8 Common Problem Solving Interview Questions and Answers

By Indeed Editorial Team

November 2, 2021

If the job you are applying for requires you to think critically or solve problems, you may be asked some analytical interview 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. While there is no way to say for sure which questions an interviewer will ask, familiarizing yourself with business problem-solving questions will help you prepare for this portion of the interview.

In this article, we will explore what problem-solving interview questions are and why employers ask them. Then, we will take a look at some of the most common problem-solving questions and provide guidance for answering these questions at your next interview.

What are problem-solving interview questions?

Problem-solving interview questions are questions that employers ask related to the candidate's ability to gather data, analyze a problem, weigh the pros and cons and reach a logical decision. Also known as analytical skills interview questions, these questions will often focus on specific instances when the candidate analyzed a situation or had to solve a problem, including what steps they took to gather and understand the necessary information before solving the problem.

These types of questions help employers better understand how a candidate gathers information from various sources, uses critical thinking to evaluate information, makes decisions that help the business and communicates their findings or recommendations to team members. Employers ask these questions to gauge how candidates will address complex situations that they are likely to encounter on the job.

Related: 125 Common Interview Questions and Answers (With Tips)

Problem-solving questions with sample answers

Let's take a look at a few of the most common problem-solving interview questions that you may encounter during an interview and some sample answers. When preparing for your interview, consider a few different examples of when you successfully solved a problem, including what the problem was, what steps you took to solve the problem and the outcome:

  1. When you are faced with a problem, what do you do?

  2. Describe a time when you faced an unexpected challenge at work.

  3. How do you weigh the pros and cons before making a decision?

  4. How would you handle a disgruntled or dissatisfied customer?

  5. What metrics do you track on a regular basis? How do you use the information to adjust your approach?

  6. Tell me about a time when you had to change your planned course of action at the last moment. How did you handle this situation?

  7. Your manager wants to buy new software to help increase the team's productivity, and she asks for your recommendation. How do you respond?

  8. Describe a time when you had to solve a problem, but didn't have all the necessary information about it beforehand. What did you do?

1. When you are faced with a problem, what do you do?

Tip: Employers typically ask this question to understand what your problem-solving process looks like. They are looking for you to describe a logical problem-solving process that includes gathering information, analyzing the information and making decisions based on what you've found.

Example: “When I'm faced with a problem, I typically start by doing research or looking at examples of how this problem has been solved by others. From that research, I'm able to decide which approach to solving the problem works best for me and the organization. Then, I decide what actions need to be taken to solve the problem, and I start putting the process into motion while communicating with my managers and co-workers.”

2. Tell me about a time when you faced an unexpected challenge at work.

Tip: For this question, you'll want to choose a specific example from your work history to demonstrate your ability to be flexible while solving problems. To stay focused, you can use the STAR method to answer this question. Describe the situation, your role in the challenge, the action that you took to overcome this challenge and the final result.

Example: “When I was working as a retail manager, I had a customer who came in to pick up a dress that she had ordered online. But when I went to collect her order, I found that the dress had accidentally been put back on the sales floor and purchased by another customer. I called another of our store locations and asked them to hold the same dress in the customer's size. I had it shipped to her home within 2 days for free. A week later, I found out that the customer had called our corporate headquarters to mention how much she appreciated the gesture.”

3. How do you weigh the pros and cons before making a decision?

Tip: This question helps the employer better understand your problem-solving process. They want to make sure that you are making intelligent decisions that are based on the information you have available to you.

Example: “When I have a list of pros and cons to help me make a decision, I start by considering whether the cons will hinder me from achieving my desired outcome or cause unnecessary burden somewhere else. If so, then the approach probably won't be effective. If not, then I will consider if the pros outweigh the cons in terms of a positive outcome. If the pros outweigh the cons, then it is worth pursuing and dealing with any negative effects as they come.”

4. How would you handle a disgruntled or dissatisfied customer?

Tip: There are unpleasant or high-pressure situations present in any job. Employers want to know how you will handle yourself in these situations while working to address the issues causing these events. Though this is a generalized question, it may help to think about a specific situation where you encountered a dissatisfied customer and were able to address their concerns.

Example: “When I encounter an angry or unhappy customer, I start by approaching the situation with a calm and helpful demeanor. I don't want to make them any more upset. Then, I will try to discern what has caused them to be unhappy, getting all the details necessary. Once I've figured out what is wrong, I will think about how to solve the problem and clearly communicate to the customer what steps I will take to address their concern adequately.”

5. What metrics do you track on a regular basis? How do you use the information to adjust your approach?

Tip: This is a question you may encounter if you are interviewing for a position that requires you to review analytics in order to make decisions. To avoid losing focus, choose two or three metrics that you use on a regular basis and consider how these metrics impact your decisions.

Example: “As an email marketing manager, I often use open rates and conversion rates to determine the success of my campaigns. If email open rates are low, I will revisit the content to make sure it's relevant to the reader or try adjusting the subject line to make it more interesting. If conversion rates are low, I will take another look at the email copy to make sure it is clear and compelling and revisit the offer to make sure it is relevant and valuable to the target audience.”

6. Tell me about a time when you had to change your planned course of action at the last moment. How did you handle this situation?

Tip: This interview question allows you to show how you handle stressful situations while demonstrating your flexibility and ability to think quickly. In your response, you want to use the STAR method again by explaining the situation, describing your involvement, telling them about the action you took and explaining what the results were.

Example: “When I was working as a catering manager, we were informed the night before an event that the ingredients we needed to prepare the appetizers were not going to be delivered on time and would arrive after we needed them. I got a list of the ingredients needed and made a stop at the store on my way to the event. My team and I were able to make the appetizers just in time for the party. All of the guests enjoyed the appetizers so much that the party planner specifically mentioned them in her online review.”

7. Your manager wants to buy new software to help increase the team's productivity, and she asks for your recommendation. How do you respond?

Tip: This is a situational problem-solving interview question that helps the employer determine what steps you take during the research phase of the problem-solving process. Though the interviewer may not choose this specific scenario, it's important to be prepared to talk about your research and data gathering processes.

Example: “First, I would ask my manager what features are most important and what the company budget is. With this information, I would start to research productivity software options that meet the minimum requirements within budget. In addition to features and price, I would consider the software's ability to meet future needs as well as customer reviews. Once I had a list of 5 or so options, I would narrow it down to the top three with a top recommendation. I would present my recommendation to my manager with a few points about why this option was best.”

8. Describe a time when you had to solve a problem, but didn't have all the necessary information about it beforehand. What did you do?

Tip: Having to solve a problem without having all the necessary information is a common scenario you will experience in any business setting. Employers want to know how you deal with this inconvenience while still logically and effectively resolving the issue. Choose a situation you've experienced that highlights your strengths and ability to work independently.

Example: “When I was working as an office manager, the CEO of our company told me that employee productivity was down and that I needed to come up with a solution. Since there are many reasons why productivity might decline, I decided to ask the team members by conducting interviews and sending out short surveys. After gathering this information, I was able to see that employees didn't have a way to keep track of and organize tasks. I recommended that the CEO implement a new project management system, and productivity increased by 10% after implementation.”

Tips for answering analytical interview questions

While preparing your responses to these analytical interview questions, keep the following tips in mind for when it's time to interview:

  • Connect your personal strengths to the supporting examples

  • Choose examples that help highlight your personality

  • Provide specific details about the event and your response to it

  • Come to the interview prepared with a few specific examples of situations where you were in charge of solving problems at work

  • Share examples that are relevant to the position you are applying for or the company

  • Avoid using examples that don't allow you to go into much detail about your problem-solving abilities or process

  • Don't use examples that fail to highlight your strengths as a strategic problem-solver

While the problem-solving interview questions that you are asked during your interview will vary from job to job, the samples and tips above will help you be more prepared for your interview. Try answering a few of them on paper or practice answering with a friend before you go to your interview. If the interviewer asks an analytical question that you are not prepared for, take some time to think about your response before you proceed.

Read More: Everything You Need to Know About Job Interview Etiquette

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