Problem solving is a popular interview question because it is a skill which is used in most jobs. It is commonly used in jobs such as customer service representatives, developers, engineers, project managers, lawyers and judges, secretaries, receptionists, hospitalists etc.
What is problem solving?
Problem solving is the process of finding solutions to difficult or complex issues.
Depending on the kind of job you have, the obstacles will be different and so the process of finding a solution will be different to that of another job. Most companies have their own preferred style for resolving issues for specific job roles.
Here are some of the skills that you are likely to use in problem solving:
Initiative: The ability to come up with the idea and take action without being asked. You act on opportunities to make a difference.
Vision and planning: The ability to foresee how the plan will carry out and the impact it will have on projects, people, customers, clients, sales etc. Perhaps having more than just one plan, or having a plan b.
Resourcefulness: Your ability to use the resources, people and things around you to execute your plan. You know how to ask for things that you need and where to go to look for them.
Analytical thinking: Your ability to lose logic and critical thinking to analyse a situation.
Determination: You are persistent and don’t give up easily.
Results oriented: Your drive and determination to seeing and achieving your desired outcome- solving the problem.
Why do Interviewers ask about problem solving? Why problem solving skills are important?
Hiring managers ask behavioural questions about problem solving to get a better idea of how you work and deal with issues.
Ultimately, they will want to know if:
-You are someone who can be relied up within the team
-You have initiative to act when required rather than someone who will sit and wait until they are asked
-You make logical decisions using common sense and the impact that decision will have on others.
TOP TIPS: You should read through the position description to see the kinds of problems you would be resolving in the role. This way, you can choose the best examples from your past experience which are best related with the job.
For example,: if you are applying for a customer service role, you should use examples where you have resolved customer service issues. As a sales person, you could use demonstrate your ability to handle push backs from clients, a project manager could demonstrate their ability to meet deadlines, an IT developer could show how they have optimised systems in the past.
Popular Problem Solving Questions
- Describe a situation in which you found a creative way to overcome an obstacle?.
- Tell me about a time that you identified a need and went above and beyond the call of duty to get things done?.
- What’s the most innovative new idea that you have implemented?
- Describe a time when you used your own initiative to resolve a problem at work?
- What was the best idea you came up with at your last job?
- Describe a time when you anticipated potential problems and developed preventive measures?.
- Describe a time when you faced a significant obstacle with an important work project or activity?.
Problem Solving Example
Question: “Tell me about a time you identified a need and went above and beyond the call of duty to get things done.”
Here’s an example that shows how the SAO method can be used to answer a problem solving question.
Situation: In my role as a business development executive for an IT company, we were working towards the win of a large food company which was looking for a new customer interface which would allow them to complete all transactions online. We were up against 3 other IT companies and each had to deliver a proposal and a presentation.
Action: As one of the team members for this particular proposal, I did a lot of research on the company and I could see that their objectives were always focused around providing top quality service for their customers.
I realised that we would need to be able to prove to our client that their customers would be satisfied with this new platform, so I decided it would be worthwhile trying to understand their customers first as this would demonstrate to our client that we had created a system with their customers interests in mind. I put together a market research strategy whereby we would gather opinions the competing food and beverage company’s customers. I created a questionnaire which detailed the likes, dislikes and suggested improvements by their customers. This was a lengthy process and we were almost sure that the other IT companies would not have gone to such lengths, but I believed it would prove our determination to supply them with the best product that we could offer. Of course, this meant that our deadline was even more difficult to meet but I was highly motivated to win this client over.
In our final week, we all worked very hard to finish the proposal and the presentation but the results showed that our hard work paid off.
Outcome: The client was highly impressed with our efforts and customer focused approach which he stated
“is at the heart of our business”. He also said “By taking the time to understand our customers, you have gained our trust in your systems.” Needless to say, we won the project and I was recognised by our company for my efforts. I was awarded sales person of the quarter for creativity and for going above and beyond the normal sales process.
This example demonstrates great problem solving skills by the candidate through their ability to analyse the needs of their customer and develop a strategy which would meet their need. In addition this candidate displays a variety of other skills including initiative, creative thinking, great work ethic, determination and team work.