I was recently asked by a reported some questions on problem solving. The questions were specifically about how a job candidate can highlight their problem solving skills in the hiring process and in interviews, but I also think these skills are helpful in general.
Problem-solving skills--what they are?
Problem solving skills are basically the methodology you use to approach solving problems. It’s good to have a framework through which you work out problems. This gives you structure and helps ensure that you don’t – miss something – in solving the problem. Think of this as the scaffolding for your thinking. Not the thinking itself.
How to improve them?
Through practice. It’s like anything. The more you practice working within a problem-solving framework, the easier and more automatic it becomes. The first step is to have a problem solving framework though.
How to show them off in a job search?
Mostly, I would want to know that you do indeed have a framework for problem solving. If I ask a question about a problem you solved, I not only want to know that you have experience solving problems, I want you to take me through the steps you took to solve the problem so I can better understand your problem solving framework.
Why are problem solving skills important?
If someone doesn’t have a framework through which they solve problems, then when problems arise, they tend to use a crap shoot approach and hope for the best. Most just require on the job problem solving. Some jobs require this more than others. If you don’t have an effective framework you work problems through, you may end up not solving the problem at all or worse, making your existing problem worse. A good problem solving framework and the skills required to work through that framework greatly increases your chances for successful solving the problem. The last thing an employer needs is employees who make the problem worse through good intentions. Good intentions aren’t enough. All business are in the business of solving problems. If you don’t solve people’s problems, you won’t be in business long.
The different steps/stages to solving a problem?
I break the problem solving process down into 3 main components, all of which require different skills.
1. Make sure you are solving the real problem. It is astonishing how many people get this wrong. Lots of people work on what I call proxy problems. Problems they think are causing their problem but really aren’t. The result is lots of wasted time, energy and money being spent not solving your real problem. An example of this is if you are a farmer and you think you need it to rain to water your crops. Your real problem is that your crops need water. The proxy problem is needing it to rain.
a. Skills required: self-examination, critical thinking, creativity
2. Make sure you really know what is really causing your real problem. Once you identify your real problem, then you need to understand what is really causing your real problem. Right now we have a labor shortage. Until we know what is really causing our labor shortage, we won’t be able to fix the problem. Just as there are proxy problems, there are also proxy solutions. Is the problem that people make too much on unemployment? Or is the problem just that there aren’t enough people in the workforce to meet demand? Or is it something else entirely? Until we know what exactly is causing our real problem, we won’t be able to solve it. Think of this stage as diagnosis.
a. Skills required: scientific literacy, critical thinking
3. Find a solution that will really work to really solve the real cause of your real problem. Once you know what is causing your problem, you now need to know what will really work to really fix it. Not all proposed solutions work. Some cause additional harm. Taking the time to find a solution that will not only work, but will work effectively is key. Bonus if you include other ethical considerations into your solution so that you not only fix your real problem, you do it in a way that adds extra benefit to your organization and the society in which it operates.
a. Skills required: scientific literacy, critical thinking, ethical compass.
Ethical Problem Solving
Ethics are rarely talked about as a problem solving skill, but when you think about it – what is considered a “good” solution is an ethical question. Good is an ethical term. How do you determine what a good solution includes? That requires having a moral conversation.
How job candidates can improve their problem-solving skills--and leverage them during their job?
Job candidates can improve their problem solving skills by being more deliberate about how they solve problems. Think about what would make an ideal solution to the problem and then figure out if it’s possible. Integrate your ethics into your problem solving skills and immediately, you will see an improvement in your decision making and problem solving skills.
If you want to learn more, you can take my course on Reality Based Problem Solving - https://humanistlearning.com/realitybaseddecisionmaking/
This is available for individuals and groups.