Job Interview Tips

How to answer problem solving interview questions

Written by Eric Titner

When you’re going on interviews in the hopes of landing a new job, you may invest some time in practicing how you’d handle the sorts of questions you think you might encounter while you’re in the real thing.

The truth is, it’s impossible to predict how an interview will unfold. However, one thing you can expect during most interviews is the “problem-solving question,” in which you’ll be asked about how you’d either handle a hypothetical on-the-job problem from beginning to end or how you handled a real-world problem during your previous work experience.

What’s the best way to handle a problem-solving question if it comes up? Keep reading!

Stay positive and confident.

When you’re hit with a problem-solving question on an interview, you’re being evaluated before you even open your mouth. Your body language and facial expressions are on full display while you’re listening to the interviewer either describe a problem-solving scenario or ask you to dig an example up.

When the question comes up, do you cringe and swallow hard, with sweat forming at your brow as you squirm in your seat? Or do you appear relaxed, measured, and confident, and sit up straight and tall? Clearly, the second option will reflect more favorably on your perceived ability to confidently face a challenge.

Of course, what you say and how you respond to a problem-solving question is crucial, and you want to reflect an aura of positivity and confidence. For starters, pay attention to the tone of your voice—is it measured and unwavering or do you sound nervous and hesitant? Which one do you think will make you seem like an ace problem solver to hiring managers?

Resist the urge to go negative—a problem-solving question may pose a truly tough challenge or dredge up a horrific past experience that you’d just as soon forget forever, but don’t let that affect your composure during an interview. Resist playing the blame game on a company or colleague, talking about how impossible the problem is or was, and don’t play “hot potato” and pass off the problem to someone else as fast as possible. Problems arise at every job, and interviewers want to see if you’re the sort of person who will face them in a positive and confident manner.

Demonstrate teamwork, leadership, and innovative thinking.

Problem-solving questions are great opportunities for you to demonstrate some of the qualities that make you a great employee. Think about how you and others have handled a problem well, at work or elsewhere. It’s often the case that that those who demonstrate leadership, as well as an ability to work well with others and come up with innovative solutions, really shine when facing a work challenge. Make sure that your response to this question in interviews reflects your ability to boldly confront a problem, come up with new and creative ways to solve it, and work with colleagues towards an effective solution.

Show an eagerness to meet challenges head-on.

A good employee doesn’t shy away from problems in the workplace—but a great employee is eager to face challenges head on. When a problem-solving question is presented to you during an interview, you should respond in a way that demonstrates that you enjoy tackling problems head on and are a good resource to have on staff when issues arise—because they will.

Are you ready for the challenge?

You should treat every interview you go on as an opportunity to demonstrate your value to a potential employer, and what’s more valuable to a company than having a confident and effective problem-solver on their team? Use these strategies for answering problem solving questions and you’ll be sure to demonstrate your value as a prospective employee.

About the author

Eric Titner

Eric is a NYC-based editor and writer, with years of experience in career-focused content development across a wide range of industries.