Interview Questions About Problems at Work

What do you say when the interviewer asks how you handle problems at work?

Young businesswoman in job interview
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When you are applying for an entry-level position, a typical job interview question is "What major problems have you encountered at work, and how did you deal with them?" Pay attention to that second part of the question. Your interviewer is not interested in dishing on how evil your last boss was or how messed up your previous employer’s stock inventory system was. It is your opportunity to share how you deal with adversity and challenge. Your answer to this question could make or break your interview.

The Problem -- and Solution

Be prepared. This type of answer always has two parts, and sometimes three. You need to describe a problem. And you need to show how you actively, not passively, resolved the situation. You don’t necessarily have to be the one who solved the entire problem, though if you did, good job for you for showing initiative. Many times, however, calling in the right people is the best and most appropriate form of action. Either way, don’t be shy about telling this to your interviewer.

A third part of answering this type of question involves sharing your personal philosophy. Your philosophy can be about your work ethic in general or certain industry-specific issues.

Don’t stress about coming up with a major problem. Not everyone can rescue a company from financial ruin. A problem can be as simple as helping two colleagues who disagree about how to address a task resolve their differences. What you perceive as a problem and how you choose to resolve it tells a whole lot about who you are as a person.

Examples of Solid Interview Answers

Here are sample interview answers for three different problems. You can take these and edit to fit your personal experiences and background, or use them as guidance for crafting your own response:

  • “Once I found a major flaw in the work of one of the most senior members of the department, which could have been very costly to the company if it had been overlooked. I went directly to him and called it to his attention so he could fix it before it affected the final outcome.”

The above problem is a simple two-parter: Here’s the problem, and this is how I fixed it. You get extra points here for letting that senior employee save face and fix the problem himself, instead of involving his superiors needlessly.

  • “I feel that the best way to deal with any challenges is to meet them head-on. When I found that one of my colleagues was saying things that weren't true behind my back, I went to him and talked it through. It turned out that he had misunderstood what I had said, and I was able to set the record straight with him, and my supervisor.”

The above is an example of the three-parter answer: This interviewee states a personal philosophy right up front and then shows how she applies that philosophy in her work life. 

  • "One of the major problems I have found in this profession has been a lack of proper funding for the programs we are trying to implement. I think that I have a lot of creative ideas to help overcome some of the budget limitations inherent in this type of work."

You’ll note that this answer doesn’t convey a problem that happened. But it shows that the interviewee is aware of challenges in that particular industry and is already thinking ahead about how to deal with them.