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

  | James Innes

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 organisation’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

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