Interview problem solving questions can give you a strong sense of how your candidates would perform on the job, if hired. You ask them to solve a real business problem, which can validate the skills and values the candidate expressed through answering behavioral interview questions. These problem solving questions help you realize the candidate's true impact, apart from the contributions of the rest of their team. For instance, a blogger may have had a great editor in the past, which won't be available at your organization. Or, a coder might be better at speed than quality, which was fine when they had others to de-bug their work—but your organization values quality over speed. When you design your interview process to include problem solving questions, you can see whether the candidate can really do the job at hand—and you can make a higher quality hire.
Here are some examples of interview problem solving questions, by role:
- 30-60-90 day plan: Let's say your department has a goal to double new marketing qualified leads for the calendar year. Ask the candidate to explain how they would structure their first 90 days at your organization to help reach that goal.
- Social media copy: For someone who would be handing your social media channels, show them a real complaint you have received on Twitter. Ask them to explain their process for handling a complaint, and to draft a response.
- Email marketing automation flow: Ask the candidate to brainstorm an email nurturing campaign to re-engage old leads, or up-sell existing customers. Then ask them to draft one of the emails.
Sales/Account Management/Customer Success
- Role play: Depending on the role, ask an interviewer to play the part of a typical sales lead or customer. Throw in some common objections and complaints to see how the candidate can think on their feet.
- Outreach emails: Ask the candidate to draft a series of outreach emails for leads or customers, either to drum up new business, nurture existing leads, or to up-sell a customer.
- Sales process: Tell the candidate what typical goals look like at your organization, and ask them to design a sales process to reach those goals.
- Design project: Ask the candidate to design a common asset, such as a display ad, flyer, or eBook cover. Have them walk you through their reasons for employing certain design elements.
- Find the mistakes: Ask the candidate to review your brand guidelines, and to find the mistakes in an asset that's already been produced.
- Website review: Review your website together, and ask the candidate to point out the opportunities they see to make impactful changes.
- Pair programming: Take a real example of a problem the engineering team has worked on, and set the candidate up with an interviewer for pair programming. Encourage the candidate to ask questions and talk through their answers, and offer the candidate nudges in the right direction as needed.
- Project interview: Ask the candidate to show you something they've built, and to describe the development process.
- Mock code review: Do you care about code quality and collaborative engineering? The Lever team has found that a mock code review works well to find the right type of candidates. Provide the candidate with some intentionally buggy, messy code, and ask them to review and improve it.
- Sourcing: Provide the recruiting candidate with a candidate sourcing intake form and job description for another role, and ask them to live-source candidates.
- Communications: Ask the candidate to write a series of 3-5 emails to engage (and nurture) a sourced candidate.
- Candidate experience: Ask the candidate to share how they'd improve your organization's candidate experience, based on what they've seen and experienced. Walk through things like your career site, communications, and interview process.
A great recruitment process should be constantly fine-tuned for the best results, and your interview problem solving questions are no exception. Consider candidate feedback and hiring data to make improvements to these questions, including which to ask, and when to ask them. For instance, a problem solving question at the beginning of your interview process may increase candidate drop-offs. First, consider whether your highest quality candidates are those dropping off. If you're only scaring away candidates who are blindly applying, or who do not have the skills to complete the question, that's probably a good thing. Otherwise, consider swapping in a less time-consuming question, or moving the question to later in your recruitment process. You can also play around with providing a stipend for work completed, or allowing candidates to complete take-home assignments. Also, make sure that your problem solving interview question hasn't been published. You want to create an even playing field by asking each candidate the same questions—but it's no longer a fair process if some can prepare better than others. If that's the case, it's time to change your question. Finally, make sure your problem solving questions mirror the work the candidate would do, if hired. This ensures that you're adequately screening them for skill-fit, while also giving them a taste of what it would be like to work at your organization.
To learn more about how to build a strong interview process, download our eBook: Top Interview Tips: The Employer's Essential Handbook.