Interview Question: Using Fact-Finding Skills to Solve a Problem

Nilda Melissa Diaz, CPRW
By Nilda Melissa Diaz, CPRW, Career Advice Expert Last Updated: January 06, 2023

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During an interview, you will undoubtedly be faced with a variety of questions. A great deal of these will be behavioral interview questions such as ‘Give me an example of a time when you solved a problem with your research skills.’ You may have experience answering more traditional, fact-based questions, but behavioral questions are of a slightly different nature.

Unlike traditional interview questions about your work history, educational background, and hard skills, behavioral questions are used by interviewers to better understand how you would respond in certain situations. Your answers will also give the interviewer an idea of how you see yourself in relation to others in a professional setting. By answering behavioral questions, you will have the opportunity to show the interviewer the personal traits that make you the best candidate for the job.

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Variations on the question

Depending on the interviewer, the question above may be rephrased as 'Can you describe a time when your research skills helped you solve a problem?' However the question is phrased, there is no room for error, and if you do not have an acceptable answer ready, you may not get the job. Fortunately for job seekers, there are many tips that you can use to successfully answer behavioral questions with ease.

7 steps of problem-solving

Now you might be wondering something along the lines of: What are problem-solving techniques, or what are the problem-solving skills? Or perhaps you’ve heard of the seven steps of the problem-solving process. The seven steps of the problem-solving process are:

  1. Identify the problem
  2. Define the goals
  3. Brainstorm solutions
  4. Assess/consider any alternatives
  5. Choose the solution
  6. Execute on the chosen solution
  7. Evaluate the chosen solution

Now, let’s move on and learn how to answer interview questions about using research skills to solve problems.

How to Answer Problem Solving Interview Questions

This may seem like common sense to many job seekers, but it is imperative that you do this if you want to impress your interviewer. Keep in mind that you are interviewing for a job and that you will need to show your employer you have skills that will benefit the company. For example, if you work in the medical field, you can discuss the time you identified a patient’s illness by analyzing body tissue in a lab. Whatever example you decide to use, just be sure that it is relevant to the job and the industry at hand. If you are interviewing for your first professional job, it is acceptable to use a situation related to school or volunteer work.

Work Related

2. Be Specific About the Research

Behavioral interview questions will be used to predict your future behavior, and if you fail to provide a detailed answer, the interviewer may infer that you have never had to use your research skills. Employers want to hear every single detail in regards to your behavior, so avoid generalities and vague examples. Discuss the reference tools you used to conduct the research, go into detail about the individuals involved in the problem, and talk about how you actively applied the information you gathered. Try to avoid making yourself sound like a hero, and simply show your interviewer that you are proactive and results-oriented.

Be Specific

3. Use an Example Where Your Research Actually Made a Difference

Even if you use a work-related example, you will need to be sure that it sounds as if your actions had a positive impact on the situation. Don’t talk about the time you found overlooked simple data in a file or the time you had to write a research paper in college. Everyone has to do these things, and you will simply sound like all the other applicants if you discuss mundane issues.

Choose an example where you were forced to take control of a situation and jumped into researching a topic headfirst. If you solved a problem that perplexed others, your answer will seem even more impressive.

Research Difference

4. Use the STAR Method

STAR is an acronym used to describe a technique for answering behavioral interview questions. This is what the letters stand for:

  • Situation or Task
  • Actions
  • Results

The STAR method ensures that you answer the question in a detailed and professional manner. Simply choose a specific situation or task, discuss the actions you decided to take and wrap up your response with the results of your actions. Ideally, you will want to discuss a situation that had positive results.

Star Method

Example answer

At my previous job as an accountant, a client became irate because she felt that we had overlooked some very important data involving her tax returns. She claimed that our accounting methods had caused her to get audited by the federal government and that if we didn't correct the problem, she would sue.

This sounded extremely unusual to me, considering that the individual who handled her finances was usually very thorough. Using my knowledge of accounting, I decided to look back over the information she submitted to us, and I noticed several inconsistencies after using traditional and electronic accounting methods. In the end I realized that the client failed to report all of her business income and that the firm could not be held liable for her negligence.

Behavior-related questions can be very complex at times, but they can be answered using the STAR method. Practice answering common behavioral questions before attending the interview.

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