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! 

Additional links

  • Matching resume and cover letter templates (50% discount)
  • Check out my Youtube channel on interview questions and answers

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
CV & Cover Letter TemplatesView More