Describe a Specific Problem You Solved for Your Employer or Professor. How Did You Approach the Problem? What Role Did Others Play? What Was the Outcome?


The skills and abilities listed on your resume are descriptive of the kind of person you are. However- an interviewer wants to hear about how you have used these skills and abilities in real-life situations. This is done by asking behavioral interview questions like- ‘Describe a specific problem you solved for your employer or professor. How did you approach the problem? What role did others play? What was the outcome?’

Behavioral questions differ from traditional questions because they allow you to showcase how you have used your skills instead of just saying you have them. Traditional questions deal indirectly with skills you have acquired through previous job experience- but behavioral questions allow you the chance to demonstrate how you have used these skills to accomplish an objective. They can be difficult to answer because you cannot resort to canned responses- but have to be prepared with descriptive scenarios that fully answer the question.

When an interviewer asks you a question like the one above- they want to understand your approach to problem solving. They may also ask this question in different ways like- ‘Tell me about a situation where you had to work with others to solve a problem.’ Learn how to use the STAR method to prepare an answer to this question so you can ace your interview.

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How to Answer the ‘Describe a Specific Problem You Solved for Your Employer or Professor. How Did You Approach the Problem? What Role Did Others Play? What Was the Outcome?’ Behavioral Interview Question

Address All Aspects of the Question. Behavioral interview questions like this can be quite lengthy. While you may be tempted to select points of the question to answer and ignore others- this could be to your detriment. An interviewer is interested in hearing not only about your problem-solving abilities- but how you work with others and whether or not the outcome was successful.

A great way to ensure you are answering the question from every angle is to follow the STAR method- which guarantees you have addressed every aspect by talking about each in turn:

  • • ST: The situation or task you were given
  • • A: The action you implemented
  • • R: The result or outcome

Use Numbers and Specifics in Your Answer. It is one thing to talk about how you were able to solve a problem for your past employer and how the outcome was successful. However, being too passive in your approach can signal the answer is made up. A response devoid of details can counteract the reason the question was asked in the first place. When formulating your answer, recall specific details and numbers that indicate how big the problem was and how successfully you solved it, and help the interviewer envision the situation in a more realistic manner.

Stay Focused on the Question. It can be easy to get sidetracked while answering a behavioral interview question and find yourself on a tangent. The best way to avoid this is to stay totally focused on the answer. Say just enough to be able to address the inquiry without becoming verbose or sharing details that derail the conversation. For example, when answering the “What role did others play?” aspect of the question, talk about how you chose to delegate responsibilities and what was achieved as a team. Avoid going into detail about the responsibilities of every individual you worked with.

Use Examples from Your Recent Past. When you begin talking about an experience you had ten years ago, it may lead the interviewer to believe you haven’t had any recent successes or situations where you were responsible for finding a solution. Stick to examples from your recent past and only share an older experience if it is totally relevant and had a noticeable impact on your career or problem-solving abilities.

Sample ‘Describe a Specific Problem You Solved for Your Employer or Professor. How Did You Approach the Problem? What Role Did Others Play? What Was the Outcome?” STAR Interview Answer

In my last job, I was responsible for responding to an average of 60 customer emails on a daily basis. During one month, I noticed a steady 20 percent increase in the amount of cancelling customers who were adamant they were overcharged or hit with hidden fees. I started paying closer attention to the blurb the salesmen were rehearsing to our customers and learned that several of them were leaving out portions of the script to increase their success rate. I informed my boss and worked together with our trainers to encourage honesty and full disclosure of program trial periods. I also worked with two of my associates to create a fair “three-strikes” policy to encourage good behavior. I continued to monitor the statistics, and within a two-week period the cancellations and unhappy customer communications decreased by 25 percent, which meant we were even more successful in maintaining customer loyalty than before.

Your efforts to prepare answers to behavioral interview questions will pay off when you can confidently showcase your skill set and abilities. With thorough preparation, your answers will be unique, authentic, and descriptive.