9 problem-solving interview questions to find the best candidate
Hiring interviews have a lot riding on them. It's a big decision to decide to take someone on, and their introduction to your team can have huge impacts - positive or negative. To ensure you're offering roles to people who will drive your team to new heights, we recommend adding some questions in that focus on problem solving.
Their answers will show you how they navigate hurdles, approach their work with a results orientated frame of mind, or crumble under pressure.
The need for a problem solving attitude will vary depending on the role on offer, so ensure you lay out exactly what you're looking for before starting the interview process.
Question 1: Describe your thought process when you encounter a hurdle at work
This question will give you insight into how the candidate's brain works. As an employer, you want to hire people that focus on solving issues and will readily ask for help when they need it. Their response should touch on the three steps to solving a problem:
- Identifying the issue
- Analysing all the factors involved
- Implementing a change or solution
A good answer should give you confidence that the applicant will take initiative, act thoughtfully, and is willing to ask questions and work as a team.
Question 2: Give an example of a time when you saw a problem in the business at large. What was the outcome?
This question tests if they see opportunities in problems. Every business has problems, both minor and major, and you should be able to trust your employees to identify and solve them. Examples of this could be a communication blockade between two teams or an element of the company culture that was problematic. Problems are opportunities for improvement, both for an individual and a company as a whole.
You are looking for an answer that recognises this and doesn't shy away or show discomfort at the topic. You are looking for applicants who will play a part in improving themselves, their team, and your business and that includes giving feedback to you on any subject.
Question 3: What steps do you take before making a decision and how do you evaluate the risks involved?
This question tests how they problem solve before making a decision. A strong answer showcases that the candidate is considered in their decision-making and has a formal process of thought, instead of becoming overwhelmed and acting rashly. You should be looking for an answer that demonstrates the candidate has a practised process that they use as a foundation for their decision making, with flexibility for adjustments.
An excellent answer will also give you confidence that the candidate uses their autonomy before relying on their colleagues to help them, or rely on their colleagues to carry their weight for them.
Question 4: Give an example of a time that you realised a colleague had made a mistake. What did you do?
This question tests their interpersonal skills. An employee who sees their colleagues as competition and who doesn't help unless explicitly asked may not work out for your team. A good answer to this questions will demonstrate;
- That they're able to identify when their colleagues need assistance
- That they're likely to proactively offer help
- They offer help in a constructive way
Teams should celebrate each others' growth and improvements, and teams that excel feel pride in seeing each other achieve.
Question 5: What has been the biggest challenge you've faced in your career? What have you learned from it?
This question may not be met with an answer that's directly related to the candidates role, but will offer a great insight into how they see themselves and their skillset. Their answer may be something like lack of self-confidence, or it could be a specific challenge from a past project, but either way, you should look for an answer that acknowledges the challenge and offers a solution.
If the candidate is yet to find a solution, follow up with a question on what they tried or what they are continuing to do to address the challenge.
Remember that a candidate's biggest challenge could be socio-economic, race, or other minority group related. Be sure to check your implicit bias when evaluating how 'big' you perceive the challenge to be.
Question 6: How do you react to unexpected or sudden challenges in the middle of a project?
This question tests whether candidates can adapt to change and curveballs or not. Everyone has a different preferred work style, which may be fast and agile or slower and more planned. One is not better than the other, but being able to react to a curveball when needed is coveted skill.
We're not always able to work in our preferred work style, so look out for your candidate mentioning ways they have previously responded, or even how they would like to respond to the next curveball. They may have recently learned a technique they'd like to try out, which also demonstrates that they're on the lookout to improve their skills.
Question 7: Describe a time where you developed a new process. How did you develop it?
This question tests their ability to form and refine a process. We just spoke about preferred work styles, this question is more around their ability to stick to processes. If they've not developed their own, they may have feedback on a process they currently work with.
Creating a process, whether it's highly complex or relatively simple, demonstrates creativity, and a likely collaboration with their colleagues.
Question 8: Tell me about a time when you became aware of a potential problem and resolved it before it became an issue.
This question tests their ability to identify problems and solve them. Having foresight is an important quality and it’s much more than just being able to see a day or two into the future. Being able to predict issues months in advance, or see potential hurdles that you'll reach at the end of a project before you even start is a valuable skill. Having someone who can do this and is comfortable enough to raise the issue with relevant colleagues is a star you should keep.
Question 9: Was there ever a time where you foresaw a challenge but your supervisor didn't agree? What did you do?
Every company has an example of an employee raising a concern, a manager not addressing it, and then a project going sideways. Regardless of the stakes of the project, how someone reacts to being told their concern is 'not really a concern' can be very telling.
You definitely want your employees to speak up when they're worried about something, and you do want to keep their attention where it's needed most, but what will the candidate do when faced with a conflict between their strong concern and an unconcerned manager? What would you want them to do in that situation?
The most important part of an interview is you being just as prepared as the candidate. Have a set of questions you ask every candidate so they can be compared fairly, outline what you'd like to hear and what your priorities are, and set a clear expectation of exactly what you're looking for.
Remember that we all have implicit bias, and create checks for yourself to prevent the interview from becoming or highlighting inequalities amongst your candidates. Most of all, good luck in your hiring!