Everyone faces problems in the workplace, it’s how we deal with them that matters most. The problems you faced at your old workplace actually tell future employers a lot about your problem solving strategies and abilities. You can expect that some employers – especially those that consider themselves high stress, or those that are replacing someone that struggled with problem solving – are going to ask you questions about workplace problems to learn more about how you reacted.
Behavioral Interview Question: Describe the biggest work-related problem you have faced in the past 12 months. How did you handle it?
For employers, this interview question about problem solving manages to answer three questions about you as an employee:
- What are you willing to tell people about your previous employer?
- What do you consider a big problem?
- What do you do to problem solve?
The first and second parts of this are important to remember – if you start telling them something private about your old employer, you may be hinting to them that you don’t know what’s appropriate to share, or you may accidentally sound very negative about your former workplace in a way they don’t want to hear.
Similarly, if the “problem” you share is not much of a problem, you unintentionally make it sound like you are overwhelmed by stress.
If you haven’t shared many big problems, it’s okay to explain that, but then if you do, share what you would do if faced with a big problem.
“One of our largest clients went under, and since we were a startup company we were dependent on their business to thrive. Their business was a significant part of our revenue and they were one of the reasons we started the company. Apparently they were deep in debt which we had no idea about. Anyway, we immediately had to go into emergency mode – to both avoid layoffs and keep the company afloat.
Our sales department was handling all of our current and old leads, offering deep discounts. I wasn’t sure that was the right strategy and certainly not the only strategy we needed to follow. I wanted to help in any way I could. I was immediately on the computer, marketing our services to similar companies, emailing not just former leads, but potential contacts directly – but I also didn’t offer any discounts. I wanted us to look valuable, and through a little bit of luck but what I’d like to think was a lot of hard work, we managed to snag another client within a week.”
This is a person of action – someone that really understands how to take action to solve a problem. It also had a positive outcome, which is even better. This type of answer shares a lot of great things about your personality, and makes you desirable to any company.
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