What are Problem-Solving Skills?
Problem-solving is an umbrella term that encompasses finding solutions to an endlessly wide variety of topics, through an evaluative and analytical thought process. Through this, problems and opportunities are redefined, and new, innovative solutions are actioned.
The ability to problem solve is a key skill that is used daily in both personal and professional life.
When seeking high calibre employees, the ability to find proportionate solutions to problems in a rapid manner should be assessed within the recruitment process. A display of strong problem-solving ability can also indicate accompanying skills such as a logical mindset, lateral thinking, creativity, resilience and the ability to adapt.
Problem-solving skills are vital for employees at all career levels, from entry-level graduates to managers and senior executives. They are deemed to be the most important soft skill for employees with management aspirations. As Canadian motivational speaker and self-development author, Brian Tracy, puts it: 'Your ability to solve problems and make good decisions is the true measure of your skill as a leader.'
To ensure the best candidates are recruited for vacant roles, particularly leadership positions, problem-solving skills should be the key soft skill evaluated.
Types of Problem-Solving Skills to Look For When Hiring
Candidates need good problem-solving skills to be able to tackle the challenges that will inevitably arise during projects, due to the many variables at play.
Whether they are part of the core project or management team, being able to analyse unfolding situations, recalibrate, and come up with new solutions to move forwards in a proactive manner is a crucial skill.
There are a number of skills that can indicate a strong problem-solving ability. Candidates should be assessed for the presence of each of these during the hiring process, to ensure the successful candidate has the required skills to deal with complex and unexpected situations.
Problem-solvers have good active listening skills. A problem cannot be solved in the long-term without a full understanding of its origins and the drivers behind the current predicament. Employees with good listening skills pay close attention to the unfolding situation and to the thoughts of others (whether clients or colleagues), evaluating and using what they glean to devise an appropriate solution to the issue that has arisen.
Analytical Thinking Skills
Analytical thinking is important in diagnosing and finding a solution to a problem. Analytical thinkers can work back logically from the issue being encountered to determine why the problem occurred and the impacts it could have, both in the present and over the long-term.
Analytical thinkers are strong at working through and considering all the possible options, evaluating them, and settling upon the most practical, cost-effective course of action.
Creative Thinking Skills
Creative thinkers bring innovative solutions to everything from everyday issues to highly complex problems. The ability to think outside of the box and approach a problem from a new angle or perspective is key in devising suitable, long-term solutions.
Their imagination helps to come up with experimental solutions that enable exciting product growth. As Albert Einstein said: 'We cannot solve our problems with the same thinking we used when we created them' - we need the innovative approaches that creative thinking can realise.
Problem-solvers also need strong communication skills. When working within a project team, employees must be able to succinctly convey their ideas to their colleagues. Good problem-solvers must be able to pitch and defend their ideas, as well as absorb the feedback of others and adapt their approach accordingly.
A key part of problem-solving is decision making - for example deciding which solution, out of the many possible courses of action, is the right one. A problem-solver needs to be able to critically evaluate and identify the merits and pitfalls of their own ideas, as well as those of others. They must be able to conduct this analysis quickly and come to a conclusion about the direction of travel - all whilst under the pressure to rapidly adapt and adopt a new course.
At a management level, good problem-solvers are able to build strong and resilient teams. Whilst some individuals are highly creative, others are analytical thinkers or better at bringing people together to collaborate. Although a quality employee will possess all of the skills on this list, they will likely have a greater aptitude for one or two areas and be stronger in certain traits.
As a manager, a good problem-solver can recognise the strengths of others and knows that a successful team is made up of diverse individuals who can effectively problem-solve as a unit.
Time management is another skill adept problem-solvers possess. They can work effectively under pressure and to a tight deadline as, when problems arise, they need to be rectified as soon as possible.
It is important, though, that haste does not impact the quality of the solution. Employees with good time management enable teams to make the most of the window of time they have to consider and settle upon the best solution to a problem.
To be a strong problem-solver, an employee must work well as a member of a team. Devising, actioning, and implementing a new course of action requires the collaboration of a team that can listen, evaluate, adapt, and mobilise.
Good teamwork - is knowing when to step forward, and when to observe and support other team members - is crucial to the success of navigating the challenges that will inevitably arise during a project timeline.
Why are Problem-Solving Skills Important in the Workplace?
Problem-solving skills are vital in the workplace as they are essential within any position - whether you are recruiting for product development, marketing, management, administration or HR roles (to name just a few).
The ability to re-evaluate a situation, devise possible pathways forwards, carefully consider these options, and select and action a solution is crucial to success. Employees must be able to take the initiative to solve both the straightforward and the more complex problems that will be encountered.
An iCIMS report into the value of soft skills found that the ability to solve problems was deemed to be the most important of all soft skills, with 62% of recruiters seeking candidates who are adept at finding solutions.
Problem-solving skills are a great indicator of future performance in a role when they are assessed as part of the recruitment process. Candidates that score highly in assessments related to problem-solving are more likely to immediately thrive in their new positions.
How to Assess Problem-Solving Skills Amongst Candidates
Problem-solving can be assessed in a number of ways during the hiring process. Online psychometric tests provide a quick and effective way of assessing large cohorts of candidates in the early stages of the process, whilst targeted interview questions help to determine whether individual candidates have what it takes to be an asset to the company or organisation.
Problem-Solving Exercises and Tests for Candidates
Aptitude tests help assess a candidate's ability to problem-solve and are an excellent way of assessing problem-solving ability, these include:
More area-specific tests, such as a numerical reasoning test (for roles that require a numerical aptitude for problem-solving), a verbal reasoning test (for jobs requiring strong written communication and problem-solving), and a mechanical reasoning test assess problem-solving related to specific skills sets.
These tests are most effective when used in combination, to measure a candidate's problem-solving ability across a variety of niches.
How Problem-Solving Skills Tests Work
Problem-solving skills tests are online assessments, often set after the initial application or screening stage of the hiring process. These tests are multiple-choice, timed assessments that measure technical problem-solving and the ability to answer questions accurately and under pressure - a key tenet of problem-solving in practice.
Once all candidates have taken the test, a report of the results will show which candidates have performed best - displaying a strong problem-solving aptitude - and should therefore progress to the next stage in the recruitment process.
Hypothetical Interview Questions About Problem-Solving
The interview is an excellent opportunity to dig deeper into a candidate's problem-solving ability by asking some targeted questions. These questions should be related to their previous experience of dealing with problems and roadblocks, whether at work or whilst in education.
Some interview questions to shed light on problem-solving ability could include:
- Can you tell me about a situation at work where you saw an opportunity when presented with a problem?
- Describe an occasion when you had to adapt at the last minute. How did you handle this?
- What's the biggest problem you have experienced? How did you deal with it?
- If you cannot find a solution to a problem, how do you deal with the situation?
- How do you react when faced with unexpected problems or challenges?
- Talk me through your process when faced with a new problem.
- Describe a time when you had to deal with a problem without having all the necessary information. How did you address this?
The Mark of an Independent Employee
Assessing problem-solving ability as part of the recruitment process will ensure employees are independent and critical thinkers, able to tackle the challenges that arise. Strong problem-solving skills can indicate a logical mindset and analytical thinking ability, as well as essential creativity.
The ability to workshop innovative fixes is vital to not only finding solutions to problems encountered but to use these hurdles as opportunities for business growth.
A candidate with good active listening skills and strong team working will be able to embed their problem-solving ability within a collaborative setting - and be a great asset to any company.