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Problem solving

The Collins English dictionary defines it as: the act or process of finding solutions to problems, especially by using a scientific or analytical approach. It is a vital everyday skill that you will need to have for your personal and professional life.

Why is it important?

  • Employers like to see good problem solving skills because it also helps to show them you have a range of other competencies such as logic, creativity, resilience, imagination, lateral thinking and determination.
  • It is a vital skills for your professional and personal life.
  • It is a key skill that is assessed at job interviews..
  • It is an essential skill for managers and all senior level roles.
  • Those with good problem-solving skills are a valuable and trusted asset in any team – these are the people who think of new ideas, better ways of doing things, make it easier for people to understand things or help save customers time and money.
  • They are proactive thinkers who like to get things done.
  • Can help you progress more quickly and boost your career opportunities.

How can I get better?

Problem-solving and critical thinking
Employers look for individuals with strong critical thinking and problem-solving skills. In this free short three-week online course from RIT you’ll learn how to develop these key skills and how to develop a framework to help you assess and analyse a situation, design a solution, and ultimately win in a competitive scenario.

Problem-solving – it’s a process
Problem-solving is a mental process that involves discovering, analysing and solving problems. The ultimate goal of problem-solving is to overcome obstacles and find a solution that best resolves the issue. This article from VeryWellMind identifies some key parts of the process.

Problem solving is vital at all levels

We often associate the skill of problem-solving with those in senior positions. After all, they have more responsibilities, as well as the authority to tackle any issues that may arise. While it’s not very likely that you will be asked to find a solution to a major business issue on your first day of a new job, the way you handle even the smallest of problems will demonstrate to an employer how well you can deal with larger ones. If your boss doubts your ability to overcome difficulties that come your way, they may not trust you with more responsibility, or consider you for a managerial role later on.

Knowing how to solve problems is therefore of paramount importance vital. Luckily, there are many ways you can develop the skill, and learning how to demonstrate it can prove invaluable at job interviews.

Play games

Acquiring a new skill doesn’t have to feel like work. You can easily build your problem-solving ability through gaming, either online or with classic board games. How many times have you played your favourite game and got stuck on the same level for hours, before you finally found a way around it? Putting yourself in a situation, even a fictional one, where you have to think creatively will help you develop the same mind-set in your everyday life. You can then apply these skills and behaviours to your professional life, too.

Don’t run away

When the going gets tough, we all have the tendency to want to hide away instead of facing the problem and coming up with a solution. Unfortunately, wishing a problem away will not make it disappear, so dealing with it promptly can be essential in keeping you sane! Even if there is no solution, the way you handle the consequences and minimise the negative impact will make you feel more powerful and able to handle any adversities.

Welcome advice

Asking for help or advice is not a  weakness! It is actually welcomed by many employers, especially while you are still learning the ropes. Listen to what people with more experience have to say, and then try to figure out if you can apply their advice to solve your problem. This will not only help you handle it with more confidence, but it will also show that you are proactive, and not afraid to consult your seniors.

History repeats itself

Perhaps the problem you are facing has happened before. In this case, if the solution was successful, you might want to follow it. If it wasn’t, you can eliminate all the ways you can’t solve the problem.

Do your research

Having all the facts can really help you understand a problem better and even identify where something went wrong. While trusting your instinct, and proposing a solution is fine, it’s wise to have some facts in your back pocket to help you convince your team, or your boss. That way, you will not only have presented them with a solution, but you will also have the facts to justify your way of thinking if you come up against any criticism.

Don’t look for problems

While spotting mistakes is a great skill, creating problems out of nowhere is not! Sometimes the simplest solution is the answer, and trying to prove yourself by tackling a problem you created will probably give you a reputation of being a trouble maker, rather than the hero you want to be seen as.

This article by topuniversities may also help when learning how to solve problems. It describes how you should handle the problem solving process. 

How can I demonstrate this when applying for jobs?

Problem solving: the mark of an independent employee – this article from Targetjobs.com has some excellent guidance on how employers assess problem solving in your job applications and when you start work.

Demonstrating that you are a great problem solver is not always easy, as there is only so much you can include in your CV. However, one of the most common interview questions is designed to assess this skill. So, what do you say when an interviewer asks: ‘Give us an example of a situation where you faced a difficult problem?’

It can be very tempting to make up a situation, to try and make yourself sound like the master of problem-solving. However, it’s always best to be truthful, even if you feel like your example refers to a minor problem. Do try to think of a situation, perhaps in your student life, where you came across an obstacle and managed to tackle it effectively. It could be something like working as part of a project team, or writing your dissertation, for example. 

If you simply can’t recall having faced any major issues at university, then use your personal life as an example. Maybe you like playing chess, which will also show your ability to think strategically. Or perhaps you travelled abroad and had problems with your booking, or finding your way around in a new country where you didn’t speak the language.

Remember, the important thing is to demonstrate your ability to think on your feet, remain calm in stressful situations and contribute to finding a solution.