Market research analyst, financial analyst, SEO analyst–we can find dozens of job titles that directly refer to analytical skills. But even for positions which name does not directly indicate the importance of certain skills, ability to analyze information, to problem solve, and to make decisions matters.

Surely, when you try to hire a new cashier or assembly line worker or perhaps a butcher, the level of analytical skills of job candidates won’t play a major role in your decision making process. But for any role in management, financial and business analysis, and IT, great analytical skills may find their place on your ideal candidate profile’s checklist.

In this article I will look at some questions that allow you to test these skills in an interview. I will also give you some hints how to assess these skills without even asking any questions. Whether you are going to lead the interviews, or are just trying to overcome your nerves and prepare for your meeting with a prospective employer (you are in the shoes of job seeker this time), it should help you to succeed in your efforts. Enjoy!

 

Describe the biggest problem you faced in your last job, and explain how you solved it.

Behavioral questions will help you learn a lot about each job candidate. First of all, notice what problem they pick. Is it really something big, or rather something trivial, something you wouldn’t call a problem at all?

Then you should just listen to their narrative. Did they manage to solve the problem alone, or did they need help? Did they proceed systematically when solving the problem? What information did they gather, and what conclusions did they arrive to?

Certainly you can ask them additional questions if they struggle while narrating their story. Do not forget to observe their emotions, and whether they actually enjoy solving problems. They should, if they will do it often in their new job…

 

Here is a problem (you describe some problem that occurred to you or one of your colleagues in work, or something that may happen in the job). How would you proceed to solve it?

Give them some time to work on a solution. Work-related problems, situations that can realistically happen in their new job are your best bet, since someone may find it easy to solve math problems, but they will struggle with certain situations on the workplace.

Positive signs to notice:

  • They ask you additional questions to gather more information about the situation (which allows for a more precise solution).
  • Writing notes, drawing charts- they try to understand the interrelation of given data, and do not make quick assumptions).
  • Offering more than one solution to the problem- world is not black and white for them, they inspect different possibilities, play with different ideas.

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Here is a Rubik’s cube (or other tough puzzle). You have twenty minutes. Do your best.

Now the key is not to see who can solve the puzzle in 20 minutes. In case of a Rubik’s cube, almost nobody in the world would succeed in such a short time (unless they know the trick, unless they solved it before, of course).

But any puzzle allows you to observe candidates while they try to solve it. Red flags:

  • They get nervous quickly, gesticulate
  • They give up quickly
  • Candidate claims that it is impossible to solve the puzzle in such a short time, without even trying.

Oppositely, if the candidate works diligently and systematically on the puzzle, trying different ways, looking at it from different angles, you know that you have someone capable of solving difficult problems, and of maintaining their concentration and focus for a long time.

Whether they eventually solve the puzzle is not the most important thing. The way they work on it is.

man tries to solve a rubik's cube in front of his laptop

Imagine that you were responsible for purchasing new robotic equipment  (anything else they may purchase in their new job). What sort of data would you collect before deciding about the purchase?

Ability to gather the right data (while trying to decide about an expensive purchase) definitely characterizes someone with great analytical skills. What’s more, such a simple exercise can tell you a lot about their style of work, how diligently they approach their tasks, and so on.

Positive signs to notice:

  • they suggest researching about various suppliers, including reviews from existing customers, online reputation, profit and loss, and so on.
  • in case of expensive purchases they suggest visiting suppliers in person.
  • they do not consider price only, but also quality, guarantees, technical support; simply gathering as much data as possible, trying make the most qualified decision.

If you decide to test job applicants with this question, it is important to design a case study that you can realistically evaluate. You should not end up being unable to tell whether a candidate referred to a sensible solution or talked trash…

 

What was the toughest decision you had to make in your last job?

They may talk about different things at this point. Perhaps they had to dismiss their colleague, a good friend (if they had a managerial role). Talking about such situation won’t help you much with assessing their analytical skills, but at least you will learn that they can make difficult and unpopular decisions, and take the best action for the company.

But if they had some analytical role in the past, and faced a close call (deciding between two or three options), this question is a great way to observe how they reacted in the situation, and whether they eventually made the decision.

Red flags:

  • they cannot recall any difficult decision they had to make in their last job.
  • they did not decide on their own, and let someone else to make the call.
  • thinking about the problem for too long they eventually lost their opportunity, and could not take the best possible action once they finally made up their mind.

 

How would you describe your analytical skills?

You can also try a direct approach, asking them about their skills, without any tough task to solve. Certainly some applicants will pretend, and if they understand that analytical skills matter for the job, they may claim to excel in this area.

However, you can at least see what they imagine behind the expression, what analytical skills mean to them. What’s more, you can later confront their observations with reality, once you test them with some real problem (just like I described in other questions).

 

Conclusion, other ways of assessing someone’s analytical skills

When you want to find out whether a dog can swim, you throw the poor brute in the water. That’s the best approach to conducting interviews.

If you want to find out whether someone can solve problems, and analyze data, picking the most important information from the pack, you present them with a difficult problem, or let them analyze a set of data.

It’s your choice whether you opt for work-related stuff, or, looking for some geniuses, you ask candidates solve a difficult math puzzle, such as a Rubik’s cube.

The most important thing is to know what you are doing in an interview, and what answer, solution, or attitude you expect from an ideal candidate for the job.

And while analytical skills matters, you should test also other skills and abilities. Check our articles to learn how you can do it:

Matthew Chulaw
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