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  • Writer's pictureGO2 Team

Answering Critical Thinking and Problem-Solving Interview Questions

Updated: May 10

Critical thinkers and good problem-solvers are exactly the kind of employees most interviewers are looking for. As a critical thinker you will notice possible problems for your company that have not even happened yet, and creatively and logically solve them using all the information available to you. Your unbiased, solution-focused way of working could save your company millions of dollars, or from getting a negative reputation worth even more.


It's much easier to demonstrate your critical thinking and problem-solving skills when you are already in a job than it is when you are in an interview room. To help you with that, we have collected some example interview questions that test your critical thinking and problem-solving skills, as well as some good example answers to demonstrate your skills.


“What Would You Do If a Document Your Boss Presented Had an Error?”

Many problem-solving questions begin with "What would you do if..?" and a lot are about dealing with difficult workplace situations with co-workers. Your interviewer knows that co-workers have problems with each other sometimes, and that all humans make mistakes. Whatever the situation is, your answer should demonstrate your professionalism, trustworthiness, and respect for your colleagues.


Example answer:

"I would wait to address any issues with my boss's work in private if I noticed them, so I do not create an awkward situation for my boss in front of my colleagues. I would show the mistake to my boss and offer to help resolve the issue out of respect for their position of authority. My previous supervisor even had me check all of their papers before they were finalized since she knew how honest I was.”


"What Would You Do If..?"

If the job you are applying for involves managing personal information, money, government documents, or working with vulnerable people, you are likely to be asked about what you would do in situations where an employee could make a big mistake. What this question will be depends on the role you are applying for, so it's really helpful to take time before the day of your interview to think of the kind of situations you might get asked.

Here are some example situations:

  • You are asked for private information about a child at a school or a patient at a hospital.

  • A client offers you money to complete their application quicker than usual.

  • A prisoner asks you to mail a letter for them.

  • Your co-worker made a mistake with the accounting. They ask you not to tell anyone.

Remember, your answers should show professionalism, trustworthiness, and respect for your colleagues. In general, never give out personal information, give your co-workers an opportunity to tell their manager if they made a mistake, give bad news in private, and be honest.


“How do You Make Quick Decisions in Stressful Situations?”

Some interviewers prefer to ask more general questions about prioritizing your work, working under time pressure, or problem-solving, and are looking for people who can make logical decisions when under stress. So, to answer these questions, talk about a time when you had to make a quick but logical decision that worked out well, and explain the steps you took.


It is difficult to make good decisions when you don't have a lot of time to make them, and interviewers know this. They don't expect you to be able to do miracles, but you should show in your answer that you used the information available to you at the time, and focused on what the priorities for your company are.


Example answer:

"I used to work at a company that rented filming equipment to studios, and a client came in looking quite upset. She told me she had not received a really important piece of equipment we had sent out to her the previous week. They needed to begin filming that day, and couldn't begin without the equipment. Our systems showed we had sent it out and someone had signed for delivery. The client insisted that no one had signed for it and it was not at the studio. There was not enough time to investigate the problem that day, no managers were present, and the client was under a lot of time pressure. In the end, I knew she was a long-term trusted client, and the main priority for my company was excellent customer service, so I loaned her a replacement kit so she could film. She came back the next week apologizing as she had found the kit in her studio, and had not realized it was there."


"Describe a Time When You Solved a Problem Before it Became an Issue."

This question is used to see who can save the company a lot of time and money by solving possible future problems before they have a negative impact. Your interviewer is looking for someone who will notice signs of these future problems, carefully consider different options, and come to their team or manager with some possible solutions.


Begin your answer by describing the actions you took to anticipate potential project challenges. How did you lower those risks? So, if an issue arises, you can demonstrate that you were prepared and have a Plan B in place. Did you act promptly if it was unexpected, or did you spend the time to study the situation before determining the best course of action? Depending on the circumstances, any response might be correct.


Example answer:

"In my previous job at XYZ Company, we were planning to introduce a new, but complicated product. I thought our customers might find it confusing. So, I took time to learn all about the product and created a list of frequently asked questions (FAQ) and a guide to fix common issues. I also teamed up with my colleagues to create a quick-action plan for any unexpected problems. When we started selling the product, we received many questions from customers. But, our FAQ, guide, and quick-action plan helped us answer these questions and fix new problems fast, which made our customers happy. This experience taught me the importance of planning and quick problem-solving in customer support."


"When Should You Try to Solve a Problem on Your Own and When Should You Seek Help?"

We all need to ask for help, and in many situations it is an important skill. But your interviewer is looking for someone who can manage the general responsibilities of the position without asking for help from a colleague or supervisor before they have looked for solutions themself. It can be a difficult decision to make, but knowing when it's time to ask for assistance is important. A good general rule is to look for help before the problem gets any bigger, or it starts to impact other people. You want to show that this is something you consider whenever you have a new problem at work.


Example answer:

"I have a 15-minute rule. I'll try my best to solve the problem on my own for at least 15 minutes. During that time, I will analyze the problem, look for possible solutions, choose the most effective, and think of ways to achieve it. If I can't come up with a good solution in 15 minutes, I'll ask a teammate or supervisor. But if that problem has a very short deadline, it's starting to affect other people, or it's quickly getting worse, it's more appropriate to have a team problem-solving approach."


"Give an Example of a Time When Your Own Difficulties Stopped You Doing Your Work, and How You Changed That."

We all face difficulties at work. Your interviewers may get insight into your strengths and shortcomings based on how you manage. Be truthful with how the incident played out, but select one with a favorable conclusion.


Example answer:

"As someone who has worked in the accounting field for many years, it may be difficult to keep up with technology that is supposed to expedite our procedures." When a new process is employed, there is a sense of suspicion and uneasiness. As the organization expanded and employing new technology became required, I had to overcome my own bias of sticking with old practices. I addressed my team leader and requested extra training to increase my confidence in implementing the new protocols."


Wrap Up

Critical thinking and problem-solving skills are extremely useful in various areas of life. You might have already shown your interviewer these skills without even realizing it during the application process. But by taking the time you need to think about good examples of times when you have used these skills, you are making sure that you demonstrate them clearly on the day of your interview.


If you are given an exercise to solve an example problem in your interview, spend some time reading the information you are provided don't be afraid to ask important questions questions about the scenario. When giving your answer, focus on the solution instead of the challenge, as this will help show your positive attitude.


Helpful things to think about when preparing your answers:

  • Your interviewer will ask you about situations that are linked to the position you are applying for. So prepare by researching possible scenarios and answers online.

  • Your interviewer might have follow-up questions about the example you use, so make sure you know a lot about it.

  • You are being asked complicated questions with complicated answers; feel confident taking a few seconds to think about the best answer you have prepared.

  • Your creative solutions to these situations will demonstrate what makes you particularly qualified for this position.

  • When dealing with challenges, having a positive attitude is essential. The examples you provide should demonstrate your strong motivation to find answers, and to support your colleagues and company.

  • Think about when you should ask for help, and when you should solve the problem alone.

When you have prepared your scenarios and examples answers, you will be able to confidently approach critical thinking and problem-solving questions, demonstrate your reasoning process, and leave a great impression on any potential employers. Let the skills and personality that got you to the interview shine through. You've got this!


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