Interview Questions About Handling Problems

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Companies are always looking to hire employees who can solve problems. That's why interviewers often ask candidates about how they have handled challenges in the workplace. In addition, questions like "Describe a problem you encountered at your last job" are a way for interviewers to assess your attitude towards past supervisors/employers and to see if you place blame or take responsibility.

How to Answer Interview Questions About Handling Problems at Your Last Job

When questions of this type are asked, it is best to think of them as a request to share how you have intervened to solve problems in the past, rather than an opportunity to complain about difficult situations at work.

Have Examples Ready to Share

Prepare examples of how you have addressed problems or met challenges for each job, internship, volunteer, and leadership role included on your resume. Choose problem situations where your involvement led to a solution and avoid unsolvable or difficult issues that couldn't be improved or fixed. 

Remember, employers will be listening to your answer to find out how you resolve issues, deal with conflict, and take initiative in identifying and resolving problems. Look for examples that showcase abilities that will come in handy in the position you're interviewing for. As with resumes, numbers can be impressive: if you drove sales, reduced time, or had a result that can be quantified by metrics, be sure to share the details.

Describe the Problem, Your Actions, and the Results

For each example, describe the situation with just enough detail to represent the magnitude and nature of the problem.

Then state specifically how you assessed the situation and acted to meet the challenge. Emphasize the skills or qualities you tapped to intervene. Include the skills which qualify you for the job. Finally, describe the results which you helped generate or how the situation was improved. Your stories don't need to represent monumental achievements; small successes which illustrate your key strengths are sufficient.

Avoid rambling, and also make sure not to speak negatively about co-workers or managers.

You might, for example, share a story like "During my first year after an HR manager at ABC company I noticed that new recruits were leaving at a higher rate than I had experienced at previous employers. I decided to create a survey to identify the reasons for turnover. I found that they weren't satisfied with the level of feedback and mentoring which they were receiving. I established protocols for managers to meet at regular intervals with new employees during the first year and set up a mentoring program. During my second year turnover of new recruits was reduced by 30% and surveys indicated a higher level of job satisfaction."

Tips for Answering This Question: 

As you are thinking through how you would answer this question, use these tips to help you formulate a strong answer.

  • Practice storytelling: Avoid a long pause, and a rambling, unfocused story, by rehearsing answers. Have a sense of some of your big accomplishments from each position so that you can provide a coherent, relevant story. Remember: employers will be interested in seeing how you think and problem-solve.
  • Choose a good example: This is a situation where a generic answer, such as "I always respond to problems quickly and efficiently" doesn't suit. Choose examples that will put your relevant skills on display. Avoid pointing fingers or placing blame, and keep language neutral when describing the cause of the problem.
  • Make sure to emphasize results: Be specific about what you accomplished. If you can include numbers, such as "This increased sales 10% year-over-year" or "This lowered overtime costs by $1,000 a month" be sure to mention them.

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