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Interview Questions on Problem-Solving Skills

by Patrick Gleeson, Ph. D., Registered Investment Adv, studioD

Organizational structures and needs quickly change in the contemporary workplace. Finding employees who successfully adapt to situations that may not exist when they are hired requires asking them not only about their experience and current skills, but also about how they will handle situations they may not be fully prepared to handle. These questions are open-ended and will help the interviewer understand how adaptable, flexible and creative the interviewee may be in a variety of problem-solving situations.

Organizational Structures

The candidates' answers to the following questions will help you understand how accustomed she is to handling needed organizational change, and how effectively she deals with it. "Give me an example in which an organizational structure -- your department, or your team, for example -- that previously worked well, no longer fits." "How did you change the structure to make it effective again?" "Did you lead this change on your own or did you consult with others?" "How did you get department or team members to buy in?"

Strategic Thinking

The candidate's answers to these questions will help evaluate the candidate's ability to think and act strategically. "Describe your job not in terms of what you do, but in terms of how what you do benefits your organization." "What's the difference?" "Give me an example in your organization of the difference between tactical thinking and strategic thinking." "Tell me about a time when you looked beyond an existing problem to find a solution." "What was your thought process in moving toward an understanding of the solution?"


Leaders often need to make critical decisions quickly before all the facts are available. The answers to these questions will help you understand how well the candidate handles this, and how effectively she can improvise effective solutions. "Have you been in situations in which you had to make a decision before you had all the facts?" "Give me a couple of examples." "In each instance, how did you handle it?" "Can you generalize from these two instances -- what did you learn from them?"

Personnel Problems

One of the toughest personnel problems a leader must deal with is the valuable employee with an unhelpful attitude. Often the problem centers on the employee's resistance to change. The candidate's answers to these questions will help you understand how well she deals with problems in this area. "Can you give me an instance when you've identified a problem others didn't want to address?" "How did you handle that?" "When you began to articulate the problem to others, was there resistance?" "How did you overcome it?" "Have you ever found yourself in a situation in which the problem really began with one or a few members of the organization?" "How did you handle this person or group?"

About the Author

Patrick Gleeson received a doctorate in 18th century English literature at the University of Washington. He served as a professor of English at the University of Victoria and was head of freshman English at San Francisco State University. Gleeson is the director of technical publications for McClarie Group and manages an investment fund. He is a Registered Investment Advisor.

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