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How to Ace Problem-Solving Interview Questions

How to Ace Problem-Solving Interview Questions

April 30, 2022

Employers often use problem-solving questions to assess how a potential employee will manage challenging situations, particularly those which may not be typical of the role but could crop up. We explore what you can expect and the methods to use for the most effective answers. 

What are problem solving interview questions?

Problem solving questions usually pertain to a candidate’s ability to collect data or information, process and analyse it and then form and implement a solution. They are designed to test and assess the specific skill set necessary to perform well under stress and will often focus on specific occasions when the candidate had to solve a problem. Here are a few examples:

  • What was the most challenging situation you have faced at work? 
  • Do you always try to solve a problem on your own before asking for assistance?
  • What do you do first when faced with an urgent problem? 
  • Describe a time when you faced an unexpected challenge at work
  • How would you handle an unhappy customer?

What are they looking for in a response?

Employers ask these questions to gauge what shape your individual problem-solving process takes. They are looking for you to describe a logical process, referencing information gathering, analysis and decision making that is then based on that analysis. Select specific examples from your prior work experience to show your ability to be flexible while solving problems. Don’t generalise. Employers are looking for realistic examples that showcase your knowledge and skills. 

How to prepare for problem solving interview questions 
As with all interview situations, preparation is key, you can start this by:

  1. Considering some good examples of situations where you have had to utilise problem-solving skills beforehand. Rehearse them to make sure you are comfortable in remembering the points you need to raise.
  2. Asking other people who may have experience as an interviewer to have a practice run with you and ask them for constructive feedback on your responses. 
  3. It sounds obvious but get a good night’s sleep beforehand. It’s always more difficult to think clearly and remember things when you’re tired. Likewise, eat and drink well for maximum performance. Feeling weak or dehydrated can make you feel more anxious.

How to Ace Problem-Solving Interview Questions CMD Recruitment

How to structure your response – STAR

Fortunately, a structure has already been devised to assist you with your response when you identify that you are being asked a question about problem solving. The STAR technique will help you to keep your answers relevant and concise.

Situation

A brief description of the bare facts is what is required here. Don’t go into unnecessary detail. A few sentences to give an overall picture is sufficient. They are more interested in the following analysis and actions that took place. For example, ‘I had a situation where an unhappy customer became aggressive with members of staff. They had been offered a refund but still refused to leave.’ 

Technique

This is where you need to succinctly define what the task or challenge was that you were presented with. For example, if the situation was an angry customer shouting in front of other customers, you might cite your role as defusing the situation as quickly as possible. Again, don’t linger on this part for too long, interviewers simply want to know that you’ve clearly identified the problem and assessed what action needs to be taken.

Action

This is where you refer to your active role in the situation. What did you actually do? Did you recognise the need to ask for assistance quickly enough if it was necessary? What knowledge and skills did you need to employ to resolve the problem? Identify and elaborate on a few of the most effective steps you took and refer to specific actions that were informed by your original analysis. Although you may need to reference how you worked with other team members, make sure you use the word ‘I’ rather than ‘we’ as it is your role that is being assessed, not the team position. This is the part of your answer which requires the most in depth description as this is what largely indicates your suitability. 

Result

As is fairly self-explanatory, here you should describe how the situation ended. Did you get the result you wanted? What worked and what didn’t work? Did you learn anything from the situation that you could use to advise your approach in future? Remember, you’re not expected to be perfect, it’s more impressive to demonstrate good reflexive practice, that you have the ability to analyse your approach and hone your skills to ensure you are constantly improving your technique. 

Conclusion 

Although the unpredictability of problem-solving questions can stir up a little reticence ahead of an interview, there are ways to prepare to make you feel more confident. By adopting the STAR approach and practising your responses, you have will have all bases covered to ace that interview. 

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