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Interview Question: "Tell Me About a Time When You Missed an Obvious Solution to a Problem"

September 30, 2021

During your job interview, a hiring manager may want to gauge your attentiveness and ability to learn from your mistakes. They often do so by asking, "Tell me about a time when you missed an obvious solution to a problem." Knowing how to answer this question can help you demonstrate how you use past mistakes to improve future performance. In this article, we discuss tips for answering "Tell me about a time when you missed an obvious solution to a problem" and share sample answers you can use to create your own response.

Why employers ask, "Tell me about a time when you missed an obvious solution to a problem."

Some candidates claim that they've never missed an obvious solution to a problem, but most employers understand everyone makes mistakes. Instead of expecting perfection, they often hope that candidates are willing to recognize their flaws. A transparent response can assure an employer that you're honest. An employer may also ask about a time when you missed an obvious solution to a problem to determine whether you learn from your mistakes. They often want to see that you can reflect on your past performance to improve skills like communication or time management.

Related: Problem-Solving Skills: Definitions and Examples

How to answer "Tell me about a time when you missed an obvious solution to a problem."

You can answer "Tell me about a time when you missed an obvious solution to a problem" using the following three steps:

1. Describe a specific situation

Instead of providing a general answer, consider describing a specific situation. Talking about a particular project or responsibility can help you better highlight your willingness to learn from your mistakes. You may begin your answer by discussing how you got into the situation and the desired outcome. Providing background information can ensure that the interviewer has context, but try to keep the story relevant to how you missed an obvious solution to a problem.

Related: How To Use the STAR Interview Response Technique

2. Explain why you missed the obvious solution

When describing a specific scenario, you can talk about your efforts to solve the problem. Consider discussing why you chose your methods and overlooked the obvious solution. It's a good idea for candidates to avoid excuses or placing blame on others. Taking accountability for your actions shows you recognize your mistakes.

3. Establish that you learned from your mistakes

One of the most important parts of your answer is demonstrating how you learned from your mistake. Consider explaining that the outcome differed from your desired result. You can discuss how you reacted once you realized your mistake. Then, you might reflect on how you plan to find and use the obvious solution in future projects. Your response should convince employers you're an attentive critical thinker who's willing to adapt.

Related: 5 Steps To Take After Making a Mistake at Work

Example answers for "Tell me about a time when you missed an obvious solution to a problem."

Here are some ways you could answer this question:

Example 1

"In my previous role, I was responsible for hiring new employees. I searched for talent and conducted background checks to screen potential hires. During a hectic season, my company had many open positions available. Because some of our employees felt overworked, I felt pressured to fill these positions as fast as possible. We weren't receiving many applications, so when one finally came in, I rushed the hiring process. I conducted a background check but failed to check the person's social media accounts.

"After this person worked at our company for only a few days, we realized they had a poor attitude and unethical conduct. I wasted the company's resources on hiring and training this person when I could've found a more qualified candidate. Had I checked the employee's social media accounts before hiring them, I may have realized they weren't a good fit for our company. This situation taught me that every step of the hiring process is important. Since then, I carefully follow protocol when screening potential employees, because established methods allow me to find the ideal candidates."

Example 2

"One time, my manager had me plan a luncheon for donors. I knew how crucial the luncheon was to the company's success and saw the task as an opportunity to impress my manager. Even though my manager told me I could enlist the help of my team members, I decided to do everything myself. I attempted to find the right caterer, decorate the venue and send out the invitations by myself. Of course, all these tasks proved challenging to complete on time. The luncheon's decorations were lackluster, and I missed a couple of crucial donors when sending invitations.

"The obvious solution, of course, was to delegate some tasks to my team members. They were ready to help, but I prioritized my desire to impress my manager over the luncheon's success. I learned you can't let your ego inhibit your job performance and that it's okay to ask for help when you need it.”

Related: How To Ask for Help at Work

Example 3

"A supervisor once asked me to format and send a document to a client. She emphasized that our company had specific formatting standards and told me to read the style guide before creating the document. I didn't listen to her instructions, as I had completed similar formatting tasks at my previous position and felt confident in my abilities. By failing to follow instructions, I delivered a document that didn't adhere to the company's standards and confused the client. All I had to do to avoid the problem was read the style guide.

"My supervisor explained the significance of my mistake, and I understood it more when I realized that consistency is important to a company's brand. To ensure I avoided similar mistakes in the future, I thoroughly read the style guide. I'm glad I learned that instructions exist for a good reason earlier in my career rather than later."

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