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Classic Interview Questions and Answers

Can you tell me about a major problem at work that you've had to deal with?

Alternative and related questions:

Can you tell me about a major project you were involved with that went wrong?

The meaning behind the question:

Problems are inevitable, no matter what your line of work. The interviewer isn’t particularly interested in the problem per se. What they’re interested in his how you dealt with it – what action you took and what the outcome of that action was.

Employers don’t want problems; they want solutions – and they rely on their staff to deliver those solutions. The interviewer wants to make sure that you’re just the sort of employee who would be able to do that.

Your answer:

This isn’t the same question as Question 11, “What’s the worst mistake you’ve made at work and how did you deal with it?” so make sure you don’t give the same answer! It would definitely be a blunder to pick an example of a problem which you yourself had caused – or indeed which was caused by a colleague of yours.

You should also avoid picking a problem where a colleague or a member of your staff were themselves the problem. Try to choose a simpler and less controversial topic. The best examples to pick are those where the problem was caused by circumstances beyond your organization’s control.

Since they’re referring to a problem in the past, it’s important for you to choose an example which not only highlights your problem-solving capabilities but shows them to be relevant to the job for which you are now applying.


The weather caused us major problems just a couple of months ago. There was very heavy overnight snowfall and, with all the buses cancelled and only a few trains running, only a few members of our admin team managed to get into work. There was nothing for it but to fire-fight – we didn’t have enough staff to get everything done that would normally need to be done. I established what our main priorities were – what activities were most essential to the running of our department – and made sure that we had those covered. I identified less important tasks that we could postpone for a few days until we had the full team back. I also spoke to all the missing team members to see if there were any other urgent priorities of which we, in the office, were unaware. We worked hard and fast – right through lunch – and, despite feeling that the phone was always ringing, we managed to keep everything running smoothly until things were back to normal.

The Interview Question & Answer Book

The Interview Question and Answer Book

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More classic interview questions and answers


How would you describe yourself? / How would your boss/colleagues/team/family/friends describe you?

In what ways are you a team player?

Do you work well on your own initiative?

What techniques do you use to get things done?

What motivates you?

Are you proactive?

Are you creative?

Are you a risk-taker?

How do you handle pressure and stress?

Can you tell me about a time when you have failed to achieve a goal?

What's the worst mistake you've made at work and how did you deal with it?

How would you handle the following situation?

Can you tell me about a major project you have successfully completed?

Can you tell me about a major problem at work that you've had to deal with?

We have a problem with x. How would you resolve that?

What do you do when you disagree with your line manager?

How would you describe yourself as a manager?

Can you give me an example of when you have successfully coached a member of your team?

What is your customer service philosophy?

How did you get your last job?

What does your current job involve on a day-to-day basis?

What contribution do you make to the department in which you work?

What changes have you made to your current job role since you started?

What have you learned in your last job?

Can you tell me about your last appraisal?

How would you describe your current boss?

Why did you leave that job?

Which of your jobs was the best?

Why is there a gap in your resume/CV?

What do you know about us as an organization?

What do you know about our products/services?

What do you think are our organization's greatest strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats?

What do you know about the vacancy for which you are applying?

How do your skills and experience match the job description/person specification?

What appeals to you most about this vacancy?

Why have you chosen this line of work?

Are there any other organizations to which you are applying?

How does this job compare to others for which you are applying?

Can you describe your ideal employer to me?

What sort of person would you most like to work for?

In what ways is your degree relevant to the work you are now doing?

What have you learned and how have you developed over the last year/five years?

What sports are you/have you been involved in?

Do you know what the current headline news is?

How quickly can you adapt to a new work environment?

Would it be a problem if we asked you to work overtime/evenings/weekends?

What is your current salary package?

What salary package are you expecting for this role?

When would you be available to start?

Do you mind if we contact your current employer for a reference?