Job Interviews: How to Answer "Problem" Questions

Bonnie Lowe

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One of the most common job interview questions is, “What is the toughest problem you've had to face, and how did you overcome it?" Here's how to give a winning answer.

First, realize that this popular interview question provides you with an excellent opportunity to shine. Everyone wants to hire people who are good at solving problems. Think of a good example concerning a problem that faced your company and not just you personally. The bigger the problem, the better.

Give specific examples of the skills and techniques you used to resolve this problem. Emphasize the successful results.

Be generous in sharing credit if it was a team effort, but be sure to highlight your specific role.

Sample Answer:

“When I assumed the role of Chief Dog Groomer at Mutts R Us, team morale was low, sales were lackluster and customers were dissatisfied. I immediately took action to identify the specific problems, analyze alternative solutions and pick the best options, and set a timeline for implementing the corrective actions. I reorganized the team structure and established written goals that focused on teamwork, improved customer service and increased productivity. One specific example is that I implemented a ‘satisfaction guarantee’ for quality and timeliness with each grooming service, and tied in performance-based rewards for employees. These actions greatly improved morale and increased our sales by 48% in the first three months. ”

Here's another interview question that is very similar. . .

"Describe a situation where you used your own initiative to solve a problem. "

It’s unlikely that you’ll be asked both, but have two different problem-solving examples ready just in case, with one emphasizing initiative.

Sample Answer:

“I once received a last-minute request from the General Manager to prepare a letter to residents of a neighborhood that was undergoing emergency sewer repairs by our agency. My boss was on vacation, but she had asked that I attend an off-site meeting that same afternoon. There was no way I would be able to get the letter done and also attend the meeting. I decided, of course, that the General Manager’s request took priority. But the off-site meeting was on a very important topic and I knew my boss was relying on me to attend. So I immediately called the chairperson of that meeting and made arrangements to participate via speakerphone. By eliminating the 45-minute travel time, I was able to complete the GM’s letter and still participate in the off-site meeting. ”

Preparing for these types of questions in advance is very important. It'll get you thinking about your specific accomplishments. Even if these particular questions are not asked, you'll probably be able to use versions of your prepared answers in response to other questions.

For any job interview: anticipate likely questions, prepare answers that are specific (and as relevant to the position as possible), and practice, practice, practice!

Bonnie Lowe is author of the popular Job Interview Success System and free information-packed ezine, “Career-Life Times. " Find those and other powerful career-building resources and tips at her website:


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