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Sudoku for Beginners: How to Improve Your Problem-Solving Skills
Are you a beginner when it comes to solving Sudoku puzzles? Do you find yourself frustrated and unsure of where to start? Fear not, as we have compiled a comprehensive guide on how to improve your problem-solving skills through Sudoku.
Understanding the Basics of Sudoku
Before we dive into the strategies and techniques, let’s first understand the basics of Sudoku. A Sudoku puzzle is a 9×9 grid that is divided into nine smaller 3×3 grids. The objective is to fill in each row, column, and smaller grid with numbers 1-9 without repeating any numbers.
Starting Strategies for Beginners
As a beginner, it can be overwhelming to look at an empty Sudoku grid. But don’t worry. There are simple starting strategies that can help you get started. First, look for any rows or columns that only have one missing number. Fill in that number and move on to the next row or column with only one missing number. Another strategy is looking for any smaller grids with only one missing number and filling in that number.
Advanced Strategies for Beginner/Intermediate Level
Once you’ve mastered the starting strategies, it’s time to move on to more advanced techniques. One technique is called “pencil marking.” This involves writing down all possible numbers in each empty square before making any moves. Then use logic and elimination techniques to cross off impossible numbers until you are left with the correct answer.
Another advanced technique is “hidden pairs.” Look for two squares within a row or column that only have two possible numbers left. If those two possible numbers exist in both squares, then those two squares must contain those specific numbers.
Benefits of Solving Sudoku Puzzles
Not only is solving Sudoku puzzles fun and challenging, but it also has many benefits for your brain health. It helps improve your problem-solving skills, enhances memory and concentration, and reduces the risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease.
In conclusion, Sudoku is a great way to improve your problem-solving skills while also providing entertainment. With these starting and advanced strategies, you’ll be able to solve even the toughest Sudoku puzzles. So grab a pencil and paper and start sharpening those brain muscles.
This text was generated using a large language model, and select text has been reviewed and moderated for purposes such as readability.
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26 Good Examples of Problem Solving (Interview Answers)
By Biron Clark
Published: November 15, 2023
Employers like to hire people who can solve problems and work well under pressure. A job rarely goes 100% according to plan, so hiring managers will be more likely to hire you if you seem like you can handle unexpected challenges while staying calm and logical in your approach.
But how do they measure this?
They’re going to ask you interview questions about these problem solving skills, and they might also look for examples of problem solving on your resume and cover letter. So coming up, I’m going to share a list of examples of problem solving, whether you’re an experienced job seeker or recent graduate.
Then I’ll share sample interview answers to, “Give an example of a time you used logic to solve a problem?”
It is the ability to identify the problem, prioritize based on gravity and urgency, analyze the root cause, gather relevant information, develop and evaluate viable solutions, decide on the most effective and logical solution, and plan and execute implementation.
Problem-solving also involves critical thinking, communication , listening, creativity, research, data gathering, risk assessment, continuous learning, decision-making, and other soft and technical skills.
Solving problems not only prevent losses or damages but also boosts self-confidence and reputation when you successfully execute it. The spotlight shines on you when people see you handle issues with ease and savvy despite the challenges. Your ability and potential to be a future leader that can take on more significant roles and tackle bigger setbacks shine through. Problem-solving is a skill you can master by learning from others and acquiring wisdom from their and your own experiences.
It takes a village to come up with solutions, but a good problem solver can steer the team towards the best choice and implement it to achieve the desired result.
Watch: 26 Good Examples of Problem Solving
Examples of problem solving scenarios in the workplace.
- Correcting a mistake at work, whether it was made by you or someone else
- Overcoming a delay at work through problem solving and communication
- Resolving an issue with a difficult or upset customer
- Overcoming issues related to a limited budget, and still delivering good work through the use of creative problem solving
- Overcoming a scheduling/staffing shortage in the department to still deliver excellent work
- Troubleshooting and resolving technical issues
- Handling and resolving a conflict with a coworker
- Solving any problems related to money, customer billing, accounting and bookkeeping, etc.
- Taking initiative when another team member overlooked or missed something important
- Taking initiative to meet with your superior to discuss a problem before it became potentially worse
- Solving a safety issue at work or reporting the issue to those who could solve it
- Using problem solving abilities to reduce/eliminate a company expense
- Finding a way to make the company more profitable through new service or product offerings, new pricing ideas, promotion and sale ideas, etc.
- Changing how a process, team, or task is organized to make it more efficient
- Using creative thinking to come up with a solution that the company hasn’t used before
- Performing research to collect data and information to find a new solution to a problem
- Boosting a company or team’s performance by improving some aspect of communication among employees
- Finding a new piece of data that can guide a company’s decisions or strategy better in a certain area
Problem Solving Examples for Recent Grads/Entry Level Job Seekers
- Coordinating work between team members in a class project
- Reassigning a missing team member’s work to other group members in a class project
- Adjusting your workflow on a project to accommodate a tight deadline
- Speaking to your professor to get help when you were struggling or unsure about a project
- Asking classmates, peers, or professors for help in an area of struggle
- Talking to your academic advisor to brainstorm solutions to a problem you were facing
- Researching solutions to an academic problem online, via Google or other methods
- Using problem solving and creative thinking to obtain an internship or other work opportunity during school after struggling at first
You can share all of the examples above when you’re asked questions about problem solving in your interview. As you can see, even if you have no professional work experience, it’s possible to think back to problems and unexpected challenges that you faced in your studies and discuss how you solved them.
Interview Answers to “Give an Example of an Occasion When You Used Logic to Solve a Problem”
Now, let’s look at some sample interview answers to, “Give me an example of a time you used logic to solve a problem,” since you’re likely to hear this interview question in all sorts of industries.
Example Answer 1:
At my current job, I recently solved a problem where a client was upset about our software pricing. They had misunderstood the sales representative who explained pricing originally, and when their package renewed for its second month, they called to complain about the invoice. I apologized for the confusion and then spoke to our billing team to see what type of solution we could come up with. We decided that the best course of action was to offer a long-term pricing package that would provide a discount. This not only solved the problem but got the customer to agree to a longer-term contract, which means we’ll keep their business for at least one year now, and they’re happy with the pricing. I feel I got the best possible outcome and the way I chose to solve the problem was effective.
Example Answer 2:
In my last job, I had to do quite a bit of problem solving related to our shift scheduling. We had four people quit within a week and the department was severely understaffed. I coordinated a ramp-up of our hiring efforts, I got approval from the department head to offer bonuses for overtime work, and then I found eight employees who were willing to do overtime this month. I think the key problem solving skills here were taking initiative, communicating clearly, and reacting quickly to solve this problem before it became an even bigger issue.
Example Answer 3:
In my current marketing role, my manager asked me to come up with a solution to our declining social media engagement. I assessed our current strategy and recent results, analyzed what some of our top competitors were doing, and then came up with an exact blueprint we could follow this year to emulate our best competitors but also stand out and develop a unique voice as a brand. I feel this is a good example of using logic to solve a problem because it was based on analysis and observation of competitors, rather than guessing or quickly reacting to the situation without reliable data. I always use logic and data to solve problems when possible. The project turned out to be a success and we increased our social media engagement by an average of 82% by the end of the year.
Answering Questions About Problem Solving with the STAR Method
When you answer interview questions about problem solving scenarios, or if you decide to demonstrate your problem solving skills in a cover letter (which is a good idea any time the job description mention problem solving as a necessary skill), I recommend using the STAR method to tell your story.
STAR stands for:
It’s a simple way of walking the listener or reader through the story in a way that will make sense to them. So before jumping in and talking about the problem that needed solving, make sure to describe the general situation. What job/company were you working at? When was this? Then, you can describe the task at hand and the problem that needed solving. After this, describe the course of action you chose and why. Ideally, show that you evaluated all the information you could given the time you had, and made a decision based on logic and fact.
Finally, describe a positive result you got.
Whether you’re answering interview questions about problem solving or writing a cover letter, you should only choose examples where you got a positive result and successfully solved the issue.
Situation : We had an irate client who was a social media influencer and had impossible delivery time demands we could not meet. She spoke negatively about us in her vlog and asked her followers to boycott our products. (Task : To develop an official statement to explain our company’s side, clarify the issue, and prevent it from getting out of hand). Action : I drafted a statement that balanced empathy, understanding, and utmost customer service with facts, logic, and fairness. It was direct, simple, succinct, and phrased to highlight our brand values while addressing the issue in a logical yet sensitive way. We also tapped our influencer partners to subtly and indirectly share their positive experiences with our brand so we could counter the negative content being shared online. Result : We got the results we worked for through proper communication and a positive and strategic campaign. The irate client agreed to have a dialogue with us. She apologized to us, and we reaffirmed our commitment to delivering quality service to all. We assured her that she can reach out to us anytime regarding her purchases and that we’d gladly accommodate her requests whenever possible. She also retracted her negative statements in her vlog and urged her followers to keep supporting our brand.
What Are Good Outcomes of Problem Solving?
Whenever you answer interview questions about problem solving or share examples of problem solving in a cover letter, you want to be sure you’re sharing a positive outcome.
Below are good outcomes of problem solving:
- Saving the company time or money
- Making the company money
- Pleasing/keeping a customer
- Obtaining new customers
- Solving a safety issue
- Solving a staffing/scheduling issue
- Solving a logistical issue
- Solving a company hiring issue
- Solving a technical/software issue
- Making a process more efficient and faster for the company
- Creating a new business process to make the company more profitable
- Improving the company’s brand/image/reputation
- Getting the company positive reviews from customers/clients
Every employer wants to make more money, save money, and save time. If you can assess your problem solving experience and think about how you’ve helped past employers in those three areas, then that’s a great start. That’s where I recommend you begin looking for stories of times you had to solve problems.
Tips to Improve Your Problem Solving Skills
Throughout your career, you’re going to get hired for better jobs and earn more money if you can show employers that you’re a problem solver. So to improve your problem solving skills, I recommend always analyzing a problem and situation before acting. When discussing problem solving with employers, you never want to sound like you rush or make impulsive decisions. They want to see fact-based or data-based decisions when you solve problems.
Next, to get better at solving problems, analyze the outcomes of past solutions you came up with. You can recognize what works and what doesn’t. Think about how you can get better at researching and analyzing a situation, but also how you can get better at communicating, deciding the right people in the organization to talk to and “pull in” to help you if needed, etc.
Finally, practice staying calm even in stressful situations. Take a few minutes to walk outside if needed. Step away from your phone and computer to clear your head. A work problem is rarely so urgent that you cannot take five minutes to think (with the possible exception of safety problems), and you’ll get better outcomes if you solve problems by acting logically instead of rushing to react in a panic.
You can use all of the ideas above to describe your problem solving skills when asked interview questions about the topic. If you say that you do the things above, employers will be impressed when they assess your problem solving ability.
If you practice the tips above, you’ll be ready to share detailed, impressive stories and problem solving examples that will make hiring managers want to offer you the job. Every employer appreciates a problem solver, whether solving problems is a requirement listed on the job description or not. And you never know which hiring manager or interviewer will ask you about a time you solved a problem, so you should always be ready to discuss this when applying for a job.
Related interview questions & answers:
- How do you handle stress?
- How do you handle conflict?
- Tell me about a time when you failed
About the Author
Read more articles by Biron Clark
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Top 15 Problem Solving Interview Questions and Answers
Are you gearing up for an important job interview that includes problem-solving questions? Congratulations, because you've come to the right place!
In this guide, we'll equip you with the skills and knowledge needed to ace those tricky problem-solving interviews with confidence.
Introduction to Problem Solving Interviews
In today's competitive job market, employers are seeking candidates who possess strong problem-solving abilities. Problem solving is not only about finding solutions to complex issues; it also showcases your critical thinking, analytical, and creative skills. Before we delve into the nitty-gritty of problem-solving interviews, let's gain a clear understanding of what they entail and why they matter.
What Are Problem Solving Interviews?
Problem solving interviews are a specialized type of job interview where employers assess a candidate's ability to handle challenges and make sound decisions in real-life scenarios. These interviews often involve hypothetical situations or case studies to evaluate your problem-solving process and your approach to arriving at effective solutions.
The Importance of Problem Solving Skills in the Workplace
Problem-solving skills are highly valued in almost every industry. Employers seek individuals who can identify problems, think critically, and generate innovative solutions. Whether you're in business, engineering, healthcare, or any other field, the ability to tackle complex issues is essential for personal and organizational success.
How Problem Solving Interviews Differ from Traditional Interviews
Unlike traditional interviews that focus on your qualifications and work experience, problem-solving interviews provide a glimpse into your thought process and decision-making capabilities. Through these interviews, employers assess your potential to handle challenging situations that may arise in the workplace. Being well-prepared for this specific interview format will set you apart from other candidates.
Core Problem Solving Skills
Before you dive into practicing problem-solving questions, let's explore the fundamental skills that make up an effective problem solver.
Critical thinking is the foundation of problem solving. It involves objectively analyzing information, evaluating arguments, and making logical decisions. To enhance your critical thinking abilities:
- Ask Thought-Provoking Questions: Train yourself to ask "why" and "how" questions to gain a deeper understanding of problems.
- Challenge Assumptions: Don't take information at face value; question the underlying assumptions.
- Evaluate Evidence: Learn to distinguish between credible and unreliable sources of information.
Analytical skills are essential for breaking down complex problems into smaller, manageable components. Improve your analytical thinking with these tips:
- Practice Data Interpretation: Analyze charts, graphs, and data sets to draw meaningful insights.
- Use Root Cause Analysis: Identify the underlying reasons behind problems by applying techniques like the "5 Whys."
- Draw Comparisons: Compare past experiences or similar scenarios to find patterns and potential solutions.
Creativity and Innovation
Creative problem solving involves thinking outside the box and generating unique solutions. To nurture your creativity:
- Embrace Diverse Perspectives: Seek input from others with different backgrounds and experiences.
- Mind Mapping: Create visual diagrams to explore various angles and connections related to a problem.
- Encourage Brainstorming: Engage in group brainstorming sessions to generate a wide range of ideas.
Frameworks for Problem Solving
Equipping yourself with problem-solving frameworks can help you approach challenges more systematically. Here are some popular frameworks to explore:
The 5 Whys is a simple yet effective technique to uncover the root cause of a problem. It involves repeatedly asking "why" until you identify the underlying issue.
SWOT Analysis is a strategic planning tool used to assess a situation's strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats.
PDCA is a four-step problem-solving model consisting of planning, executing, checking results, and making adjustments as needed.
SCAMPER is a creative thinking technique that involves asking questions related to Substitute, Combine, Adapt, Modify, Put to another use, Eliminate, and Reverse.
Six Thinking Hats
Six Thinking Hats is a concept developed by Edward de Bono that encourages individuals to think from six different perspectives, each represented by a colored "hat."
Behavioral-based Problem Solving Questions
Behavioral problem solving questions aim to evaluate how you handled challenges in the past. Be prepared to answer these questions with clarity and confidence:
Example: "Describe a challenging problem you encountered and how you resolved it."
To answer this question effectively:
- Set the Scene: Provide context and background information about the situation.
- Explain the Challenge: Clearly outline the problem you faced.
- Describe Your Actions: Detail the steps you took to address the problem.
- Highlight the Outcome: Share the positive results of your efforts.
Example: "Discuss a situation where you had to think creatively to solve a problem."
For this question:
- Narrate the Scenario: Paint a vivid picture of the problem you encountered.
- Showcase Your Creativity: Explain the innovative approach you adopted.
- Explain the Impact: Share the positive outcomes resulting from your creative solution.
Technical Problem Solving Questions
If your role requires technical skills, you may encounter technical problem-solving questions. Here's how to tackle them:
Example: "How would you troubleshoot [specific technical problem]?"
To handle technical problem-solving questions:
- Clarify the Issue: Ask for any additional information to fully understand the problem.
- Create a Plan: Outline the steps you would take to diagnose and address the issue.
- Demonstrate Your Expertise: Showcase your technical knowledge and problem-solving ability.
Example: "Walk us through your approach to [technical challenge] in your previous role."
- Provide Context: Explain the technical challenge you faced in your previous role.
- Outline Your Approach: Describe the steps you took to overcome the challenge.
- Highlight Success: Share the positive results of your efforts.
Case interviews simulate real-world problem-solving scenarios and are common in consulting and other industries. To excel in case interviews:
- Understand the Problem: Thoroughly read and comprehend the case presented.
- Identify Key Issues: Break down the problem into its essential components.
- Ask Clarifying Questions: Seek clarification on any ambiguous aspects of the case.
- Brainstorm Solutions: Generate multiple potential solutions.
- Analyze Options: Evaluate the pros and cons of each solution.
- Recommend a Course of Action: Select the best solution and provide a rationale.
- Handle Pressure: Stay composed and confident throughout the interview.
Problem Solving in Group Settings
Collaborative problem solving is vital in today's team-oriented work environments. Here's how to excel in group problem-solving scenarios:
- Active Listening: Pay close attention to others' perspectives and ideas.
- Effective Communication: Clearly articulate your thoughts and suggestions.
- Encourage Participation: Create an inclusive environment where everyone feels comfortable contributing.
- Respect Diverse Opinions: Value the input of all team members, even if opinions differ.
- Build on Each Other's Ideas: Expand on others' suggestions to develop comprehensive solutions.
- Manage Conflict: Handle disagreements respectfully and seek common ground.
Situational Judgment Tests (SJTs)
Situational judgment tests assess your ability to handle realistic workplace scenarios. Approach SJTs with these tips:
- Read Carefully: Pay attention to the details and instructions in each scenario.
- Prioritize Solutions: Identify the most appropriate course of action based on the situation.
- Consider the Consequences: Anticipate the potential outcomes of your chosen response.
- Adhere to Company Values: Ensure your solutions align with the organization's principles.
Effective decision making is integral to successful problem solving. Improve your decision-making skills with these strategies:
- Gather Information: Collect relevant data and insights before making a decision.
- Analyze Options: Evaluate the potential outcomes of different choices.
- Consider Risks and Benefits: Weigh the risks against the potential benefits of each option.
- Seek Input: If appropriate, consult with colleagues or experts to gain different perspectives.
- Trust Your Instincts: Sometimes, intuition can guide you toward the right decision.
Behavioral-Based Problem Solving Interview Questions
1. "describe a challenging problem you encountered and how you resolved it.".
How to Answer: When responding to this question, follow the STAR method (Situation, Task, Action, Result) to structure your answer effectively:
- Situation: Set the context by describing the problem you faced.
- Task: Explain your role and responsibilities in addressing the problem.
- Action: Detail the steps you took to solve the problem, highlighting your problem-solving approach.
- Result: Share the positive outcomes of your efforts and any valuable lessons learned.
Sample Answer: "In my previous role as a project manager, we faced a significant budget overrun due to unexpected delays in material delivery. To address this challenge, I first analyzed the root cause of the delay by collaborating with the procurement team and suppliers. Then, I devised a contingency plan that involved working with alternative suppliers and streamlining the project timeline. As a result, we were able to bring the project back on track, saving 15% on costs and meeting the project deadline."
What to Look For: Look for candidates who demonstrate strong problem-solving skills, proactive decision-making, and the ability to collaborate across teams. A well-structured response with quantifiable results is a positive indicator of their problem-solving capabilities.
2. "Tell me about a time when you had to think creatively to solve a problem."
How to Answer: Encourage candidates to walk through the situation, focusing on the following points:
- Context: Describe the situation and the specific problem that required creative thinking.
- Creativity: Explain the innovative approach or out-of-the-box solution you came up with.
- Implementation: Describe how you implemented the creative solution and the results achieved.
Sample Answer: "During a marketing campaign, we faced a sudden drop in engagement. To tackle this, I organized a brainstorming session with the team and encouraged everyone to contribute ideas. We decided to experiment with interactive social media polls and contests, which not only boosted engagement but also increased brand visibility by 20%."
What to Look For: Look for candidates who display creative thinking, openness to collaboration, and the ability to take initiative in solving problems. Consider their approach to risk-taking and how they evaluate the potential impact of their creative solutions.
Technical Problem Solving Interview Questions
3. "how would you troubleshoot [specific technical problem]".
How to Answer: Candidates should approach this question systematically:
- Clarify the Issue: Ask for any additional details to fully understand the technical problem.
- Methodical Approach: Describe the steps you would take to diagnose the issue.
- Expertise: Showcase your technical knowledge and problem-solving ability.
Sample Answer: "If I encountered a server outage issue, I would first check the network connections and power supply. Then, I would review server logs to identify any error messages. If necessary, I would conduct hardware tests and isolate the faulty component. Once the issue is identified, I would take appropriate corrective actions, such as replacing the faulty part or applying software updates."
What to Look For: Pay attention to candidates' technical knowledge, their ability to troubleshoot methodically, and how they communicate technical information concisely.
4. "Walk us through your approach to [technical challenge] in your previous role."
How to Answer: Instruct candidates to provide a clear and structured response:
- Context: Set the stage by explaining the technical challenge they faced.
- Methodology: Describe the approach they took to tackle the challenge.
- Outcome: Highlight the results achieved and any lessons learned.
Sample Answer: "In my previous role as a software developer, we encountered a performance bottleneck in our application. To address this, I conducted a thorough code review, identified areas of inefficiency, and optimized critical algorithms. Additionally, I implemented caching mechanisms to reduce database queries. As a result, the application's performance improved by 30%, leading to higher user satisfaction."
What to Look For: Assess their problem-solving process, technical expertise, and the impact of their solutions on overall performance.
Case Interviews Questions
5. "you are the manager of a manufacturing plant experiencing a decline in production output. what steps would you take to identify the root cause and improve production efficiency".
How to Answer: Candidates should structure their response as follows:
- Identify the Issue: Understand the scope of the decline in production output.
- Investigate Root Causes: Explain how they would gather data and analyze potential factors affecting production.
- Propose Solutions: Outline the strategies they would implement to improve production efficiency.
Sample Answer: "To address the decline in production output, I would first gather production data and conduct a thorough analysis of equipment performance and maintenance logs. I would also interview production staff to identify any workflow inefficiencies. Based on the findings, I would implement a maintenance schedule, provide additional training to staff, and introduce process improvements to optimize production efficiency."
What to Look For: Look for candidates who can analyze complex situations, prioritize solutions, and develop actionable plans.
6. "You are a consultant advising a retail client experiencing a drop in sales. How would you approach this problem and recommend solutions?"
How to Answer: Guide candidates to structure their response effectively:
- Understanding the Situation: Gather information on the client's current market position and challenges.
- Analysis and Diagnosis: Analyze the market trends and customer behavior to identify potential reasons for the sales decline.
- Solutions and Recommendations: Propose actionable strategies tailored to the client's specific situation.
Sample Answer: "As a consultant, I would start by conducting a comprehensive market analysis to understand the competitive landscape and consumer preferences. I would also review the client's sales data and customer feedback. Based on my findings, I might suggest implementing targeted marketing campaigns, enhancing the customer experience through personalized offers, and optimizing the product mix to meet customer demands."
What to Look For: Assess their analytical skills, industry knowledge, and ability to recommend effective solutions based on data-driven insights.
Situational Judgment Tests (SJTs) Interview Questions
7. "you are a team leader, and two of your team members have conflicting ideas about how to approach a project. how do you handle the situation".
How to Answer: Encourage candidates to outline a thoughtful approach:
- Active Listening: Stress the importance of understanding both team members' perspectives.
- Mediation and Collaboration: Emphasize the need to facilitate open communication and find common ground.
- Decision-Making: Describe how they would make a final decision, considering the project's objectives and team dynamics.
Sample Answer: "As a team leader, my first step would be to listen to both team members individually and understand their reasoning. Then, I would hold a team meeting to foster open communication and encourage them to find a compromise that aligns with the project's goals. If necessary, I would make a decision based on a thorough assessment of both ideas and explain the rationale behind the chosen approach to the team."
What to Look For: Look for candidates who demonstrate effective leadership, conflict resolution skills, and the ability to make decisions based on team input.
Decision-Making Skills Interview Questions
8. "describe a time when you had to make a difficult decision with limited information.".
How to Answer: Candidates should structure their response to highlight the decision-making process:
- The Context: Explain the circumstances that led to the difficult decision.
- Assessment: Describe how they evaluated the available information and potential consequences.
- The Decision: Explain the choice they made and the reasoning behind it.
Sample Answer: "In my previous role, we faced a tight deadline on a project, and key team members were unexpectedly unavailable. With limited information, I had to decide whether to proceed with the available resources or postpone the project. I carefully analyzed the potential impact of both options on project quality and client expectations. Ultimately, I decided to postpone the project, as rushing it could compromise its success and client satisfaction."
What to Look For: Assess their ability to make informed decisions under pressure, considering the available information and long-term implications.
9. "How do you handle situations where you need to make a quick decision?"
How to Answer: Encourage candidates to follow these steps:
- Assess Urgency: Determine the level of urgency and potential consequences of the decision.
- Prioritize Information: Identify the critical information needed to make an informed choice.
- Trust Your Instincts: When time is limited, rely on experience and intuition to guide the decision.
Sample Answer: "In situations requiring quick decisions, I prioritize identifying the core information necessary for making an informed choice. I draw on my previous experiences and knowledge to trust my instincts and make swift decisions. However, I always stay open to feedback and reevaluate the decision if new information emerges."
What to Look For: Look for candidates who can maintain composure and make well-founded decisions under time constraints.
Creativity and Innovation Interview Questions
10. "how do you foster creativity and innovation in your problem-solving approach".
How to Answer: Candidates should explain their methods for encouraging creativity:
- Encourage Idea Generation: Describe how they create an environment that promotes brainstorming and idea sharing.
- Diverse Perspectives: Highlight the importance of involving team members with diverse backgrounds and expertise.
- Support Risk-Taking: Emphasize the value of encouraging innovative thinking and being open to experimentation.
Sample Answer: "To foster creativity, I encourage team brainstorming sessions and create a safe space for everyone to share ideas, no matter how unconventional they may seem. I believe that diversity enhances creativity, so I ensure that all team members are actively involved in problem-solving discussions. Additionally, I support risk-taking, understanding that not all innovative ideas will yield immediate results, but they contribute to long-term growth."
What to Look For: Assess their ability to create an environment that stimulates creative thinking and their openness to new ideas.
Core Problem Solving Skills Interview Questions
11. "how do you approach complex problems that seem overwhelming".
How to Answer: Guide candidates to outline a systematic approach:
- Break it Down: Advise them to divide the complex problem into smaller, manageable components.
- Prioritize: Encourage them to identify the most critical aspects to address first.
- Seek Support: Suggest they collaborate with others to gain different perspectives and potential solutions.
Sample Answer: "When faced with complex problems, I first break them down into smaller parts to gain a clear understanding of each component. I then prioritize the issues based on urgency and potential impact. If I find the problem overwhelming, I seek support from colleagues or mentors to gain fresh insights and alternative approaches."
What to Look For: Assess their ability to handle complex challenges methodically and their willingness to seek assistance when needed.
12. "Tell me about a time when you encountered a problem without a clear solution. How did you approach it?"
How to Answer: Encourage candidates to demonstrate adaptability and resilience:
- Assess the Situation: Describe how they evaluated the problem's complexity and uncertainty.
- Explore Options: Explain how they brainstormed various potential solutions.
- Learn from Challenges: Highlight any lessons learned from the experience.
Sample Answer: "During a project, we faced unexpected regulatory changes that left us without a clear solution. To address this, I organized a cross-functional team to explore multiple potential approaches. We ran pilot tests and iterated until we found a viable solution. Though it was challenging, the experience taught me the importance of adaptability and the value of embracing uncertainty in problem-solving."
What to Look For: Look for candidates who demonstrate resilience, resourcefulness , and the ability to adapt to unexpected situations.
Frameworks for Problem Solving Interview Questions
13. "which problem-solving framework do you find most effective, and why".
How to Answer: Encourage candidates to explain their preferred framework and its benefits:
- Framework Selection: Describe the reasons behind their choice of a particular problem-solving framework.
- Application: Illustrate how they have successfully applied the chosen framework in past situations.
- Results: Highlight the positive outcomes achieved through the framework's use.
Sample Answer: "I find the PDCA (Plan-Do-Check-Act) framework highly effective because it promotes a systematic approach to problem-solving. By planning carefully, executing the solution, and reviewing the results, it ensures continuous improvement. In my previous role, I used PDCA to optimize our team's project management process, resulting in a 20% increase in project efficiency."
What to Look For: Assess their understanding of problem-solving frameworks and their ability to select and apply the most appropriate one for different scenarios.
14. "How do you tailor problem-solving approaches based on the specific needs of a project or situation?"
How to Answer: Encourage candidates to consider the following factors when adapting their approach:
- Project Scope: Explain how they align their approach with the project's objectives and scope.
- Stakeholder Needs: Emphasize the importance of considering the perspectives of stakeholders involved.
- Flexibility: Highlight their ability to pivot and adjust the approach as new information arises.
Sample Answer: "To tailor problem-solving approaches, I always start by understanding the project's unique requirements and the expectations of stakeholders. I then assess the resources available and the timeline for completion. Flexibility is key, and I remain open to adjusting the approach as the project evolves, ensuring the best possible outcomes for all involved."
What to Look For: Look for candidates who can customize their problem-solving strategies based on the specific context of each situation.
Group Problem Solving Scenarios Interview Questions
15. "describe a time when you led a team in resolving a complex problem. how did you ensure effective collaboration and decision-making".
How to Answer: Guide candidates to address the following key points:
- Leadership Approach: Explain their role in leading the team and facilitating collaboration.
- Team Dynamics: Describe how they managed conflicts and encouraged diverse perspectives.
- Decision-Making Process: Highlight the methodology used to reach a collective decision.
Sample Answer: "In my previous role as a project manager, we faced a complex client issue that required a team effort to resolve. As a leader, I encouraged open communication and organized regular team meetings to discuss progress and challenges. By fostering a culture of trust and respect, team members freely shared their ideas, which led to innovative solutions. We used a combination of majority voting and consensus to make critical decisions, ensuring everyone's voice was heard."
What to Look For: Look for candidates who showcase effective leadership skills, the ability to foster collaboration, and a well-defined decision-making process when handling group problem-solving scenarios.
How to Excel in Problem Solving Interviews?
You've learned about problem-solving skills, frameworks, and how to tackle various types of problem-solving questions. Now, let's explore additional tips to excel in your problem-solving interviews:
Effective Communication in Problem Solving
- Clearly articulate your thought process to interviewers.
- Use concise and structured responses to explain your solutions.
- Practice active listening to understand the interviewers' questions fully.
Time Management and Prioritization Strategies
- Allocate sufficient time to analyze the problem before proposing solutions.
- Demonstrate the ability to manage time effectively during the interview.
- Emphasize the importance of prioritizing critical issues in problem solving.
Demonstrating Resilience and Adaptability
- Stay calm and composed when faced with challenging scenarios.
- Showcase your ability to adapt to unexpected changes during problem-solving exercises.
- Highlight past experiences where you demonstrated resilience in overcoming obstacles.
Mock Interview Practice
Prepare for your problem-solving interviews by engaging in mock interviews. Mock interviews provide valuable feedback and boost your confidence. Here's how to make the most of them:
- Choose a Partner: Find a friend or mentor willing to act as the interviewer.
- Set Up a Mock Interview: Create a setting similar to a real job interview.
- Practice Various Scenarios: Include behavioral, technical, and case-based questions.
- Receive Feedback: After the mock interview, seek feedback to identify areas for improvement.
- Iterate and Improve: Use feedback to refine your responses and approach.
Mastering problem-solving interview questions is crucial for excelling in job interviews. As candidates, it is essential to showcase our critical thinking, analytical abilities, and creative problem-solving skills. By utilizing various frameworks, such as the 5 Whys or PDCA, we can approach challenges systematically.
Behavioral-based questions provide an opportunity to demonstrate our problem-solving capabilities through past experiences. Meanwhile, technical questions test our expertise in solving real-world issues. Case interviews assess our ability to think on our feet and propose viable solutions under pressure.
Collaborative problem-solving in group settings highlights our leadership, communication, and conflict resolution skills. Situational Judgment Tests test our decision-making and problem-solving acumen in ambiguous scenarios.
Remember, preparation is key. Engaging in mock interviews, refining responses, and seeking feedback will boost our confidence and improve interview performance. By showcasing our problem-solving prowess, we set ourselves apart as valuable assets to any organization. So, approach problem-solving interviews with confidence and seize the opportunity to demonstrate your problem-solving excellence. Best of luck in your future interviews!
Interview Question: How Do You Approach Problem Solving?
Problem solving is a crucial skill in today's fast-paced and dynamic work environments. With businesses facing increasingly complex challenges, employers seek candidates who can tackle problems head-on and devise effective solutions.
In this article, we will explore why the interview question 'How do you approach problem solving?' is frequently asked, discuss its purpose, provide tips on crafting an impressive answer, and showcase a few example responses to help you nail your next interview.
Understanding the Importance of the Question:
Companies want to assess a candidate's problem-solving abilities, as it directly correlates with their ability to navigate obstacles, make sound decisions, and contribute to the organization's success.
By asking this question, interviewers aim to gauge your critical thinking skills, creativity, analytical mindset, and ability to handle challenging situations – all qualities that are highly sought after in today's competitive job market.
Level of Interviews and Expected Answer:
The "How do you approach problem solving?" question can be asked at various interview stages, from entry-level positions to managerial roles, cutting across various industries. Employers expect candidates to provide a clear and structured approach to problem solving, showcasing their ability to think logically, utilize available resources, and communicate effectively within a team.
Key Tips for Crafting an Impressive Answer:
1. Start with an Introduction:
Begin your answer by acknowledging the significance of problem-solving skills in the workplace, demonstrating your understanding of the question's relevance. This initial response sets the tone for your entire answer and conveys your confidence in addressing complex issues.
2. Outline a Structured Approach:
Describe a systematic problem-solving approach that showcases your ability to dissect problems, analyze data, identify root causes, and develop effective solutions. Interviewers often look for responses that demonstrate critical thinking and attention to detail.
3. Showcase Communication and Collaboration Skills:
Employers value candidates who can effectively communicate their ideas and collaborate with others to solve problems. Emphasize the importance of seeking input from colleagues, conducting thorough research, and sharing ideas to foster a team-centric approach to problem solving.
4. Highlight Relevant Examples:
Illustrate your problem-solving skills by sharing past experiences where you successfully resolved complex issues. Describe the problem, your specific role in solving it, the solution implemented, and the positive outcome achieved.
Real-life examples provide credibility and demonstrate your ability to apply problem-solving techniques in practical scenarios.
5. Demonstrate Adaptability and Flexibility:
Proactive problem solvers possess the ability to adapt their approach based on changing circumstances. Showcase your willingness to embrace new perspectives, think creatively, and explore alternative solutions when necessary. This highlights your versatility and agility in handling challenges.
"In approaching problem solving, I follow a logical and structured approach. Firstly, I ensure a thorough understanding of the problem by gathering all available information and breaking it down into manageable components. Then, I analyze the data, identify any underlying causes, and prioritize the most critical issues."
"To effectively solve problems, I believe in a collaborative approach. I engage with team members to gather diverse perspectives and insights, fostering an environment where everyone feels comfortable sharing their thoughts. By considering multiple viewpoints, we can uncover innovative solutions that might not have been apparent initially."
"My problem-solving process is characterized by adaptability. I understand that in complex situations, a one-size-fits-all approach may not yield the desired outcomes. I continually evaluate and adjust my approach as new information emerges, ensuring that my solutions remain aligned with changing circumstances."
Mastering the art of problem solving is essential for professional growth and career success. By understanding the purpose behind this interview question, showcasing a structured problem-solving approach, highlighting relevant experiences, and emphasizing collaboration and adaptability, you can impress interviewers and demonstrate your ability to tackle challenges head-on.
What is your preferred method for tackling problem solving?
Can you explain your approach to problem solving?
In what ways do you typically approach problem solving?
How do you go about solving problems?
What strategies do you use when faced with a problem?
What steps do you follow when problem solving?
Can you share an example of how you approach problem solving?
What mindset do you adopt when approaching problem solving?
How do you break down complex problems when solving them?
What techniques do you utilize when problem solving?
What factors do you consider when approaching problem solving?
What role does creativity play in your problem solving process?
How do you prioritize when faced with multiple problems to solve?
Can you describe a successful problem solving experience and the steps you took?
How do you adapt your problem solving approach based on the situation?
What resources or tools do you rely on when problem solving?
How do you handle setbacks or obstacles during the problem solving process?
Can you explain the importance of analytical thinking in problem solving?
How do you ensure your problem solving approach is effective and efficient?
What do you find most rewarding about the problem solving process?
How important is problem-solving in the workplace?
Problem-solving skills are highly valued in the modern workplace as they allow individuals to overcome obstacles, make informed decisions, and contribute to business success.
What are the key qualities employers look for in problem-solving candidates?
Employers seek candidates with critical thinking abilities, logical reasoning, analytical skills, creativity, adaptability, and effective communication and collaboration skills.
Should I include personal experiences in my answer?
Yes, incorporating relevant personal experiences demonstrates your practical application of problem-solving skills and adds credibility to your answer.
Yu Payne is an American professional who believes in personal growth. After studying The Art & Science of Transformational from Erickson College, she continuously seeks out new trainings to improve herself. She has been producing content for the IIENSTITU Blog since 2021. Her work has been featured on various platforms, including but not limited to: ThriveGlobal, TinyBuddha, and Addicted2Success. Yu aspires to help others reach their full potential and live their best lives.
Problem Solving in the Workplace
Definition of Problem-Solving With Examples
Problem Solving in 9 Steps
Problem Solving Method Of Teaching
How to Nail your next Technical Interview
You may be missing out on a 66.5% salary hike*, nick camilleri, how many years of coding experience do you have, free course on 'sorting algorithms' by omkar deshpande (stanford phd, head of curriculum, ik).
How to Use Problem-Solving Skills in the Workplace
" We've been stuck at it for a week now, " thought Frank to himself. His team came across a simple bin-packing problem surrounding consecutive character strings that were seemingly impossible to solve, and had been running into the same error message every time someone hit the ‘Compile’ button.
The new guy on his team ( his first day ), who had been quiet the whole day, walked to the whiteboard and started jotting down something. When he was done, five minutes later, a solution pattern popped right out the whiteboard.
" Gosh! How did he do that? "
Well, we'll find out. Here's what we'll be covering in this article:
- What exactly is problem-solving?
- What will be the employer or manager looking for in you?
- How to approach a workplace problem?
- Problem-solving techniques in the workplace
Step 1: Thoroughly understand the problem
Step 2: Define the problem
Step 3: Strategize a solution
Step 4: Find alternate solutions
Step 5: Evaluate solutions and document everything
Step 6: Choose a solution
Step 7: Implement
Step 8: Monitor progress and make modifications accordingly
- What essential problem-solving skills do employers search for during the interview?
- How to highlight problem-solving skills in your resume?
What exactly is problem-solving?
Problems are a massive part of what we do in our day-to-day lives, be it at your home or workplace.
Problem-solving is the complete process of understanding and defining the problem, brainstorming a solution, finding alternatives, implementing the best solution, and making adjustments based on the outcome.
What do hiring managers look for?
One's problem-solving ability is a harmonious accord between instinct and immense practice. As your technical skills age with experience, so does your ability to identify patterns and solve problems effectively.
Almost each and every employer looks for effective problem-solving skills in a candidate when making a hiring decision. They look for an aspirant's natural talent to dig up patterns, look at the problem with a fresh perspective, and be realistic while providing solutions.
How to approach a workplace problem?
During computer science classes, you will find two types of students.
The first batch has a mindset that algorithms and data structures are only useful for passing the finals and getting an edge over others in interviews.
The second batch loves programming and aspires to write codes from scratch for each new project that they come across.While both mindsets may be partially correct, they do not hold up much.
In real-life situations and as part of an organization, your job drastically changes to one objective only: ' write the right amount of good code. '
For most projects, you will need to write quick, efficient codes to overcome difficult roadblocks. And the only way to achieve that skill is by getting acquainted with as many problems as possible.
Solve as many problems as possible. Learn as many Data Structures and Algorithms as you can. Get acquainted with the basics of reusing a chunk of code. Make StackOverflow your default homepage.
Does that seem too groundbreaking? Let us simplify it for you.
Problem-solving techniques in the workplace
See, a lot of people understand the problem at hand and the syntax or logic that might explain the issue. The primary thing you need to learn is how to convert your thoughts into code to all the creative geniuses out there.
If you need a comprehensive set of instructions, here are the problem-solving steps that you can adopt in your day-to-day lifestyle. This procedure applies not only to coding problems but also to other general hiccups.
While some have the mental affluence to solve problems on the go, keep practicing these daily, and you too will develop critical thinking skills.
The first and most crucial step in solving a problem is to comprehend the standing concepts behind it. Believe us when we say this, a lot of employees jump to providing suggestions before actually understanding what the problem is.
A quick way to gauge your understanding is verifying if you can explain the problem to someone else. This also ties into your communication skills, and employers will gauge your ability to converse issues and solutions effectively. It is, thus, also one of the essential interview preparation tips for you.
Hiring managers have a behavioral question that they like asking, which revolves around the following:
" How will you be explaining a complex technical concept to a person who is not very sound technically? "
Ask yourself these questions and make a note of the solutions as you go.
- What exactly is the end goal?
- What are the variables?
- Do you understand every concept revolving the problem?
- Are you familiar with the provided measurement units?
- What information is missing?
- Is there any unnecessary information?
- Can you verify the information from a bona fide source?
The next step in this process is accumulating every bit of necessary information so that you can start assembling a solution. Now, this isn't as easy as it sounds, and you can effortlessly mess up things during proceedings.
Strangely, at this time, do not focus on the solution. Instead, focus on defining the question.
Therefore, instead of saying ' the sale numbers need to be consistent in the next quarter, ' say ' the sale numbers are inconsistent. '
Based on the information you collected in step 1, start separating the facts from estimations. Analyze the procedures that have been used previously and make precise adjustments based on the company policies.
Now that you have understood the problem and defined it, start strategizing a solution for it based on your findings. Workplace solutions can be majorly categorized into two different kinds, i.e. tactical solutions and strategic solutions .
A tactical solution is a short-term fix for a standing obstacle, more like a workaround for an issue. Imagine reusing a piece of code from your last project to get around that pesky error message in your new one.
A strategic solution, on the other hand, is a long-term fix for an issue. Strategic solutions involve using a comprehensive series of steps to find the overall architecture of a problem.
Usually, workplaces adopt the following problem-solving strategies into their policies.
- Use logical reasoning
- Recognize patterns
- Reverse engineer the problem
- Try a different point of view
- Consider worst-case scenarios
- Relate to a more straightforward real-life problem
- Data organization
- Prepare a visual representation
- Take all possibilities into account
- Intelligent guessing and testing
Your goal as an employee should be to become as fluent in these strategies as possible. Once you can naturally zoom into the problem, you will be able to form a strategy within minutes, without having to write anything down.
Are you starting to understand how the new guy deduced a solution that quickly?
Keeping the goals and objectives in mind, understand that there's always more than one way to skin a cat . Invite your team members and other experienced guys to brainstorm ideas alongside you.
For each problem, you should be able to find at least THREE different points of view or solutions, each with a unique USP.
Here's a neat little trick you may find useful someday in your career. Invite everyone associated with the project to this brainstorming session. Making sure that everybody gets equal participation is one of the ways you can exhibit your leadership skills while forging strong workplace relationships.
Now that you have found alternate solutions as well, it's time to evaluate these solutions. You will need to assess each solution based on various factors and list down all the pros and cons of each alternative you found in solution 4.
Create a document or spreadsheet listing down the USPs of each alternative and the positive and negative consequences thereby. You can go on adding other columns such as budget constraints, time allocation, resource requirements, workforce, and other relevant data.
The ability to quickly evaluate solutions ties into your management skills. A manager will be able to evaluate and implement solutions based on such factors quickly. Train yourself to find as many parameters as you can find to analyze solutions effectively.
Basically, your main objective is to find one effective solution out of all the ones provided on the list. The solution you choose depends on various parameters, which can be one or all of the following:
- Company policies and procedures
You can promote strong work ethics by running the chosen solution by everyone in your team or involved in the project before implementing it. Also, select the employees who will be actively implementing it, and ask for their feedback.
Implementing a solution does not merely mean diving headfirst with anything that you do. After you have collected the feedback and communicated the solution to everybody involved, here's what you will need to do next.
First, redefine the objectives , in brief, to help get a better idea of the end goal. Develop a simple action plan with defined timelines for the solution that you agreed upon in the step above.
Implement the chosen solution according to the action plan. Then, identify the measurable parameters to track success and failure rates.
Finally, set up communication channels for regular feedback and a contingency plan in case of a failure.
The last problem-solving step involves actively monitoring how the solution performs in real life and if it meets the end goal for which it was adopted in the first place.
Tally how the solution functions compared to how you expected it to perform and document all changes. Check the feedback channel for any discrepancy or issues that arise during the process.
If you feel that any modification will further optimize the process, implement it after running it with your team.
Improving problem-solving skills for programmers
- Understand the question and classify it as Corner-case or Edge-case
- Simplify and optimize your steps
- Write line-by-line pseudo code, focusing on the logic and steps rather than the syntax
- Translate it into a code
- Debug and remove repetitions
- Write comments to help you understand
- Get feedback regularly
- Practice again
What essential problem-solving skills do employers search for in interviews?
Problem-solving in the workplace is one of the most sought-after skills in any organization. During the interview, if you can highlight your ability to find creative solutions quickly along with your technical skills , you definitely have a better chance of making it to the next round.
Hiring managers tend to leave specific questions open-ended; the notion being that without a trail for the candidate to follow, they'll be able to understand better how the candidate thinks.
Some of the crucial problem-solving skills that employers look for in the candidate include the following:
" Alone we can do so little; together we can do so much. " – Helen Keller
Effective problem-solving encompasses teamwork. As a problem-solver ( and a leader ), you need to show empathy towards your teammates, develop effective feedback channels, and use their input to solve the problem at hand.
A good listener in the workplace will be able to gather more valuable information and then use them to find unique solutions in the least possible time. Additionally, an active listener encourages every team member to get involved in the problem-solving steps , listens to their feedback, and comes up with a profitable solution.
However, ' saying ' that you have good listening skills outright defeats the purpose.
During the interview , maintain your composure and LISTEN quietly to the problem at hand. Understand the problem and its root cause; only then provide a solution.
Irrespective of the nature of a problem, you need to be able to communicate the issue and any possible solution effectively to everybody else involved in the project. You need to brush up your delivery skills and learn which points to communicate first and last.
Interviewers may either ask your proficiency with various communication channels such as e-mail, phone, and text or give you a behavioral task and test your ability to communicate with others in real-life situations.
Creativity and critical thinking
"You can't use up creativity. The more you use, the more you have." - Maya Angelou
Employers in this day and age are always on the lookout for an innovative thinker, one who can see the problem with a new set of eyes and bring a unique perspective to the team. You need to be able to establish the balance between cause and effect quickly, anticipate long-term effects of a solution that you implement, and lead your team to a new direction when stuck.
More often than not, decision-making is closely tied to an employee's problem-solving ability . Besides implementing solutions that your team comes up with, you should also be able to foresee the long-term effects and prevent catastrophes.
With quality technical interview preparation courses , you can further understand the importance of this step.
How to highlight problem-solving skills in your resume?
Your resume is the first document that a hiring manager sees. The experience and skills you mention in your resume can help you secure an interview if it catches the recruiter's attention.
The first approach you can adopt is highlighting your analysis and problem-solving skills right under the hard skills. This approach shows that you are confident in your technical skills and can find and implement work-based solutions efficiently.
For a full-stack web developer, the following problem-solving skills can be mentioned.
Secondly, you can list your problem-solving ability under the work experience section. This is an excellent way to highlight your job experience and emphasizes that you learn and implement these skills in your work.
- Analyzed customer service feedback to predict interest in a sales campaign to attract a target audience group.
- Documented the standard processes and scripts using specialized software solutions which led to customer satisfaction increased by 45% in a quarter.
- Researched and launched a mobile app that reduced the school pickup time by 21 minutes.
- Altered the inventory safeguard protocols during hurricane season, saving $1 million in wastage.
Apart from using problem-solving skills in your workplace , a quick way to develop your skills is to ask many questions. Only by asking questions and analyzing the information at hand can you build a workplace reputation as someone who handles challenging situations wisely.
Attend our free webinar on how to nail your next technical interview.
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What Is Problem Solving?
Examples of problem solving in the workplace, what are problem solving interview questions, why do employers want problem solving skills, how to answer problem solving interview questions in 2023 with examples, how to highlight problem-solving skills in your cv or cover letter in 2023, problem solving technique, skills & examples (2023 guide).
Updated August 20, 2023
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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.
This particular skill isn’t restricted to a single sector, industry or role, though employers in the engineering and legal industries, in particular, tend to look for proficiency.
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.
How to Improve Problem Solving Skills in 2023: Step By Step
There are several ways you can improve problem solving skills. It helps to approach each problem through a series of logical steps.
Step 1: Define the Problem with the 5 Whys Technique
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.
Step 2: Generate and Select an Alternative
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.
Step 3: Implement and Follow Up on the Solution
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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What Form Do Problem-Solving Questions Take?
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.
Situations Specific to the Job
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.
Questions Throughout the Application Process
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:
Problem Solving Question 1
You have been asked to schedule in a rush project but you cannot complete the piece of work you need to, since you require information from another colleague who is not currently available. How would you deal with the situation?
Problem Solving Question 2
You are working on a project and halfway through you realise that you have made a significant mistake that may require you to restart the project to resolve it. How would you approach this so you still met the deadline?
Problem Solving Question 3
How would you deal with a customer who wasn't happy with your service, even though you haven't done anything wrong and it is the customer who has made the mistake?
Problem Solving Skills - Tips, Common Mistakes and Further Practice
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.
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Problem solving skills and how to improve them (with examples)
What’s life without its challenges? All of us will at some point encounter professional and personal hurdles. That might mean resolving a conflict with coworkers or making a big life decision. With effective problem solving skills, you’ll find tricky situations easier to navigate, and welcome challenges as opportunities to learn, grow and thrive.
In this guide, we dive into the importance of problem solving skills and look at examples that show how relevant they are to different areas of your life. We cover how to find creative solutions and implement them, as well as ways to refine your skills in communication and critical thinking. Ready to start solving problems? Read on.
What is problem solving?
Before we cover strategies for improving problem solving skills, it's important to first have a clear understanding of the problem solving process. Here are the steps in solving a problem:
- Recognise the issue you are facing
- Take a look at all the information to gain insights
- Come up with solutions
- Look at the pros and cons of each solution and how it might play out
- Plan, organise and implement your solution
- Continuously assess the effectiveness of the solution and make adjustments as needed
Problem solving skills
There’s more to problem solving than coming up with a quick fix. Effective problem solving requires wide range of skills and abilities, such as:
- Critical thinking: the ability to think logically, analyse information and look at situations from different perspectives.
- Creativity: being able to come up with innovative, out-of-the-box solutions.
- Decision-making: making informed choices by considering all the available information.
- Communication: being able to express ideas clearly and effectively.
- Analytical skills: breaking down complex problems into smaller parts and examining each one.
- Time management: allocating time and resources effectively to address problems.
- Adaptability: being open to change and willing to adjust strategies.
- Conflict resolution: skillfully managing conflicts and finding solutions that work for all.
Examples of problem solving skills
Problem solving skills in the workplace are invaluable, whether you need them for managing a team, dealing with clients or juggling deadlines. To get a better understanding of how you might use these skills in real-life scenarios, here are some problem solving examples that are common in the workplace.
- Analytical thinking
Analytical thinking is something that comes naturally to some, while others have to work a little harder. It involves being able to look at problem solving from a logical perspective, breaking down the issues into manageable parts.
Example scenarios of analytical thinking
Quality control: in a manufacturing facility, analytical thinking helps identify the causes of product defects in order to pinpoint solutions.
Market research: marketing teams rely on analytical thinking to examine consumer data, identify market trends and make informed decisions on ad campaigns.
- Critical thinking
Critical thinkers are able to approach problems objectively, looking at different viewpoints without rushing to a decision. Critical thinking is an important aspect of problem solving, helping to uncover biases and assumptions and weigh up the quality of the information before making any decisions.
Example scenarios of critical thinking
- Strategic planning: in the boardroom, critical thinking is important for assessing economic trends, competitor threats and more. It guides leaders in making informed decisions about long-term company goals and growth strategies.
- Conflict resolution: HR professionals often use critical thinking when dealing with workplace conflicts. They objectively analyse the issues at hand and find an appropriate solution.
Making decisions is often the hardest part of problem solving. How do you know which solution is the right one? It involves evaluating information, considering potential outcomes and choosing the most suitable option. Effective problem solving relies on making well-informed decisions.
Example scenarios of decision-making
- Budget allocation: financial managers must decide how to allocate resources to various projects or departments.
- Negotiation: salespeople and procurement professionals negotiate terms, pricing and agreements with clients, suppliers and partners.
Research skills are pivotal when it comes to problem solving, to ensure you have all the information you need to make an informed decision. These skills involve searching for relevant data, critically evaluating information sources, and drawing meaningful conclusions.
Example scenarios of research skills
- Product development: a tech startup uses research skills to conduct market research to identify gaps and opportunities in the market.
- Employee engagement: an HR manager uses research skills to conduct employee surveys and focus groups.
A little creative flair goes a long way. By thinking outside the box, you can approach problems from different angles. Creative thinking involves combining existing knowledge, experiences and perspectives in new and innovative ways to come up with inventive solutions.
Example scenarios of creativity
- Cost reduction: creative problem solvers within a manufacturing company might look at new ways to reduce production costs by using waste materials.
- Customer experience: a retail chain might look at implementing interactive displays and engaging store layouts to increase customer satisfaction and sales.
It’s not always easy to work with other people, but collaboration is a key element in problem solving, allowing you to make use of different perspectives and areas of expertise to find solutions.
- Healthcare diagnosis: in a hospital setting, medical professionals collaborate to diagnose complex medical cases.
- Project management: project managers coordinate efforts, allocate resources and address issues that may arise during a project's lifecycle.
Being able to mediate conflicts is a great skill to have. It involves facilitating open communication, understanding different perspectives and finding solutions that work for everyone. Conflict resolution is essential for managing any differences in opinion that arise.
Example scenarios of conflict resolution
- Client dispute: a customer might be dissatisfied with a product or service and demand a refund. The customer service representative addresses the issue through active listening and negotiation to reach a solution.
- Project delay: a project manager might face resistance from team members about a change in project scope and will need to find a middle ground before the project can continue.
Risk management is essential across many workplaces. It involves analysing potential threats and opportunities, evaluating their impact and implementing strategies to minimise negative consequences. Risk management is closely tied to problem solving, as it addresses potential obstacles and challenges that may arise during the problem solving process.
Example scenarios of risk management
- Project risk management: in a construction project, risk management involves identifying potential delays, cost overruns and safety hazards. Risk mitigation strategies are developed, such as scheduling buffers and establishing safety protocols.
- Financial risk management: in financial institutions, risk management assesses and manages risks associated with investments and lending.
Effective communication is a skill that will get you far in all areas of life. When it comes to problem solving, communication plays an important role in facilitating collaboration, sharing insights and ensuring that all stakeholders have the same expectations.
Example scenarios of communication
- Customer service improvement: in a retail environment, open communication channels result in higher customer satisfaction scores.
- Safety enhancement: in a manufacturing facility, a robust communication strategy that includes safety briefings, incident reporting and employee training helps minimise accidents and injuries.
How to improve problem solving skills
Ready to improve your problem solving skills? In this section we explore strategies and techniques that will give you a head start in developing better problem solving skills.
Adopt the problem solving mindset
Developing a problem solving mindset will help you tackle challenges effectively . Start by accepting problems as opportunities for growth and learning, rather than as obstacles or setbacks. This will allow you to approach every challenge with a can-do attitude.
Patience is also essential, because it will allow you to work through the problem and its various solutions mindfully. Persistence is also important, so you can keep adapting your approach until you find the right solution.
Finally, don’t forget to ask questions. What do you need to know? What assumptions are you making? What can you learn from previous attempts? Approach problem solving as an opportunity to acquire new skills . Stay curious, seek out solutions, explore new possibilities and remain open to different problem solving approaches.
Understand the problem
There’s no point trying to solve a problem you don’t understand. To analyse a problem effectively, you need to be able to define it. This allows you to break it down into smaller parts, making it easier to find causes and potential solutions. Start with a well-defined problem statement that is precise and specific. This will help you focus your efforts on the core issue, so you don’t waste time and resources on the wrong concerns.
Strategies for problem analysis
- Start with the problem statement and ask ‘Why?’ multiple times to dig deeper.
- Gather relevant data and information related to the problem.
- Include those affected by the problem in the analysis process.
- Compare the current problem with similar situations or cases to gain valuable insights.
- Use simulations to explore potential outcomes of different solutions.
- Continuously gather feedback during the problem solving process.
Develop critical thinking and creativity skills
Critical thinking and creativity are both important when it comes to looking at the problem objectively and thinking outside the box. Critical thinking encourages you to question assumptions, recognise biases and seek evidence to support your conclusions. Creative thinking allows you to look at the problem from different angles to reveal new insights and opportunities.
Enhance research and decision-making skills
Research and decision-making skills are pivotal in problem solving as they enable you to gather relevant information, analyse options and choose the best course of action. Research provides the information and data needed, and ensures that you have a comprehensive understanding of the problem and its context. Effective decision-making is about selecting the solution that best addresses the problem.
Strategies to improve research and decision-making skills
- Clearly define what you want to achieve through research.
- Use a variety of sources, including books, articles, research papers, interviews, surveys and online databases.
- Evaluate the credibility and reliability of your information sources.
- Incorporate risk assessment into your decision-making process.
- Seek input from experts, colleagues and mentors when making important decisions.
- After making decisions, reflect on the outcomes and lessons learned. Use this to improve your decision-making skills over time.
Strengthen collaboration skills
Being able to work with others is one of the most important skills to have at work. Collaboration skills enable everyone to work effectively as a team, share their perspectives and collectively find solutions.
Tips for improving teamwork and collaboration
- Define people’s roles and responsibilities within the team.
- Encourage an environment of open communication where team members feel comfortable sharing ideas.
- Practise active listening by giving full attention to others when they speak.
- Hold regular check-in sessions to monitor progress, discuss challenges and make adjustments as needed.
- Use collaboration tools and platforms to facilitate communication and document progress.
- Acknowledge and celebrate team achievements and milestones.
Learn from past experiences
Once you’ve overcome a challenge, take the time to look back with a critical eye. How effective was the outcome? Could you have tweaked anything in your process? Learning from past experiences is important when it comes to problem solving. It involves reflecting on both successes and failures to gain insights, refine strategies and make more informed decisions in the future.
Strategies for learning from past mistakes
- After completing a problem solving effort, gather your team for a debriefing session. Discuss what went well and what could have been better.
- Conduct a SWOT analysis (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, Threats) of resolved problems.
- Evaluate the outcomes of past solutions. Did they achieve the desired results?
- Commit to continuous learning and improvement.
Leverage problem solving tools and resources
Problem-solving tools and resources are a great help when it comes to navigating complex challenges. These tools offer structured approaches, methodologies and resources that can streamline the process.
Tools and resources for problem solving
- Mind mapping: mind maps visually organise ideas, concepts and their relationships.
- SWOT (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, Threats) Analysis: helps in strategic planning and decision-making.
- Fishbone diagram (Ishikawa Diagram): this tool visually represents the potential root causes of a problem, helping you identify underlying factors contributing to an issue.
- Decision matrices: these assist in evaluating options by assigning weights and scores to criteria and alternatives.
- Process flowcharts: these allow you to see the steps of a process in sequence, helping identify where the problem is occuring.
- Decision support software: software applications and tools, such as data analytics platforms, can help in data-driven decision-making and problem solving.
- Online courses and training: allow you to acquire new skills and knowledge.
Practice makes perfect! Using your skills in real life allows you to refine them, adapt to new challenges and build confidence in your problem solving capabilities. Make sure to try out these skills whenever you can.
Practical problem solving exercises
- Do puzzles, riddles and brainteasers regularly.
- Identify real-life challenges or dilemmas you encounter and practice applying problem solving techniques to these situations.
- Analyse case studies or scenarios relevant to your field or industry.
- Regularly review past problem solving experiences and consider what you learned from them.
- Attend workshops, webinars or training sessions focused on problem solving.
How to highlight problem solving skills on a resumé
Effectively showcasing your problem solving skills on your resumé is a great way to demonstrate your ability to address challenges and add value to a workplace. We'll explore how to demonstrate problem solving skills on your resumé, so you stand out from the crowd.
Incorporating problem solving skills in the resumé summary
A resumé summary is your introduction to potential employers and provides an opportunity to succinctly showcase your skills. The resumé summary is often the first section employers read. It offers a snapshot of your qualifications and sets the tone for the rest of your resumé.
Your resumé summary should be customised for different job applications, ensuring that you highlight the specific problem solving skills relevant to the position you’re applying for.
Example 1: Project manager with a proven track record of solving complex operational challenges. Skilled in identifying root causes, developing innovative solutions and leading teams to successful project completion.
Example 2: Detail-oriented data analyst with strong problem solving skills. Proficient in data-driven decision-making, quantitative analysis and using statistical tools to solve business problems.
Highlighting problem solving skills in the experience section
The experience section of your resumé presents the perfect opportunity to demonstrate your problem solving skills in action.
- Start with action verbs: begin each bullet point in your job descriptions with strong action verbs such as, analysed, implemented, resolved and optimised.
- Quantify achievements: use numbers and percentages to illustrate the impact of your solutions. For example: Increased efficiency by 25% by implementing a new workflow process.
- Emphasise challenges: describe the specific challenges or problems you faced in your roles.
- Solution-oriented language: mention the steps you took to find solutions and the outcomes achieved.
Including problem solving skills in the skills section
The skills section of your resumé should showcase your top abilities, including problem solving skills. Here are some tips for including these skills.
- Use a subsection: within your skills section, you could create a subsection specifically dedicated to problem solving skills – especially if the role calls for these skills.
- Be specific: when listing problem solving skills, be specific about the types of role-related problems you can address.
- Prioritise relevant skills: tailor the list of problem solving skills to match the requirements of the job you're applying for.
Examples of problem solving skills to include:
- Creative problem solving
- Decision making
- Root cause analysis
- Strategic problem solving
- Data-driven problem solving
- Interpersonal conflict resolution
- Communication skills
- Problem solving tools
- Negotiation skills
Demonstrating problem solving skills in project sections or case studies
Including a dedicated section for projects or case studies in your resumé allows you to provide specific examples of your problem solving skills in action. It goes beyond simply listing skills, to demonstrate how you are able to apply those skills to real-world challenges.
Example – Data Analysis
Case Study: Market Expansion Strategy
- Challenge: the company was looking to expand into new markets but lacked data on consumer preferences and market dynamics.
- Solution: conducted comprehensive market research, including surveys and competitor analysis. Applied this research to identify target customer segments and developed a data-driven market-entry strategy.
- Result: successfully launched in two new markets, reaching our target of 30% market share within the first year.
Using problem solving skills in cover letters
A well-crafted cover letter is your first impression on any potential employer. Integrating problem solving skills can support your job application by showcasing your ability to address challenges and contribute effectively to their team. Here’s a quick run-down on what to include:
- Begin your cover letter by briefly mentioning the position you're applying for and your enthusiasm for it.
- Identify a specific challenge or issue that the company may be facing, to demonstrate your research and understanding of their needs.
- Include a brief story or scenario from your past experiences where you successfully applied problem solving skills to address a similar challenge.
- Highlight the positive outcomes or results achieved through your problem solving efforts.
- Explain how your skills make you the ideal person to address their specific challenges.
Problem solving skills are essential in all areas of life, enabling you to overcome challenges, make informed decisions, settle conflicts and drive innovation. We've explored the significance of problem solving skills and how to improve, demonstrate and leverage them effectively. It’s an ever-evolving skill set that can be refined over time.
By actively incorporating problem solving skills into your day-to-day, you can become a more effective problem solver at work and in your personal life as well.
What are some common problem solving techniques?
Common problem solving techniques include brainstorming, root cause analysis, SWOT analysis, decision matrices, the scientific method and the PDCA (Plan-Do-Check-Act) cycle. These techniques offer structured approaches to identify, analyse and address problems effectively.
How can I improve my critical thinking skills?
Improving critical thinking involves practising skills such as analysis, evaluation and problem solving. It helps to engage in activities like reading, solving puzzles, debating and self-reflection.
What are some common obstacles to problem solving?
Common obstacles to problem solving include biases, lack of information or resources, and resistance to change. Recognising and addressing these obstacles is essential for effective problem solving.
How can I overcome resistance to change when implementing a solution?
To overcome resistance to change, it's essential to communicate the benefits of the proposed solution clearly, involve stakeholders in the decision-making process, address concerns and monitor the implementation's progress to demonstrate its effectiveness.
How can problem solving skills benefit my career?
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Problem solving: the mark of an independent employee
Last updated: 24 Aug 2023, 08:40
Problem-solving abilities are essential in virtually any graduate role you can think of. Discover how to develop your problem-solving skills and demonstrate them to eagle-eyed recruiters.
Interviewers will be interested to discover how you'd approach problems that could arise in the workplace.
Problem solving is all about using logic, as well as imagination, to make sense of a situation and come up with an intelligent solution. In fact, the best problem solvers actively anticipate potential future problems and act to prevent them or to mitigate their effects.
Problem-solving abilities are connected to a number of other skills, including:
- analytical skills
- innovative and creative thinking
- a lateral mindset
- adaptability and flexibility
- resilience (in order to reassess when your first idea doesn’t work)
- teamworking (if problem solving is a team effort)
- influencing skills (to get colleagues, clients and bosses to adopt your solutions).
Identifying a problem is often the kernel for a new business or product idea – and, as such, problem solving is an essential ingredient of entrepreneurialism . It is also a key component of good leadership .
Short on time? Watch our one-minute guide to problem solving
- how to answer problem-solving interview questions
- how to think of examples of your problem-solving skills
- a problem-solving technique you can use in any work or life situation.
Our targetjobs careers expert gives you a quick guide to showing off your problem-solving skills in a job interview.
Why all graduates require problem-solving skills in the workplace
Some graduate careers revolve around finding solutions – for example, engineering , management consulting , scientific research and technology . Graduates in other careers, meanwhile, will be expected to solve problems that crop up in the course of their jobs: for example, trainee managers should deal with operational problems (such as delays in the supply chain) or resolve conflict between team members.
In fact, the ability to solve problems is an essential part of any employee’s skill set, even if it isn’t specified on the job description.
Get the insights and skills you need to shape your career journey with Pathways. Learn and practise a selection of simple yet effective reasoning strategies to take your problem solving to the next level.
How will employers assess your problem-solving skills?
Your problem-solving abilities can be assessed in three ways: by asking for examples of times when you previously solved a problem; by presenting you with certain hypothetical situations and asking how you would respond to them; and by seeing how you apply your problem-solving skills to different tests and exercises.
Competency-based application and interview questions about problem solving
You may be asked for an example of when you solved a problem on an application form – for instance, an engineering firm’s application form has previously included the question ‘Please tell us about a time when you have used your technical skills and knowledge to solve a problem’. But these questions are more likely at interview. Typical problem-solving competency-based questions include:
- Give me an example of a time when you ran into a problem on a project. What did you do?
- Give me an example of a difficult problem you had to solve outside of your course. How did you approach it?
- Tell me about a time you worked through a problem as a team.
- Have you ever had a disagreement with a team member? How was it resolved?
- Give me an example of a time when you spotted a potential problem and took steps to stop it becoming one.
- Give me an example of a time when you handled a major crisis.
- Give me an example of your lateral thinking.
Hypothetical interview questions about problem solving
Interviewers will also be interested to know how you would approach problems that could arise when you are in the workplace. The precise interview questions will vary according to the job, but common ones include:
- How would you deal with conflict in the workplace? (This is especially likely to be asked of trainee managers and graduate HR professionals.)
- What would you do if there is an unexpected delay to one of your projects because of supply chain issues? (This is particularly likely to be asked in construction, logistics or retail interviews).
- What would you do if a client or customer raised a complaint?
- What would you do if you noticed that a colleague was struggling with their work?
- How would you react if given negative feedback by a manager on an aspect of your performance?
- How would you judge whether you should use your own initiative on a task or ask for help?
Problem-solving exercises and tests for graduate jobs
Different tests that employers could set to gauge your problem-solving skills include:
- Online aptitude, psychometric and ability tests . These are normally taken as part of the application stage, although they may be repeated at an assessment centre. The tests that are most likely to assess your problem-solving skills are situational judgement tests and any that assess your reasoning, such as inductive reasoning or diagrammatic reasoning tests.
- Video ‘immersive experiences’ , game-based recruitment exercises or virtual reality assessments. Not all of these methods are widely used yet but they are becoming more common. They are usually the recruitment stage before a face-to-face interview or assessment centre.
- Case study exercises. These are common assessment centre tasks. You’d be set a business problem, typically related to the sector in which you’d be working, and asked to make recommendations for solving it, either individually or in groups. You’ll also usually be asked to outline your recommendations in either a presentation or in written form , a task that assesses your ability to explain your problem-solving approach.
- In-tray (or e-tray) exercises. These always used to be set at an assessment centre but nowadays can also be part of the online testing stage. In-tray exercises primarily test your time management skills, but also assess your ability to identify a potential problem and take actions to solve it.
- Job-specific or task-specific exercises, given at an assessment centre or at an interview. If set, these will be related to the role you are applying for and will either require you to devise a solution to a problem or to spot errors. Civil and structural engineering candidates , for example, will often be required to sketch a design in answer to a client’s brief and answer questions on it, while candidates for editorial roles may be asked to proofread copy or spot errors in page proofs (fully designed pages about to be published).
How to develop and demonstrate your problem-solving skills
Here are some tips on how to develop the problem-solving techniques employers look for.
Seek out opportunities to gain problem-solving examples
Dealing with any of the following situations will help you gain problem-solving skills, perhaps without even realising it:
- Sorting out a technical problem with your phone, device or computer.
- Resolving a dispute with a tricky landlord in order to get your deposit back.
- Carrying out DIY.
- Serving a demanding customer or resolving a complaint.
- Finding a way round a funding shortfall in order to pay for travel or a gap year.
- Turning around the finances or increasing the membership of a struggling student society.
- Organising a student society’s trip overseas, overcoming unforeseen difficulties on the way.
- Acting as a course rep or as a mentor for other students.
There should also be opportunities for you to develop problem-solving skills through your studies. Many assignments in subjects such as engineering and computer science are explicitly based around solving a problem in a way that, for example, essay topics in English literature aren’t. But, then, English literature students may also encounter academic problems, such as difficulties in tracking down the best source material.
Some professional bodies (for example, those in construction) run competitions for students, which often ask students to suggest solutions for problems facing the industry; entering these can provide good evidence of your problem-solving skills.
Games such as Sudoku and chess can also strengthen your ability to think strategically and creatively.
Practise recruitment exercises beforehand
Any candidate, no matter how high-flying, may be thrown by undertaking an online test or attending an assessment centre for the first time, so do everything you can to practise beforehand. Access our links to free and paid-for practice tests. Contact your careers service and book in for a mock-interview or mock-assessment centre.
Keep in mind this problem-solving technique
If you’re provided with a scenario or a case study during the graduate recruitment process, you could try using the IDEAL model, described by Bransford and Stein in their book Ideal Problem Solver . It breaks down what you need to do to solve a problem into stages:
- Identify the issue
- Define the obstacles
- Examine your options
- Act on an agreed course of action
- Look at how it turns out, and whether any changes need to be made.
Give detail in your answers
You will need to explain how you identified the problem, came up with a solution and implemented it. Quantifiable results are good, and obviously the more complex the situation, the more impressive a successful result is. Follow the STAR technique outlined in our article on competency-based interview questions .
If you tackled a problem as part of a team, explain how your role was important in ensuring the positive solution, but also explain how your group worked together. This could be an opportunity to promote your teamworking skills as well.
targetjobs editorial advice
This describes editorially independent and impartial content, which has been written and edited by the targetjobs content team. Any external contributors featuring in the article are in line with our non-advertorial policy, by which we mean that we do not promote one organisation over another.
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