Tell me about a time you had to solve a complex problem
- 1 Tell me about a time you had to solve a complex problem
- 2 Other interview questions that are similar
- 3 What the interviewer is looking for by asking this question
- 4 How best to structure your answer to this question
- 5 What you should NOT do when answering questions
- 6 Tell me about a time you had to solve a complex problem – Example answers
- 7 Other Interview Question and Answers
Other interview questions that are similar
- Describe an instance where you navigated through a challenging situation to find a solution.
- Can you share an example of how you approached a difficult task and what the outcome was?
- What strategies did you employ to overcome a significant hurdle in a project or task?
- Recall a moment when you were faced with a tough decision-making process. How did you resolve it?
- Provide an example of a time when you had to analyze and solve a problem under tight deadlines.
- How did you handle a situation where the initial solution to a problem was unsuccessful?
- Describe a scenario where you had to use creative thinking to solve an unconventional issue.
What the interviewer is looking for by asking this question
There are probably an infinite number of questions that the interviewer could ask you on the day. Some questions are incredibly common appearing in almost every interview you will have, while other questions you might hear once and never again regardless of how many jobs you apply for.
Fundamentally though all interview questions are really trying to find out one of 3 things:
1 – Can you do the job? (Do you have the skills/experience needed?)
2 – Will you do the job? (Do you have the drive/motivation to get the job done?)
3 – Will you fit in? (Does your personality match the workplace culture? Are you likeable?)
That’s it. Those are the 3 things that the interviewer is trying to ascertain. Every question that is asked of you will fundamentally be trying to resolve one (or more) of these 3 things.
So, when you’re asked to recount a time you had to solve a complex problem, the interviewer is looking at how you approach challenges, which can touch on all three aspects. How you solved the problem shows if you have the skills (can you do the job?), the steps you took indicate your dedication to overcoming obstacles (will you do the job?), and the way you communicate your solution can give insights into your ability to fit into a team or align with a company’s culture (will you fit in?).
How best to structure your answer to this question
Unless the question you are asked is a straight ‘up or down / yes or no’ style question then you are going to need to learn to describe, expand and elaborate on your answers. The best way of doing this is to follow the B-STAR technique for answering interview questions.
Answers using this method follow the below structure:
B – Belief – What are your thoughts and feelings with regard to the subject matter? Mentioning your beliefs lets the interviewer see how you think and feel about facing challenges. It shows if you’re someone who tackles problems head-on or not, which matters for fitting in and getting the job done.
S – Situation – What was going on? Briefly explain the scenario that was taking place. – Try not to spend too much time describing the situation. The bulk of your answer needs to be about you and what you did so keep the situation simple to understand and even simpler to describe. By keeping the situation brief and focused, you emphasize your active role in addressing the problem, which directly demonstrates your capability and resourcefulness—key traits that answer the “Can you do the job?” question.
T – Task – What was your role in the action? Most of the time it is best that you are taking an active rather than passive role in the encounter. This directly ties into showing the interviewer that you are someone who takes initiative and responsibility, essential qualities for both performing the job effectively and fitting into a team that values proactive members.
A – Activity (or action) – What did you do? Detail the steps you took and why you took them. – This should take up the bulk of your time answering the question. Elaborating on your actions provides clear evidence of your problem-solving skills and adaptability, addressing the interviewer’s question about your ability to perform the job and showcasing your dedication to seeing tasks through to completion.
R – Result – How did everything end up? Try to use figures if possible (e.g. we cut costs by $3m, customer satisfaction scores increased 25%, failures reduced to zero, ice cream parties increased ten-fold etc.). Quantifying your results helps the interviewer gauge the impact of your actions, offering a concrete measure of your effectiveness and success in handling challenges, which speaks volumes about your potential to contribute positively to the company’s goals and objectives.
Remember though that the B-STAR technique is descriptive not prescriptive. You do not need to follow this flow strictly, go with what is best for your answers and that will allow you to put your point across and show your experience the best.
What you should NOT do when answering questions
Do not avoid the question – Answer directly to show you can tackle challenges head-on.
Do not downplay the situation – Acknowledging its complexity shows your ability to handle tough tasks.
Do not overhype the situation – Keep it realistic to demonstrate your practical problem-solving skills.
Do not give a one-sentence answer – Expand to show how you actively find solutions.
Do not overly describe the scenario and miss the action – Focus on your actions to highlight your role in solving the problem.
Do not have a passive role in the situation – Taking charge shows you’re capable and willing to do the job.
Do not forget to mention what you learned – This shows you can grow from experiences, making you a valuable team member.
Tell me about a time you had to solve a complex problem – Example answers
Example Answer 1 (Detailed)
“In my previous role, I always believed in the power of teamwork to solve complex issues. We faced a significant challenge when our sales figures dropped unexpectedly by 15% in a quarter, which was alarming for the company’s growth trajectory.
The situation was that our main product was losing market share to a competitor who had recently upgraded their offering. As the team leader, my task was to devise and implement a strategy to regain our market position and boost sales numbers.
To address this, I initiated a comprehensive market analysis with my team to understand the competitor’s advantages and our product’s shortcomings. We discovered that our product lacked certain features that had become industry standards. Based on this insight, I coordinated with the product development and marketing teams to expedite the introduction of these features and to launch a targeted marketing campaign highlighting our product’s unique selling points.
The result of these actions was a significant turnaround in sales figures. Within two quarters, we not only recovered the lost 15% but also achieved an additional 10% increase in sales. This success not only boosted team morale but also reinforced my belief in leveraging collective strengths to overcome challenges.
From this experience, I learned the importance of swift, data-driven decision-making and cross-departmental collaboration in addressing business challenges. It was a testament to how understanding market needs and internal collaboration can lead to tangible results.”
Example Answer 2 (Shorter)
More Sample Answers…
The examples provided above can serve as a foundation for creating your unique answers. For additional inspiration, our new guide includes five sample responses to this question and over 250 answers to all of the most common interview queries.