Problem solving competency questions

Are you looking to improve your problem solving competency questions for an interview? Or have you applied for a new job and want to prepare for the interview?

In this blog post, we go over the importance of asking problem solving competency questions. We then follow with examples of problem solving interview questions and answers.

What is problem solving competency questions?

Problem solving interview questions test how well candidates respond to problems.

Problem-solving competency questions involve a variety of skills, including analytical thinking, creativity and decision-making. A successful candidate must be able to identify a problem and propose a creative solution.

Why ask problem solving interview questions?

The importance of problem solving competency questions in an interview is that they highlight a candidate's ability to apply their knowledge and skills to new situations.

They also show how an individual approaches problems, which is important for team scenarios. Also to test how well an applicant can think on their feet and provide creative solutions when faced with challenges or obstacles.

What type of interview questions should I ask candidates for problem solving skills?

Recruiters should test to see how applicants will approach a problem and how they think through the problem. The recruiter wants to see if the applicant can find creative solutions to solve problems.

Recruiters are also looking for how well applicants communicate their thoughts and ideas while solving the problem. They want to know if you understand what they are asking or not.

The best questions are often situational questions that require creativity, analytical skills, verbal communication skills, and attention to detail.

The types of questions asked are important too. These include:

Behavioural Focused interview questions

In an interview setting, some questions have been proven to be better predictors of future performance than others. These questions are behavioural focused interview questions.

By focusing on past situations the candidate can demonstrate how they would approach situations specific to your organisation.

These questions help recruiters determine whether an individual has the ability and aptitude to solve problems and make decisions in a variety of situations.

Interview tests

Tests that are most likely to assess problem-solving skills are situational judgement tests. Also, any that assess reasoning, such as inductive reasoning or diagrammatic reasoning tests.

These tests are used as a way of gauging how well candidates can think through and solve problems. The tests also help to find out if the candidate is able to apply their knowledge to new and different scenarios. They also help assess how creative the applicant is, and what their ability is for generating ideas.


Examples of problem solving questions

A series of questions that evaluate a candidate’s problem-solving skills will help you assess the extent to which they can creatively solve problems. You can then evaluate their ability to think outside the box and identify potential solutions.

Candidates should be asked about a time when they solved a problem in a creative way. Or likewise, a time when they were able to come up with an idea that was not immediately obvious.

Below we look at a variety of practice examples of problem solving interview questions.


Example questions:

  1. Talk about an example of a situation when you realized you won't be able to meet the set deadline.
  2. What is your most stressful situation and how did you handle it?
  3. In your opinion, what makes you a great problem solver?
  4. What do you do in a situation when you cannot seem to find the right solution to a problem?
  5. When faced with an urgent problem, how do you react? Are you the type of person who jumps right into solving problems or carefully assesses first?
  6. Give us an example of a situation that would be different if given another chance.
  7. Tell us about the decisions you have had to make in your current job
  8. Tell about a time when you were able to develop a different problem-solving approach. What steps did you follow?
  9. Tell us about a time when you identified a potential problem and resolved the situation before it became a serious issue.
  10. Do you follow any specific processes or steps while solving a problem?
  11. When preparing for your interview, think of a time when you successfully solved a problem and include: What the problem was, what steps you took to solve the problem and the outcome.
  12. Discuss a problem at your current job which you yet have to solve
  13. Tell me about a time you had to solve a problem at work before deciding on how to solve it and why (give the interviewer more insight)
  14. Talk about an incident where you came across an unexpected challenge at work
  15. Discuss a time when you found a creative way to overcome an obstacle
  16. Describe two improvements you have made in the last six months
  17. Tell me about a situation in which you came up with a need and went above the call of duty to get things done
  18. Tell us about the decisions you have had to make in your current job


How to answer problem solving competency questions?

There are 3 types of problem solving competencies: knowledge, skills and experience.

  1. Knowledge can be seen as what you know when you have all the information needed.
  2. Skills can be seen as how well you use your knowledge. When you can apply it in a way that others cannot.
  3. Experience refers to how much time and effort you have put in for this type of task. When there is no one else who has more experience than you on this particular topic or skill set.

The best type of problem solving answers are those that have a logical and sequential flow. They should try to follow the question and answer it. In some cases, they can even offer more than one solution for a given problem.

In order to provide the best type of answer, they need to know what type of logic is being applied in the question. For example, if it's a math problem then they should be able to find a mathematical solution that will lead them to the desired result.

So what qualities should recruiters look out for to determine if someone is a good problem solver? Successful problem solving candidates should be able to demonstrate the following in their answers:

Exploring and understanding

Candidates should be able to observe, interact, search for information and find limitations to understand and solve a problem.

Candidates should demonstrate how they can handle problems and gather information in a situation

Planning and executing

Candidates should be able to reach a problem solving plan, and demonstrate how they execute it.

Recruiters are interested in how the candidate handles specific situations.

Monitoring and reflecting

Candidates should monitor their solution to their problem and reflect on the outcome. They should demonstrate critical evaluation of their decisions. Can they see where they could have improved? Are they able to improve a similar situation for a future scenario?

Employers believe that people who are passionate about their job and if they go wrong somewhere, they have always the thought in mind that what they would do or could do if given another chance to rectify the mistake.

It is important to be straightforward and accept mistakes even when there are bad decisions made. Employers want candidates who are willing to make changes for different solutions in order to tackle the problem.

Best way to approach problem solving

Problem solving competency questions can be tricky and can lead to some common mistakes. These mistakes can be easily avoided by following these simple guidelines:

1) State the problem: There is power in stating the problem. A clear and concise problem statement forces you to think about the issue and figure out the best ways to solve it.

2) Consider all possible solutions: You should always consider all possible solutions before you decide on a final answer. There may be more than one solution that solves the problem.

3) Evaluate your options: When evaluating your options, consider how they impact each other as well as any unintended consequences. This will help you understand how a solution will affect a person, place, or thing outside of the situation at hand.

Examples of problem solving answers

Below we highlight some brief examples of some answers that help recruiters identify good problem-solving skills.


What steps do you follow to study the problem before making a decision? Why?


I have to make decisions and I try my best not to do so without studying the problem first. This has caused me a lot of stress, but it's also taught me how important it is to prepare before making any decision.

In order to make a decision, I first have to understand the problem and why it exists. The first step is studying the problem and figuring out what information you need in order to make an informed decision. The challenges lay with the many different perspectives on how something should be handled. Therefore, it's important for me not only to hear from those with expertise but also other employees who may not necessarily know as much about the subject as myself.

The decisions I have had to make in my current job are the time I spend on new projects, what tasks I take on, and how much time it takes me to complete them. These decisions are also influenced by the number of people in my team.



Describe a time when you had to solve a problem without all the necessary information beforehand.


When I have a list of pros and cons to help me make a decision, I start by considering whether the cons will hinder me from achieving my desired outcome or cause unnecessary burdens somewhere else. For example: when deciding between two options for work-related projects, one might be more time-intensive but yield greater results in the long run. While another may offer a better short-term return on investment.

First, it's helpful to determine which option is best suited for you and your personal interests before making any rash decisions.


Problem solving questions assesses a candidate's analytical thinking skills. Interviewers may ask the candidate to solve an analytical problem, either alone or as a group, and then judge the answer based on its correctness and the thought process behind it.

As well as assessing candidates' ability to use critical thinking, problem solving is useful for many other skills.

These include analysing what candidates know, determining what is relevant, and analysing how they reach their decisions.

In order to get a good feel for an applicant's problem solving abilities, recruiters can pose a few critical thinking questions. These questions will help you understand the way candidates think and react to challenges to solve problems.

In an interview setting, asking a candidate to solve a problem can be the best way to gauge their ability to think critically and creatively on their feet.

For more information on interview questions to get the top candidates, feel free to read our post on Dive for Results Interview Questions.


If you liked this post and found it useful, please share and tag us on your social media. Happy recruiting, or good luck with your interview!

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