Tell Me About a Time When You Identified a Problem/Situation and Took Initiative to Solve It


Behavioral interview questions are big on the hiring scene these days- and no wonder. Cultural fit is huge for companies; they want employees who fit in well with their company culture- as they are more likely to be happy and to stay longer. Employee turnover is costly- and companies work proactively at the recruitment and interview stages- among others- to prevent high turnover. One way they do this is through behavioral questions because how you have acted in the past is an accurate predictor of your future behavior. One example of such a question is- “Tell me about a time when you identified a problem/situation and took initiative to solve it.” An alternate way of rephrasing the question is- “How have you identified and solved problems with projects or co-workers?” Managers want to be sure that you are not a “sheep” who blindly follows orders.

To many people- behavioral questions are tricky because they are open-ended and abstract. Questions that focus on your GPA or certifications are simpler- but there is no need to worry. The STAR method makes answering such abstract questions pretty easy- and the pattern is simple for anyone to remember in the midst of a critical interview. Definitely plan to be asked about your initiative-taking skills in at least one question.

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How to Answer the ‘Tell Me About a Time When You Identified a Problem/Situation and Took Initiative to Solve It’ Behavioral Interview Question

Show That You Do Have Initiative. In this question- interviewers want to confirm that you have initiative. They want to see that you have a spark and are capable of bringing new ideas to the business. In other words- never answer that you prefer to follow other people’s lead and do not take initiative. No matter what you do- you must remember to include the part that has to do with your initiative. Remembering all of the parts of a long question can be difficult- and that is where STAR comes in. “ST” stands for situation or task- “A” stands for the action you took to solve the situation or task- and “R” stands for the results achieved. In the case of this question- your initiative comes in with “A”—the action you took to solve the problem.

Discuss Significant/Real Problems. Not all problems are created equal- and a problem that seems very real or significant to you may not when considered from the perspective of your hiring manager. This is especially true with gender- cultural and racial differences- for example- a white- privileged man may not see lack of diversity as a serious issue while a minority employee would. Likewise- a woman may see the distance to the women’s bathroom as a real problem while the men’s bathroom is much more accessible. Therefore- it is important that you explain the reasoning behind your identification of a problem. With behavioral interview questions- hiring managers need to understand your thought process and the way in which you see problems. It’s fine to discuss quirky problems that may make you stand out- but be sure that the quirky problems have some meat and value behind them. Usually- the best problems to discuss are problems that have relevance to the business you are interviewing with.

Explain All Sides of the Problem. One thing that hiring mangers like to see in behavioral interview questions is employees taking responsibility for their actions. If you have contributed to the problem in question- explain that in your answer and the fact that you accept responsibility for your actions. Also give credit to others where it is due. For instance- praise your supervisor or co-workers in your answer for something such as their open-mindedness to an unusual solution.

Remember to Include the Result. You’ve identified a problem and implemented a strategy to solve it. Awesome—but that’s not enough. As the STAR method explains- remember to include your result. Numbers are an effective way of showing the success of your initiative; for example- profits increased by 20 percent in the next month.

Sample ‘Tell Me About a Time When You Identified a Problem/Situation and Took Initiative to Solve It’ STAR Interview Answer

At my previous job at ABC Burger- I noticed that Sunday nights were slow; we took in half the amount of money we did on the next-slowest night. Because the location was a few blocks from a university and many of our customers were college-age- I talked with them to see what would encourage them to come in Sunday nights. I also asked what was stopping them from coming in on Sundays- and the answer was typically cramming for a test the next day or doing a paper. I got a few ideas and took the top three to the manager. I explained what I had done and suggested that the restaurant invest in a mobile app that lets customers order ahead. I also suggested offering coupons of 10 percent to 20 percent off for Sunday nights and advertising them in places such as the college newspaper. The manager wholeheartedly welcomed my input. Within two months- Sundays had become our third-most-profitable night- and our overall sales rose 30 percent- thanks to the mobile app.

In this day and age- you should expect to deal with behavioral interview questions. Take advantage of the STAR method to deliver clear and concise answers.