How To Answer “Can You Tell Me About a Time When You Solved a Difficult Problem?”

Do you have an upcoming job interview? Make sure you know how to answer the “Can you tell me about a time when you solved a difficult problem?” or “Can you tell me about a challenge you had to overcome in the workplace? interview questions!

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This interview question is often asked by employers to find out more about the candidate’s ability to manage and assess difficult situations. That means you need to provide a real-life example that proves your ability to gather information/data before you make a logical decision. The CARL model (Context, Action, Results, Learning) can be used to provide a clear and concise answer. 

Example Answer

Context: “When I was a [Job title] at [Company XYZ], I was responsible for [Webshop]’s online customer support. During Black Friday, when usually 40% of our users make an online purchase, the payment system suddenly went down. My inbox was flooded with emails, but I decided to remain calm and use my knowledge and common sense to solve the problem. 

Action: To begin with, I decided to call our [Payment provider] to make sure they were actually aware of the issue. Unfortunately, they couldn’t provide any clarity about the issue or when the problem would be resolved. I then wrote an email template to inform and reassure each customer that the payment issue would resolve as soon as possible. In the meantime, I quickly configured a different payment method which allows customers to checkout directly with [Paypal]. I then relayed this info to the customers.

Results: Although a decline in sales was noticeable, I was able to quickly anticipate and provide an alternative which minimized our losses. Our team lead gave me a shoutout at our next department meeting.  

LearningWhat I’ve learned from this experience is to never rely on just one payment provider, or wait for them to resolve a crucial problem. It took [Payment provider] a whole day to fix a bug in their system.”

Example Answer (No Experience)

“In my role as a team leader for a 3rd-year project at [University XYZ], I was responsible for managing a 5-person team and writing a marketing plan by the end of the year. I must say, addressing issues and creating a successful project team was quite a challenge. I was dealing with conflict, tension, low engagement and group members that were simply not delivering. 

Therefore, I had to take pre-emptive steps to reduce the number of problems and improve work attitudes. I figured that each one of us had to walk in the same direction with a clear vision and purpose in mind. That’s why I scheduled many 1-on-1 and group meetings to build a framework. As a result, our shared values increased productivity and we were able to successfully finish the project on time.”

Interview Question Tips

  • Don’t provide the interviewer with a common problem or one that makes you look bad
  • Avoid clichés such as: “I’m an excellent problem solver”, “solution focussed” or “visionary”
  • Do pick an example that highlights your personality and strengths
  • Choose a relevant example that you might face in the position you are applying for
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