Life would be boring if we did not face any problems. It would be like heaven–no needs to meet, no issues to think about, no desires to follow, and no worries to face. Luckily it isn’t the case, and we have to deal with all sorts of problems in both work and personal life. Some of them are important only because we give them some importance, or our boss does, and we have to address them unless we want to lose our precious job. Being aware of the problems employees face in the workplace daily, hiring managers may ask you a variety of questions related to problems.

The most common questions are “Tell me about the time when you used logic to solve a problem“, and “Tell us about the biggest problem you faced in you in your last job“. Slightly less common but more difficult is the question we are talking about in this post. But what do they want to hear from you? And should you admit missing obvious solutions to the problem? Or should you say it has never happened to you? We will try to find the answers in this post. Let’s start with 7 sample answers to the question.


7 sample answers to “Tell me about a time when you missed an obvious solution to a problem” interview question

  1. I was working on an improvement of a certain process in my last job in logistics. Following the conventional way, I tried to break down the process to smallest details, analyzing each one, finding areas for improvement. We knew that the process was not effective, but I just couldn’t find the culprit, though I analyzed every detail. So we left it as it was. Later, the employee responsible for the process, left the company, and we hired a new guy to replace them. All of a sudden, the effectiveness of the process improved dramatically. Just then I realized that there wasn’t any problem with the process–the problem was the former employee, who was laid back playing with his smartphone half of the shift. It was on obvious solution, but I missed it, and so did the others. You can be sure I did not repeat the same mistake again.
  2. I spent three months trying to figure out why my relationship didn’t work as it had worked before. Did I spent less time with my girlfriend? Did she need more attention, gifts, more pleasure? What was the issue? I started buying flowers almost daily, tried to talk to her more, tried to bring some spark to our everyday life, but nothing seemed to work. Eventually I found out out she had a lover, one of her colleagues at work. It was the most obvious solution to the problem, but blinded by love and my illusions of her faithfulness, I did not see it. But it is behind me now, and I prefer not to dwell on the past. Sure enough, I will find a new girlfriend soon, and I want to focus more on my professional career right now.
  3. Working as a paraprofessional educator, I could not get my head around one student I was working with. They always struggled with discipline. I tried positive encouragement, I tried punishment, different teaching methods, everything. Nothing seemed to work, and I eventually gave up and asked to be assigned to other student. Interestingly enough, the new para educator handled the problematic student from day one. She didn’t use different methods than I did. She was just a different person. And then I realized the obvious solution to the problem I had missed–I was that problem. They didn’t like me as their personal assistant, they wanted another paraprofessional. Well, they got them, and problem was solved.
  4. I was evaluating an effectiveness of an advertising campaign on YouTube about a month ago. I studied the creatives, the demographics, the stats, the placements. Everything seemed all right, and I did not understand why we had zero conversions for the campaign. I spent a whole day doing the analysis, and just then I tested the campaign in real time, and clicked the ad while watching a YouTube video. Sure enough, we made a mistake with the URL, and the people who clicked the ad landed on a completely different landing page, an irrelevant one for the text of the ad. Hence the funnel wasn’t consistent and logically we had no conversions. It was a beginner’s mistake, but I learned from it, and won’t repeat it again.
  5. It happened to me all the time during the Math lessons. I have a tendency to over-complicate things, and I was often looking for a difficult solution, while the riddle had a simple one. I am aware of this weakness, and it is definitely something I try to address, because I know I cannot afford it at work.
  6. My professional career is a prime example of such a situation. I was trying hard to make a breakthrough in finance. Trying to get this and that certification, employment with one of the big 4 companies, working 60+ hours each week, trying my best to impress the managers. But I just could not get the promotion I wanted, and was stuck with an entry level job–and a really boring one indeed. I did not understand why I could not progress. But the more I tried, the more I seemed to struggle. Eventually I realized that I just did not have the brain for finances, and the right personality for the field. HR was a much better fit, and as soon as I moved to HR I started to climb up the career ladder immediately. Here I am today, applying for a job of HR business partner with you. Sure, I missed an obvious solution to my problem, but I am still young and nothing is lost…
  7. It has never happened to me really. I try to work intuitively, following my gut feeling, not overthinking problems. Because more often than not, problems have simple solutions, and it makes no sense to ponder over them for weeks, or discuss them at length during the team meetings. In my opinion, it really is just a waste of time. That’s why I always look for the most obvious solution first, and only if it doesn’t solve the problem I start analyzing it in detail. Sure, I may make a mistake at times. But I believe a good manager should be able to make a decision on the spot, even if they lack some important piece of information.


Ensure the hiring managers that you learned your lesson

Everyone makes mistakes, and misses an obvious solution to a problem at times. You should admit making a mistake, and explain why you didn’t recognize the obvious. At the same time, you should not dwell on such a mistake. It simply happened to you, like it does happen to anyone else.

You learned your lesson, and you won’t repeat the same mistake again–or at least you hope so. That’s what the hiring managers actually want to heat from you.

* Special Tip: Question about missing an obvious solution isn’t the only difficult question you will face while interviewing for any decent job. You will face questions about prioritization, dealing with pressure, using logic, and other tricky scenarios that happen in the workplace. If you want to make sure that you stand out with your answers and outclass your competitors, have a look at our Interview Success Package. Up to 10 premium answers to 31 tricky scenario based questions (+ more) will make your life much easier in the interviews. Thank you for checking it out!

Story from your personal life can help you stand out with your answer

Life’s more than work, and hiring managers are men and women from flesh and bones, just like you and me. They also have their lives, and experience their share of problems. Talking about a problem from your personal life–perhaps a health issue that had an obvious solution, or some problem you had with your partner, can actually help you connect with your interviewers.

Talking openly about your personal life sends a clear sign to the other side of the table: You want to speak in a genuine manner in the interviews, you do not want to hide anything. That’s always a plus. What’s more, most job seekers will talk only about work (or they will remain silent, since this is a tricky question for many), and hence you can easily stand out with your answer.

At the end of the day, your attitude matters for the hiring managers. And you can demonstrate the right attitude speaking about any problem–a Math riddle, a job interview, a conflict with a colleague, a process improvement, or a relationship crisis…

Ready to answer this one? I hope so! Check also 7 sample answers to other tricky interview questions:

Matthew Chulaw
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