Acing the Problem Solving Interview: Strategies for Answering Key Questions

Problem solving is one of the most sought-after hard skills employers look for in candidates The ability to analyze complex issues, weigh alternatives, and devise effective solutions is crucial for success across industries. In interviews, expect multiple questions that probe your problem-solving abilities. Mastering your responses can help demonstrate your analytical thinking and grace under pressure

Here are strategies for tackling the most common problem solving interview questions along with examples of strong answers

Walk Me Through How You Solved a Complex Problem

This open-ended question allows you to pick an example that highlights your strengths Choose a complex, multi-faceted problem with real stakes and constraints. Showcase your systematic approach

  • Situation: Concisely explain the business challenge, goals, and difficulties faced. Who was involved and what were the limitations?

  • Process: Walk step-by-step through your problem solving process. How did you define the problem? What methods did you use to analyze root causes? How did you generate potential solutions?

  • Solution: Share the optimal solution you implemented. How did it address the core issue? Why was it effective? What results did it achieve?

  • Takeaways: Share key lessons that would apply to future problem solving.

Example response:

“As a project manager, I was tasked with improving patient appointment booking for a clinic that had received complaints about long hold times. The situation involved multiple constraints – limited staffing budget, outdated booking system software, and part-time medical secretaries.

My approach was to first quantify the problem. I audited call logs to analyze peak call volumes by day and time. I also had secretaries track time on hold during these periods. This revealed Tuesday mornings as the peak issue period.

Next, I researched the options within our budget. This included adjusting staff shifts to increase morning coverage and implementing an online appointment request feature to divert some call volume. Based on projected costs and impact, I presented these solutions to leadership.

The result was a 30% decrease in peak hold times. My key takeaway was the importance of thoroughly analyzing baseline data before identifying and evaluating potential solutions.”

Tell Me About a Time You Were Faced with an Urgent Problem

This question tests your ability to rapidly respond under pressure. Demonstrate quick thinking, prioritization, stakeholder management, and crisis mitigation.

  • Situation: Briefly explain the urgent issue that arose. Emphasize the time pressure.

  • Response: Describe your real-time triage. How did you quickly assess the situation and determine next steps?

  • Resolution: Share the decisive actions taken to mitigate the crisis. How did you involve stakeholders? What was the outcome?

  • Takeaway: Share lessons learned about keeping calm under pressure and thinking on your feet.

Example response:

“As a customer service manager, I was once alerted that our 1-800 number was down on one of the busiest retail days of the year. We were receiving zero calls.

Recognizing the massive impact on sales and reputation, I immediately called our telecom vendor to diagnose the issue while briefing the C-suite. Simultaneously, I mobilized our social media team to direct customers to our chat platform.

It turned out that an expired license resulted in an outage. I got executive sign-off to purchase the license renewal on the spot. The telecom vendor rushed it through within 2 hours.

While not ideal, we successfully minimized disruption. My biggest takeaway was having contingency communication plans to implement instantly during an emergency.”

Talk About a Time You Had to Solve a Problem With Incomplete Information

This question demonstrates your analytical thinking when faced with ambiguity. Showcase your process for making sound decisions based on limited data.

  • Situation: Set the context by explaining the business decision that needed to be made with insufficient or ambiguous information.

  • Analysis: Describe how you carefully evaluated the existing data available and made reasonable assumptions where needed. Share any additional research conducted.

  • Decision: Explain how you ultimately arrived at the best solution given the limited information.

  • Outcome: Share the decision taken and the outcome. Was it the right call? Would you do anything differently?

Example response:

“As a data analyst, I was tasked with forecasting future inventory needs for a new product line with minimal sales history available. All I had to work with was data from a brief 3-month pilot test period.

Given the limitations, I looked for reasonable proxies, like purchase trends for related products and industry growth projections, to make educated assumptions. I also conducted quick market research surveys to complement the limited pilot sales data.

Ultimately, I presented a set of forecast models factoring in a range of scenarios. Leadership selected the most conservatively estimated model to minimize risk. In hindsight, actual demand exceeded my forecast, so we could have been bolder.

This experience demonstrated to me the importance of candidly communicating any constraints and uncertainties when making recommendations with incomplete data.”

Describe a Time You Overcame Major Obstacles to Solve a Difficult Problem

Use this question to demonstrate perseverance, creativity, and tenacity. Showcase problem-solving under difficult circumstances.

  • Situation: Set the stage by outlining the challenging problem, unrealistic expectations/demands, or resource limitations you faced.

  • Obstacle: Highlight the major blocking factor(s) standing in the way of a solution. This could be technical barriers, budget issues, personnel gaps, etc.

  • Response: Discuss how you regrouped and employed creative problem-solving skills to work around obstacles. What alternative approaches or solutions did you consider?

  • Outcome: Share the end result. What was the ultimate solution and impact? Emphasize accomplishments despite major constraints.

Example response:

“As a project manager, my team was tasked with rolling out a new client portal ahead of a major industry conference. However, the portal kept crashing during testing due to underlying issues with the database architecture that supported it.

With an unmoveable deadline, I had to get creative. My team quickly devised a plan to launch a simplified interim portal with just the core features. In parallel, we escalated the database issues to our technical team and got commitment to a fix after conference.

The temporary portal successfully went live in time for the conference deadline, enabling critical capability demonstrations. Throughout this experience, I learned the importance of rapid problem-solving even when faced with seemingly insurmountable technical obstacles.”

When Have You Handled a Situation Where the Policy Didn’t Fit the Circumstance?

This question demonstrates both your critical thinking and your judgement. Showcase your ability to discern when to work within and when to challenge established policies.

  • Situation: Explain the specific case where strictly following policy would have led to a poor outcome.

  • Analysis: Describe how you weighed the policy against the unique needs of the situation. What factors did you consider? Where did flexibility make sense?

  • Approach: Discuss how you sought input to address the case in a modified way. How did you get buy-in from stakeholders?

  • Outcome: Share how handling the unique case led to an optimal resolution.

Example response:

“In my previous role, we had a policy of not granting refunds on services once rendered. However, one dissatisfied long-time client threatened to go to a competitor instead if we did not refund them.

Recognizing this major account’s importance, I worked with leadership to analyze a potential exemption. We considered the length of the relationship and level of influence in our industry. I also got the sales team’s perspective on retaining the client.

Based on these inputs, we granted a one-time exception and refund. The client then reinvested that credit with expanded services from us. This example taught me that while policies aim for broad application, some situations warrant a custom approach.”

With preparation and practice, you can develop concise yet compelling responses to demonstrate your problem-solving skills, strategic thinking, and analytical ability. Tailor your examples to the role you are interviewing for and highlight outcomes that benefited the business or customers. Show that you have the critical thinking aptitude and nuanced judgement required to solve the most complex issues organizations face.

What are some common examples of problem solving interview questions?

Here are some of the best practice examples of problem solving interview questions:

  • What happened at work that made you the most stressed? How did you deal with it?
  • Describe a time when you had a problem at work that you couldn’t figure out. What did you do?.
  • Do you always try to figure things out on your own before you ask for help?
  • Tell me about a time when you came up with a creative way to solve a problem at work.
  • What do you do when you’re faced with a problem you’ve never seen before?
  • Tell us about a time when you knew you couldn’t meet the deadline. What did you do?.
  • How do you build a troubleshooting process?
  • In your opinion, what makes you a great problem solver?
  • How do you deal with situations where you can’t seem to find the right answer to a question?
  • How do you handle an urgent problem? Do you solve it right away, or do you take some time to think about it first?

What do problem solving interview questions test?

problem solving interview questions

PROBLEM-SOLVING Interview Questions and ANSWERS!


What are the 4 problem-solving skills?

Defining: Analyse and identify the issues that need to be solved. Ideating: Create and share ideas, no matter how dramatic they might be. Prototyping: Put together solutions. Testing: Just as it says, test your solutions.

How you solved a difficult problem interview question?

Detail your job and responsibility to overcome the challenge. Detail the steps you took to rectify the issue. Talk about the “action” you took to overcome the situation. Explain your thought process for choosing the actions you did, being as specific as possible.

What is a problem-solving interview question?

These challenges can vary from specific, technical issues to more general issues like improving company processes or handling interpersonal relationships. To put these skills to the test, recruiters use “problem-solving” job interview questions, also known as analytical questions. Here are some common ones:

What are business problem-solving questions?

These problem-solving questions will vary across industries but are typically focused on your experiences analyzing a problem or situation and responding to it in a logical and effective manner. Familiarizing yourself with business problem-solving questions will help you prepare for this portion of the interview.

Are You Ready for problem-solving interview questions?

When candidates prepare for interviews, they usually focus on highlighting their leadership, communication, teamwork, and similar crucial soft skills. However, not everyone gets ready for problem-solving interview questions. And that can be a big mistake. Problem-solving is relevant to nearly any job on the planet.

How do you answer non-technical problem-solving interview questions?

STAR, SOAR and PREP are methods a candidate can use to answer some non-technical problem-solving interview questions. Generic problem-solving interview questions go a long way in gauging a candidate’s fit. But you can go one step further by customizing them according to your company’s service, product, vision, and culture.

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