How to answer "Can you tell me about a time when you had to think outside the box to solve a problem?" (with sample answers)

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This post is part of our series on behavioral interview questions.

Why Employers Ask This

When an interviewer asks about a time when you had to think outside the box, they're assessing your ability to generate creative solutions to problems. They're looking to see if you're the kind of candidate who is capable of tackling difficult issues and is not afraid of trying new things. In today's market, employers want individuals who can find innovative ways of problem-solving when assigned ambiguous or complex tasks.

This question also allows employers to gain an insight into how you react when faced with a challenge. Whether in your personal or professional life, everyone has encountered problems that don't have straightforward solutions. Companies want to know if you have the ability to think critically and creatively under pressure.

How to Answer the Question

Use the STAR method, which stands for Situation, Task, Action, and Result when answering this question. Describe a specific situation where you had to be creative in your problem-solving approach. Make sure that the problem was substantial enough that it required you to think outside the box. Describe the task that was at hand, and explain the actions that you took to resolve the problem.

When discussing how you solved the problem, it's important to show the interviewer how your solution was unique and inventive. Discuss the challenges you faced and describe how you viewed the problem differently from others. Provide evidence to support your claims and show the positive outcome and impact of your solution.

Make sure to be confident when discussing your answer - the interviewer will be evaluating not just the scenario you present but also your presentation and communication skills. Keep it concise, clear, and highlight how your out-of-the-box thinking contributed to the success of the final result.

Sample answers

Bad Answer: "I can't think of a specific time that I had to think outside the box to solve a problem. I typically just follow standard procedures and protocols to handle any issues that come up." Good Answer: "At my previous job, we had a project with a tight deadline, but we were short on staff. I suggested we bring in interns to help with some of the lower-level tasks. It was a unique solution that saved us time and resources while still meeting the deadline." Bad Answer: "I always stick with traditional methods to solve problems. I don't believe in deviating from standard approaches." Good Answer: "During a company-wide software upgrade, some of the tools we were using were incompatible with the new system. I researched and found a workaround solution that involved using open-source tools. It was an innovative approach that allowed us to continue our work without interruption." Explanation: Answer 1 is a bad answer because it shows a lack of creativity and adaptability. It's essential to demonstrate problem-solving skills in interviews, and admitting to never having to think outside the box is a red flag to hiring managers. Answer 2 is a good answer because it shows creativity in finding a solution that wasn't immediately apparent. The candidate also demonstrated critical thinking skills by suggesting a specific way to tackle the problem. Answer 3 is a bad answer because it shows a lack of flexibility and adaptability, which are crucial traits in any job. Employers want to hire individuals who can adapt to changing situations and think creatively. Answer 4 is a good answer because it shows that the candidate was willing to search for alternative solutions when traditional methods didn't work. It also highlights the candidate's ability to learn and implement new tools and technologies.
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