professionally.

      Written by Rachelle Enns

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  • 19.

    Tell me about the most challenging aspect of your previous job. How did you overcome it?

      How to Answer

      Sometimes the most significant workplace challenge is a difficult task that puts you outside of your comfort zone. It could be something that requires skills you haven't mastered yet or qualities where you are not the strongest. Explain to the interviewer why it was difficult but be sure to spend more time highlighting the actions you took to overcome the challenge.

      Written by Rachelle Enns

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  • 20.

    When faced with a problem, are you more likely to jump into solving it, or are you the type to carefully assess the issue first?

      How to Answer

      The interviewer would like to know more about your problem-solving skills, and your personality. Discuss how you tackle problems when they arise, and keep your answer work-related if you can. Whether you are the type to jump right into solving a problem or you are more methodical in your approach, highlight to the interviewer that you are capable of handling issues professionally while using sound judgment.

      Written by Rachelle Enns

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  • 21.

    Give me a recent example of a valuable lesson you learned from a problem you faced at work.

      How to Answer

      One of the best aspects of problem-solving is that you always have the opportunity to learn from the experience. Seeing problems as opportunities to grow, is what makes you an excellent employee! Show the interviewer that you can learn valuable lessons when there is a problem at hand. Use a work-related example, if you can.

      Written by Rachelle Enns

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  • 22.

    When change occurs in the workplace, it can create new problems. Do you see these as inconvenient problems, or opportunities to learn?

      How to Answer

      When a change occurs in the workplace, often problems arise due to new implementations and procedures, or unforeseen kinks needing to be worked out. Do you approach these problems positively or do you resist the change? Talk to the interviewer about how you can adapt to the inevitable issues that come with the change in the workplace.

      Written by Rachelle Enns

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  • 23.

    Rate your problem solving skills from 1-10. How do you justify your rating?

      How to Answer

      The interviewer wants to know how you would rate your problem-solving skills. Of course, you want to give yourself a healthy rating; however, it's crucial that you remain realistic. Try to avoid giving yourself a 10, and nobody is perfect, and you do not want to come across as overly confident or someone who has no room for feedback and improvement. Alternately, avoid giving yourself too little credit. You do not want to paint the picture that you are a problem-solving dud! Try to remain in the 7.5-9.5 range while staying honest and accurate. Everyone has room to learn and improve! Be sure to justify your score as well.

      Written by Rachelle Enns

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  • 24.

    What do you think might be the greatest challenges faced in this job? How will you overcome these challenges?

      How to Answer

      Even though it may seem like a dream job, the interviewer wants to know that you have realistic expectations of the role and that you will not be blindsided if problems or challenges present themselves. Keep your answer simple. It is okay to ask for clarification on the position if you do not fully understand what challenges are in store for you.

      Written by Rachelle Enns

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  • 25.

    What steps do you take to solve a problem?

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