How to Master Problem-Solving Interview Questions

  • Problem-solving questions are increasingly common in interviews and require advance preparation.
  • Some problem-solving questions are technical, while others are more general and open-ended, allowing you to showcase critical thinking and collaboration skills
  • The S-T-A-R technique is a simple but effective way to clearly frame responses to problem-solving scenarios

What would you tell a recruiter who asks you to describe a situation where you had to solve a difficult problem?

If you don’t know how to respond quickly and confidently to that question, then you have some work to do before your next interview.

Problem-solving questions are frequently asked in interviews, especially in consulting ones. Hiring managers want to assess how you identify issues and what steps you would take to implement solutions.

The next time a problem-solving question is thrown your way, you can tackle it with ease by following these tips to prepare accordingly and to provide the perfect answer.

Plan And Prepare For Problem-Solving Questions

“Just as you prepare for a certification exam by reviewing the topics outlined in the certification guide, you should take similar steps prior to an interview,” says Amy Oplinger, a Salesforce MVP and Senior Salesforce Consultant for The Crevalle Group.

 A great way to prepare is by revisiting the Trailhead modules and practicing some coding exercises on sfdc99 to familiarize yourself with the latest content and technical skills needed in the industry. Another way to brush up on common scenarios is to read advice posted on the Salesforce Developer forum.

Anticipate The Question

Granted, this is easier said than done, but here are some common variations on problem-solving questions (from the Big Interview blog) that you can prepare for based on your prior work experiences.

  • 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.
  • Tell me about a time when you came up with a new approach to a problem.
  • What’s the most innovative new idea that you have implemented?
  • Tell me about two improvements you have made in the last six months.
  • 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.
  • Please describe a time when you faced a significant obstacle to succeeding with an important work project or activity.

Think through responses to these types of questions in advance, utilizing the S-T-A-R method outlined below. Remember that some challenges require a Plan B, so draw out how an alternative path can lead to a positive resolution.

There isn’t always a right answer to these questions, but there are definitely wrong answers. Avoid finger pointing and blame, and don’t ridicule your prior company or show frustration when responding.

Responses where you cast yourself as a hero, acting independently of a team, can also backfire. You want to showcase your individual competence and decisiveness, but also demonstrate collaboration, explaining how you would utilize your team’s strengths to provide the right solution.

Answer Like a S-T-A-R

Problem-solving interview questions require a certain thinking process so you can address the scenario from start to finish. When put on the spot to solve a problem, be sure to frame your answers using the S-T-A-R technique:

  • Situation: Assess the problem and what is being addressed
  • Task: Identify what you need to solve the problem
  • Action: Outline the actions you will take (this can include your plan b)
  • Result: Describe what you expect the outcome to be, and why it’s the best choice

Some problem-solving questions can be technical and specific, designed to validate that you have the skills that you listed on your resume. But others are more open-ended, presenting you with scenarios where there is no single “right” answer. These questions are opportunities for you to showcase your creativity, analytical thinking, and leadership skills.  

Caitlin Gentry, a Salesforce Recruiter at The Crevalle Group explains, “Be prepared to provide an example of a challenging scenario you overcame by giving detailed examples.  When problem-solving questions are asked, instead of saying “My team” or “we”, provide examples of accomplishments you have made and say “I did”.

Don’t Guess An Answer

There will come a time when you may not know the correct answer to a problem-solving question. If this is the case, don’t panic, advises Amy Oplinger. “Some exercises are designed to assess how you may handle a particular situation, or showcase your thought process.”

Walk the interviewer step-by-step through the ways you would solve a particular problem, explaining the questions you would ask your team and parties involved in order to find a solution. 

It’s a recruiters job to find the ideal person for a position, and that includes testing a candidate’s problem-solving skills. Instead of seeing this as a nerve-wracking problem, see it as an opportunity to differentiate yourself and show how you can be a positive addition to any company.

If you need help looking for jobs in the tech and IT industry, let The Crevalle Group connect you with our wide network of local employers to expedite your job search.

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