Problem-Solving Techniques In Interviews

Ah, interviews—the ultimate test of your ability to think on your feet while someone scrutinizes your every word and gesture. We’ve all been there, palms sweaty, minds racing, and silently praying we don’t bumble into an incoherent mess when asked a tricky question.

In this post, you’re going to unlock the secrets to showcasing your problem-solving prowess, making your interviewers nod in approval and perhaps even crack a smile of genuine interest. Let’s make you unforgettable, for all the right reasons.

Quick Takeaways:

  • Dive into company research and industry challenges to tailor your problem-solving examples.
  • Practice explaining your thought process clearly; how you approach a problem is as important as the solution.
  • Employ creativity pragmatically, using the STAR method to keep solutions grounded and relevant.

What can you do to prepare for problem-solving questions?

Preparing for an interview, especially when you know there will be problem-solving questions, can feel like you’re gearing up for battle. Luckily, with the right strategies in place, you can sail through these questions like a pro. First and foremost, understanding the company and the role you’re applying for is crucial. Each company has its unique challenges, and the more you know about their pain points, the better you can tailor your responses.

  • Research the company: Dig deep into their website, check out recent news articles featuring them, and don’t forget platforms like Glassdoor to get a sense of what current and past employees say.
  • Understand the industry: Every industry has its set of challenges. Familiarize yourself with these to predict the types of problem-solving questions you might face.
  • Practice, practice, practice: This cannot be overstated. Websites like LeetCode or HackerRank offer a plethora of problem-solving exercises that mimic real-world scenarios.

A little-known tip that most candidates overlook is creating a ‘problem-solving diary’ where you jot down complex problems you’ve solved, how you approached them, and the outcome. Reviewing this before your interview can be an excellent booster to your confidence.

Why is your approach to a problem as important as the solution?

Your approach to a problem reveals much more about you than whether you can arrive at the right solution. It showcases your analytical thinking, creativity, and, importantly, how you handle stressful situations. Think of it this way: the path you take to reach the destination can sometimes be more enlightening than the destination itself.

  • Be methodical: Clearly outline the steps you’re taking to solve the problem. This demonstrates logical thinking and that you can follow a systematic approach.
  • Communicate effectively: Even if you’re on the right track, if you can’t explain your thought process well, you might lose your audience. Practice articulating complex ideas in simple, understandable terms.
  • Embrace mistakes: If you hit a roadblock, don’t panic. Show that you can pivot and rethink your strategy. This resilience is invaluable in any role.

Always remember, a well-articulated approach that leads to an imperfect solution can sometimes be more impressive than a correct answer with no explanation.

How can you showcase your creativity without going off-track?

Expressing your creativity in problem-solving can set you apart from other candidates. It’s all about striking the perfect balance between being innovative and practical. Here’s how you can maintain this balance:

  • Clarify the problem: Before diving into solutions, make sure you understand the problem inside out. Asking clarifying questions, if necessary, shows that you’re thorough and won’t jump to conclusions.
  • Use relevant examples: When explaining your thought process, tying it back to real-world examples can illustrate your practical experience and creativity.
  • Stay focused: Always tie your creative solutions back to the problem at hand. It’s easy to spiral into fascinating but irrelevant ideas.

One way to practice this balance is through the STAR method (Situation, Task, Action, Result), commonly used in behavioral interviews but equally effective here. Present a situation, define the task, explain the innovative action you took, and then discuss the result. This method keeps your creativity grounded in reality.

Remember, interviews are a two-way street. They’re not just about solving problems but also about showcasing how you think and collaborate. By preparing thoroughly, articulating your thought process clearly, and balancing creativity with practicality, you’ll position yourself as a strong candidate capable of tackling complex challenges head-on.

Common Pitfalls to Avoid in Problem-Solving Scenarios

Embarking on the journey of problem-solving during interviews can often feel like walking through a minefield. One wrong step, and you might face the repercussions. Let’s unpack some frequent missteps candidates make and how you can dodge these bullets:

  • Jumping to conclusions : This happens when candidates skim through the question and rush into solving without fully understanding the problem at hand. Advice: Take a moment. Breathe. Then, dissect the question piece by piece to ensure you grasp what’s really being asked.

  • Being Overly Verbose : Ever heard the saying, “less is more”? This rings especially true when you’re in the thick of explaining your problem-solving process. Droning on can lead to losing your interviewer’s attention or missing the point altogether. Advice: Keep your explanations clear and concise. If you can say it in fewer words without losing meaning, do it.

  • Failing to Admit Uncertainty : Pretending to know it all when you’re stumped doesn’t do you any favors. It’s transparent and can come off as disingenuous. Advice: It’s perfectly okay to say, “I’m not entirely sure, but here’s how I would approach it…” This shows humility and a genuine eagerness to solve problems, even when the solution isn’t clear to you.

Here’s a golden nugget that’s often overlooked: Reflect on your past experiences. Before stepping into your interview, take some time to think about real-world problems you’ve tackled. How did you approach them? What was the outcome? Real-world examples can be incredibly persuasive in interviews and show how you apply problem-solving skills practically.

How Can You Practice Problem-Solving Effectively?

Becoming a proficient problem-solver is like strengthening a muscle—it requires consistent effort and the right techniques. Here’s how you can flex those problem-solving muscles:

  • Engage in brain teasers : Puzzle games, logic problems, and even code challenges if you’re in the tech field, can sharpen your critical thinking skills. Websites like Project Euler or HackerRank offer a plethora of challenges that vary in difficulty.

  • Participate in case competitions : These are goldmines for honing your ability to analyze, strategize, and solve complex problems under pressure. They also simulate a real-world environment where problem-solving is often a team effort, which is an invaluable experience.

  • Practice with mock interviews : It’s one thing to solve a problem on your own time, and quite another to do it under the watchful eye of an interviewer. Platforms like Pramp and offer free or paid mock interviews with feedback, focusing on both technical and non-technical problem-solving skills.

  • Seek feedback actively : After solving any problem, whether in a mock interview or a case competition, ask for feedback. Understand where you excelled and where you could improve. It’s crucial to step out of your comfort zone and tackle the areas that scare you head-on.

Here’s a pro tip that can set you apart: Start a ‘problem-solving journal’. Every time you encounter a new problem, jot it down and detail how you approached it, the solution you devised, and the outcome. This practice not only helps in reflecting on your problem-solving process but also prepares you with a repertoire of scenarios you can draw upon during interviews. Plus, recalling your problem-solving successes can be a significant confidence booster!

Remember, the journey to becoming adept at problem-solving is a marathon, not a sprint. Patience, persistence, and the right strategies will help you cross the finish line with flying colors. So, keep at it, and soon, you’ll find that what once seemed like daunting problems are now exciting challenges waiting to be solved.

  • Alex Mitch

    Hi, I'm the founder of! Having been in finance and tech for 10+ years, I was surprised at how hard it can be to find answers to common questions in finance, tech and business in general. Because of this, I decided to create this website to help others!