8 problem solving interview questions for identifying top talent

problem solving interview questions

Problem-solving is a vital skill for many roles across numerous industries, especially in jobs where employees must deal with constantly changing variables and tight deadlines. Problem-solving interview questions can help you identify candidates skilled enough to succeed in that sort of environment.

Before the interview

If problem solving skills are a key requirement for your open role, the first step you should take is to test your candidates with an online skills assessment.

You can conduct a problem solving test to gauge applicants’ problem solving skills before you start reading resumes. Then, you can consider the top-scoring candidates as you finalize your shortlist.

During the interview process, you can delve deeper into each candidates’ problem solving skills by asking the right questions. Here, we go through tips for using problem solving interview questions and eight of the best questions to ask candidates during the interview process. 

problem solving skills

What are problem solving interview questions?

Problem solving interview questions test how well candidates respond to problems that arise, including analyzing the problem and considering the pros and cons before reaching a sound decision. 

This often includes the ability to think critically, so problem solving interview questions focus on gathering information on past situations the candidate has dealt with and how they would approach situations specific to your organization and/or industry. Through these questions, you can also assess for critical thinking skills.

Tips for using problem solving questions to screen candidates

Problem solving interview questions are useful for helping to evaluate candidates who you will hire in roles that require analytical abilities. Here are several tips to help you get the most out of using problem solving interview questions: 

  1. Use example problems relevant to the role: There’s a vast difference between brain teasers and appropriate problem solving interview questions. So instead of asking broad questions that don’t reveal relevant candidate information, such as “An apple costs 20 cents, an orange costs 40 cents, and a grapefruit costs 60 cents, how much is a pear?”, pose problems that the candidate is likely to come across in their role.
  1. Standardize your set of problem solving interview questions: Using the same questions with all candidates will help you maintain objectivity and consistency. Before starting the interview process, decide which answers would constitute an “excellent,” “fair,” and “poor” response. 
  1. Ask problem solving questions with more than one logical answer: Problem solving questions are not just used to determine whether candidates can find the ‘right answer, but about seeing how they reached that answer. 

8 problem solving interview questions for identifying top talent

Below, we’ll go through eight problem solving interview questions and explain how each one can be useful for identifying strong candidates. 

1. Have you ever had a deadline you weren’t able to meet? What happened? How did you handle it?

If your industry is fast-paced and depends on employees hitting deadlines, this question will help you assess how well the candidate can find solutions to time-sensitive issues and their ability to manage their time

2. We work with many clients with multiple needs, and we aim to provide excellent service to them all. How would you prioritize each clients’ needs?

The answer to this question also reveals how candidates deal with time management, customer service abilities, and how well they can prioritize, plan, and execute strategies to meet all client requirements.

3. How would you describe your usual immediate reaction to unexpected challenges or roadblocks?

Different personality types respond differently under pressure, and answers to this question will help you ascertain whether the candidate would be a good fit for your workplace culture. For example, while some organizations prefer people who can deliver quick, on-the-spot solutions, others prefer those who take their time to strategize their next steps.

4. Describe a time when you had to change your strategy at the last minute. How did you handle this situation?

This problem solving question will reveal how quickly candidates can think on their feet during stressful situations to complete a project successfully.

5. Can you think of a situation at work where you saw an opportunity in a potential problem? What did you do? What was the outcome?

Many people balk in the face of a problem, and others thrive on making lemonade out of lemons. This question will allow you to discover which candidates can think outside the box and not just solve problems but also draw opportunities. 

Answers to this question will reveal what candidates consider big problems at work and how they approach the problem. Depending on the responses, you can evaluate how much pressure candidates can handle and whether they’d be a good fit for the specific role. 

7. How do you deal with problems when you don’t have access to all the necessary information? Can you describe a time when this occurred? 

Often, problems that arise do so without warning. If it’s relevant to the role, this question can reveal how well the candidate can use their initiative, remain flexible, and work independently to solve the issue. 

8. How do you deal with situations where you cannot find a solution for a problem?

This question is important, as it recognizes that no candidate is perfect and that no person can solve 100% of problems, 100% of the time. Depending on your organization and workplace culture, the answers to this question will help you determine whether the candidate would be a good fit. 

Hire top talent with problem solving interview questions 

Here’s one final tip from us: Even if the role you’re hiring for relies on finding a candidate with great problem solving abilities, don’t spend the whole interview asking problem solving questions. Candidates contain multitudes and should be judged on their many other aspects, too. 

Candidates’ cognitive ability, personality, and skills are all important components for you to consider. Test Gorilla offers over 125 scientifically validated pre-screening tests that can help you streamline the recruiting and hiring process and gain a well-rounded view of all your candidates. 

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