Problem Solving Technique, Skills & Examples (2023 Guide)
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- What Is Problem Solving?
- Examples of Problem Solving in the Workplace?
- How to Improve Problem Solving Skills in 2023: Step By Step
- What Are Problem Solving Interview Questions?
- Why Do Employers Want Problem Solving Skills?
- What Form Do Problem-Solving Questions Take?
- How to Answer Problem Solving Interview Questions in 2023 with Examples
- Problem Solving Skills - Tips, Common Mistakes and Further Practice
- How to Highlight Problem-Solving Skills in Your CV or Cover Letter in 2023
There are many definitions of problem solving – but at a basic level, it focuses on the ability to accurately assess a situation and arrive at a positive solution.
Problem solving is an analytical skill that many employers look for when reviewing candidate application forms.
Consequently, questions about your problem-solving ability are commonplace in interviews.
Strong problem solving skills can be hugely beneficial for your career. In every sector, problems are inevitable and will arise in one form or another as you go about your day-to-day duties.
When problems do occur, employees are expected to use their initiative and develop suitable solutions to avoid the situation escalating into something more serious.
There are many situations where problems could present themselves in the workplace, from a client's concern through to assisting a technical team resolve a website or database error.
The issues that you come across will often vary in complexity, with some situations requiring a simple solution and others demanding more thought and skill to overcome.
Business managers will spend a lot of their time solving problems and consequently require their employees to be creative and intuitive when it comes to addressing them.
Being confident in your problem solving approach is really important, and as you learn which processes are most effective to overcome obstacles, so your confidence will grow.
Without suitable processes in place, your solutions may fail or they could even create additional problems.
A good problem solving process involves four fundamental stages: problem definition, devising alternatives, evaluating alternatives and then implementing the most viable solutions.
Managers are looking for recruits who can be creative and intuitive when it comes to addressing business problems.
There are several ways you can improve problem solving skills. It helps to approach each problem through a series of logical steps.
First, identify what the problem is. This requires examining a particular situation to determine what specifically is causing the problem.
Rather than looking at a problematic situation as a whole (for example, a customer is upset), try to break it down and determine the cause of the problem (why is the customer upset?).
The Five Whys (or 5 Whys) technique can be helpful here, which essentially involves asking 'why' five times to determine the root of a problem.
There may be several elements causing the problem or one specific element. Either way, breaking a problem down into smaller parts makes it much easier to solve each of the elements or issues contributing to the problem.
Next, come up with a range of potential solutions. Techniques such as problem tree analysis and mind mapping can help to lay out problem elements and potential solutions.
Some of the potential solutions won't be as effective as others, and that's okay. The goal at this stage is to evaluate each potential solution and determine which one is likely to be the most effective at solving the problem. You may require several different solutions to solve different elements of the problem as a whole.
Once you have decided on a solution, follow a step-by-step plan to implement that solution. Just as breaking down a problem into key elements makes it easier to identify solutions, an action plan with various steps makes it easier to implement those solutions.
Questions about problem solving will typically arise within a competency-based interview and will require you to demonstrate your particular approach.
Problem solving interview questions can be asked in a range of different ways, but some common examples of problem-solving are:
- How do you solve problems?
- Give me an example of a problem you have faced in the past, either as part of a team or as an individual. How did you solve the problem?
- What do you do when you can't solve a problem?
Effective problem-solving requires a combination of creative thinking and sound analytical skills. Employers look for hires who can demonstrate each of these skills in the workplace to deliver positive outcomes.
Managers would far rather employ a member of staff who can take action to resolve a problem than someone who doesn't act and relies on someone else to think of a solution. Even if it isn't outlined as a requirement in a job description, many employers will still be evaluating your problem-solving ability throughout the application process.
Effective problem solvers are those who can apply logic and imagination to make sense of the situation and develop a solution that works. Even if it doesn't prove as successful as you had hoped, resilience is important, so you can reassess the situation and try an alternative.
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If problem-solving skills are an integral part of your role, it is likely that you will have to complete some kind of assessment during the application process. There are a number of forms that a problem-solving question can take, but the majority of them will be scenario-based.
Employers may base problem-solving questions around three main areas:
- How you have approached situations in the past
- How you would manage a problem that would arise as part of the job
- How you handle problems throughout the application process
Some employers believe that the way you approached a situation in the past is a good indicator of how you will approach a challenging situation in the future. Therefore the best way to understand how someone would respond to a specific scenario is to ask a question such as 'explain an occasion when…’
As the employer wants to assess your problem-solving skills, they may ask you to outline a situation where something went wrong and what happened. This could be an example of a time when you faced something unexpected, or you were approached by a client about a concern.
Managers will often relate one or more questions to the role you are applying for. Sometimes this may take the form of a question about what the applicant would do if they had too much or too little work to complete.
These types of questions usually begin with the recruiter asking how you would deal with a specific situation followed by some kind of challenge. For example, how you would deal with a colleague who was relying on you to do all of the work or falling short of a target.
Although these aren't questions as such, they may be used by some recruiters to see how you handle unexpected changes. This could be rearranging the time of your interview or sending an email without attaching something important. Both of these - even if they are unintentional - could be used as a way to assess how you approach something that is unforeseen.
If you know that you are likely to face problem-solving questions in the application process, it’s good practice to research the typical questions and scenarios that candidates are presented with.
This will not only increase your confidence but also help you to refine your answers and provide a stronger response.
In this section we provide three problem solving scenarios of common questions and suitable responses:
When it comes to answering questions about problem-solving skills, we recommend the following;
Select a strong example that truly demonstrates your problem-solving ability in a positive manner.
Choose examples that are relevant to the job you are applying for. If you are applying for a project-based position, give an example of how you resolved a problem with a work or academic project.
Be specific with your responses and use an example with enough detail to show how you approach situations and the way you think. Take the time to come up with possible answers and scenarios before the interview.
Make sure the problem is unique. If you have a problem, simply calling someone else to solve it is not impressive. The best answers will show tailored solutions to tasks that may seem mundane.
Make sure the problem is simple. If you have switched from a legal career to an engineering career and your problem is legal in nature, ensure your problem is easy to understand and explain it to your interviewer without using jargon.
Choose a weak or boring problem, or one that reflects you in a negative way.
Generalise your answers with responses such as ‘you consider yourself to be a great problem solver’ or ‘you regularly solve problems’. You need to demonstrate how you solve problems effectively.
Raise any areas of concern by giving examples of negative situations that were a result of your own actions, even if you solved a problem successfully.
No matter how interesting the story that you have to tell is, don’t spend too much time providing too much detail, because the recruiter will soon get bored. Keep your answer short and to the point.
During your written application and at interview, employers will expect you to evidence your problem-solving skills. In your written application you should demonstrate them via relevant keywords, statements and achievements. If you solved a problem and it had a positive impact on the business – such as improved customer service standards or resource savings – say so on your CV.
If you are invited to an interview try to use the STAR technique to structure your answers. This technique focuses your responses on a Situation, Task, Action and Result. Following this process will help your answers to be focused, concise and strong.
Where problem-solving is a main element of your role, an employer may incorporate a relevant psychometric test and/or an activity to carefully assess your problem-solving skills.