Tell Me About a Time When You Missed an Obvious Solution to a Problem

Nilda Melissa Diaz, CPRW
By Nilda Melissa Diaz, CPRW, Career Advice Expert Last Updated: September 01, 2022

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Interview questions come in many forms, and periodically you will be given a question regarding your behavior in a specific situation. Behavioral questions such as ‘Tell me about a time when you missed an obvious solution to a problem’ can easily confuse jobseekers if they are unprepared. These questions are usually mixed in with traditional interview questions.

Behavioral interview questions are fairly commonplace and differ from traditional interview questions in terms of content and structure. The answers to traditional questions can easily be taken from your resume, but they do not provide much information about your handling of situations and your personality. Depending on your interviewer, the question above may also be phrased as ‘Can you describe a time when you made a mistake?’ or ‘Describe a time when you accidentally overlooked an important piece of information.’ However the question is phrased, you will need to answer quickly and directly.

Luckily for you, it is possible to provide a satisfactory response to these questions using the STAR method. This method consists of discussing a situation, the tasks you performed, the actions you engaged in, and the results of those actions. The interview tips below will show you exactly how to answer the question above using the STAR approach.

How to Answer the Question

1. Be Honest:

This is extremely important when you are asked a question about a mistake or missed solution. Don’t provide an unrealistic answer such as ‘I have never missed an obvious solution to a problem.’ Even the most attentive workers make mistakes periodically, and employers know this, so avoiding the question will only hurt you in the long,run. If you can’t think of a situation, reference a time when you could have paid more attention. When it comes to behavioral questions, it is always best to provide an answer. If you don’t answer a question, the hiring manager will simply choose another candidate who did.

2. Detail the Problem and Solution:

If you only provide a general or cookie,cutter example, the employer may not receive the information that he or she is looking for. Discuss the situation and the events leading up to it, as well as how others responded to your mistake. Before answering the question, make sure that you convey to the employer that the situation was a rare occurrence and that you are typically very thorough when it comes to your work. When asked about missed information, it is best to provide an example that occurred less than two or three years ago. Employers want recent information and experience, and if your situation occurred 20 or 30 years ago, it may or may not be relevant in today’s workplace.

3. Use the STAR Method:

The STAR method ensures that jobseekers answer behavioral interview questions in a comprehensive and professional fashion. STAR is an acronym that stands for the following:

  • Situation or Task
  • Actions
  • Results

To employ STAR, define a situation or task, the actions you decided to take, and the final results of your actions. In this situation, you will want to provide details about a mistake that had a positive outcome. Be as detailed as possible, and try to provide an answer that is at least two to three minutes long.

4. Turn a Positive Into a Negative:

This may seem like a negative question that is designed to unveil your greatest weaknesses, but it is actually providing you with an opportunity to give a positive answer. Everyone makes mistakes, and the interviewer is attempting to see whether or not you actually learned from yours. After discussing the overlooked information, reframe it in a way that makes you seem wise and willing to learn. Discuss how it made you a better worker or how it led you to change the way you work. Always speak in terms of personal growth and development, regardless of the situation.

Sample Answer

In my most recent role as a chemistry professor, I did not understand why some of my students scored significantly lower than others. From my perspective, the difference in performance could largely be attributed to work ethic and intellect. As time went by, I sincerely wanted to help my struggling students keep up with their peers, so I decided to offer extra office hours for studying. This was not a good idea, as it was rather exhausting, and I was thinking of ending it until a student asked me for a list of alternative learning materials (ex: textbooks, websites, etc.). I gave her the list of materials and noticed that her scores greatly improved when she used a different book. In all of the confusion, I simply forgot that there are other resources available to students.

If you choose to employ the tips above during your next interview, there will be no need to be intimidated by behavioral interview questions.

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