Here’s An Interview Question To Test If Candidates Are Problem Solvers Or Problem Bringers
Problem bringers bring problems because it’s how they’re attitudinally wired to behave. Getting these low performers to change isn’t easy, and while coaching instead of managing when employees bring you problems is the best approach to take, wouldn’t it be easier to avoid hiring problem bringers in the first place?
Identifying low performers during the interview process requires asking questions that probe for the truth about attitude and that don’t tip off even the savviest of job seekers as to the desired answers. One interview question that separates problem bringers from problem solvers is:
“Could you tell me about a time when you were given an assignment and you lacked the necessary skills or knowledge?”
This question works for several reasons, starting with its non-leading, open-ended construction. When interviewers tack on a leading phrase such as “…and tell me what you did to resolve the situation,” it tells problem bringers to talk about that one time they solved a problem and to avoid talking about the potentially hundreds of times they fell into their natural attitudinal role of problem bringer. Without a leading prompt, it’s up to the candidate how to answer the question.
This question also forces the candidate to provide a specific example and it focuses on a challenging situation. (Find more great interview questions (and why they work) in the online quiz “Could You Pass This Job Interview?”).
Let’s take a look at some real-life examples of how candidates answered the question “Could you tell me about a time when you were given an assignment and you lacked the necessary skills or knowledge?”
Candidate A: “I was requested to cold call customers and I had no sales training. I asked for sales training for over a year before I was granted access to any training material.”
This person took no initiative to get up to speed on cold calling/selling (e.g. research, reading, asking more experienced peers for help). Instead, they spent a year on the payroll waiting for training to be granted. This admission should set off some alarm bells.
Candidate B: “I wasn’t given the proper training, but I still worked my way up from receptionist to Operations Specialist. Being thrown in with very little training or knowledge forced me to figure things out on my own. I asked questions when needed and searched for answers on my own. Two years into the job, and despite getting limited training, I was formally recognized as someone who could recruit, do payroll, sales and my regular job, all in one day, if need be.”
Candidate B found themselves in a similar lack of training situation, but instead of the problem bringer blame and excuses given by Candidate A, Candidate B gives a problem-solver response that centers on accountability and ownership.
Candidate A: “I was given a task to complete with absolutely no direction from the person who assigned it to me. I was dumbfounded, especially when not one of my peers stepped forward to give me any direction. I mean, what did they expect me to do?”
This response is rich with problem-bringer cues starting with a candidate who was dumbfounded by a request that pushed them outside their comfort zone, who questioned why no one stepped forward to help, and who threw their hands up in the air and said, “what did they expect me to do?” This is not someone you want working in your organization.
Candidate B: “I was asked to help in a part of the plant that I didn’t spend a lot of time in. The first thing I did was to go to the operator on the team and I asked for a brief overview of the machine I was going to work on. Then, with that knowledge, I went back to the shop and got out the maintenance manual and researched the part of the machine I was going to work on. I was able to complete the job successfully.”
Candidate B is also thrown into the unknown by an assignment for which they lack the skills or knowledge. But unlike Candidate A, we hear someone who takes a problem-solver approach in order to meet the challenge.
Candidate A: “We didn’t have any processes in place. I worked there for five years and the biggest complaint I always heard from customers was that our billing system was totally messed up. Based on how often I had to tell customers that I didn’t have an answer to their problem, and again, it was because there were zero processes in place, I don’t blame the customers for being so angry.”
The best problem solvers are dedicated to creating solutions that don’t yet exist, which is not what we’re hearing here. Also concerning is all the hyperbole; low performers often resort to using loaded language to “amp up” their responses to interview questions.
Candidate B: “I was asked to create a customer brochure using a software application that I wasn’t familiar with. I used my personal Lynda.com account to learn what I needed to create the brochure. The design and content were a hit with the customer and gaining these new skills opened up a lot of new and interesting work for me.”
Here’s a candidate who sought out the training they needed to deliver on an assignment, and who then went on to make good use of their newly acquired knowledge and skills. In other words, a problem solver.
If keeping problem bringers out of your organization is a priority, ask “Could you tell me about a time when you were given an assignment and you lacked the necessary skills or knowledge?” the next time you’re interviewing candidates.