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What are problem-solving skills? (Examples included!)

Life in the 21st century is all about efficiency and development. The unending quench of discovering the unknown, materializing one dream after another, has helped push the limits through the sky. But have you ever thought what the key to all of these astronomical successes is?

It is the zeal to solve a problem with the resources available to generate the best possible results. 

Problem-solving is hunting; it is a savage pleasure, and we are born to it." –Thomas Harris.

The truth is, problem-solving skills are acquirable for some people while others adapt to it like fish in the water. Working in IT, web development, coding, machine learning, and the likes demand the ability to make decisions at a moment's notice.

So, do you want to back off when the time comes or take it up as a challenge? 

Brush up your problem-solving skills or better, enhance them, and make them your forte by reading this article. No technical interview preparation guide is complete without tips to improve such problem-solving skills.

Also read: Why do FAANG companies test for problem-solving skills in their interviews.

What are problem-solving skills?

Larry and his team suddenly face a major crisis. Not a single developer in his team who is good with String is coming to the office, but there is an urgent client requirement. Larry asks his team if anybody is confident enough to pull it through, and surprisingly, he sees one solitary hand of Jim in the mix. But it is a 4-men job, at least. Realizing that there is no way out other than working with another team(s), he wastes no time. He sends out emails to other teams asking for at least two more developers, counting himself and Jim. 4 more fellow coders came to the rescue and delivered the project before the deadline! 

Problem-solving skills enable you to observe the situation and determine the contributing factors of the issue. Identifying the root cause and the ability to take necessary steps with available resources are integral in finessing your problem-solving ability.

All technical interview preparation courses, therefore, cover this crucial aspect. 

Employers seek problem-solving skills in their employees. And why not? 

Who wouldn't want to have an efficient employee like Larry? The knack of not backing down from a challenge is the perfect catalyst for business expansion.

How do problem-solving skills help or act as your pillars of success?

Problem-solving skills help you attain insight into the source of the problem and figuring out an ideal solution. However, several skills and their correct implementation are essential, which are listed below.

  1. Patient listener: To identify a problem, you must first be all ears to gain information about the situation. 
  2. Eye for detail: Once you start listening minutely, you now need to identify the data's discrepancies and have an intuitive eye for detail.
  3. Thorough research: Background research and data verification is bread and butter for efficient problem-solvers. 
  4. Innovative approach: It is not just about getting it done. It's about taking a challenging approach in a mission to maximize results. 
  5. Communication skills: Flawless communication skills are necessary to negate any misunderstanding and ensure conveying the message with clarity. You can indeed consider this as a great time saver! 
  6. Composure: Your ability to remain calm even in a demanding situation will always earn you dividends in the path to success. It is not a quality that you can imbibe easily, but rigorous practice can do the trick for you. 
  7. Decision-making ability: Having a knack for making the right decisions under pressure is a highly sought-after attribute by employers when hiring people. Taking quick decisions in dire straits is the reason why the company is paying you the big bucks.  
  8. Team player: Understanding the strengths and weaknesses of your team is instrumental in maintaining team spirit. Higher the team spirit, the better the performance! 

How do employers assess your problem-solving skills?

Employers today prioritize hiring people with soft skills like problem-solving abilities to maximize business output even when the going gets tough. Your problem-solving ability is judged based on:

  • If you have accomplished any remarkable feat in a taxing situation. This gives an insight into the upper benchmark of your performance. 
  • Presenting hypothetical problems for the interviewee to solve is another commonly used trick to ascertain your productivity metrics and creative problem-solving techniques in tough conditions.
  • Some organizations may even line up some challenging tests and exercises to have a firsthand look at the execution and effectiveness of your technical skills in the approach to problem-solving.

Steps to execute problem-solving skills 

"We cannot solve a problem with the same level of thinking that created them." – Albert Einstein

  • Analyze contributing factors

James was getting an error code during the execution of specific UI updates. He started analyzing the code and rechecking the repository for any possible mistake. To his delight, his hunch turned out to be accurate. He immediately made the necessary changes, and the updates were successfully executed. 

Analysis of contributing factors and its repercussions in the ebb and flow of the task is a preliminary attribute of an able problem-solver. To acquire perfection in analysis and problem-solving skills, you must ensure a thorough:

  1. Gathering of data
  2. Diligent study of the collected data
  3. Scrutiny to filter relevant data
  4. Historical analysis
  • Generate interventions

Working at a software development firm, Donald is perturbed by the lack of advancement in the deep learning project. Lack of idea and innovation is leading to nowhere. He decided that enough is enough. He asked for a group session to brainstorm in the hope of generating some leads. The session was a huge success, and Donald was finally able to catch a breather. 

It is not an unknown fact that 'we' is always more productive than 'I' under any circumstance. 

Utilizing the versatility of your available resources with the help of various sessions can work miracles. Such sessions can be for:

  1. Creative thinking
  2. Brainstorming
  3. Planning a project
  4. Forecasting future trends 
  5. Prediction of possible outcomes
  6. Designing your project with originality, etc.
  • Evaluate solutions

This is more up the alley for managers and team leads. To become adept at evaluating solutions, one must gain prolonged experience in corporate decision-making. The evaluation process needs to consider potential costs, available resources, and possible hurdles of project completion.

Remember Donald? 

Yes, he is a team lead, and therefore, he had the authority to initiate a brainstorming session with multiple teams to bring in new ideas. 

The secret to evaluating solutions?

  1. Analysis
  2. Discussion
  3. Corroboration 
  4. Teamwork
  5. Identifying change in trends
  6. Mediation
  7. Prioritization
  • Implement a plan

Choosing the right course of action is the preliminary step to solve the problems. The success of the execution is streamlined with the help of quality benchmarks to indicate its effectiveness.

"A problem is a chance for you to do the best!" – Duke Ellington.

Knowing the right people to do it for you is essential for successful implementation. It is also crucial that you are accustomed to your organization's operating procedures before you formulate the best possible strategy. 

Skills you need are:

  1. Project management
  2. Implementation of project strategy
  3. Collaboration
  4. Time management
  5. Developing appropriate quality benchmark
  • Assess the solution's effectiveness

An ideal way to detect whether a solution is effective or not is to check if the problem still exists after applying the solution. Benchmarks need to be set as per organizational standards to help them assess the situation and if any further changes are required in the interim. 

Skills to hone for an apt solution-finder

  1. Data analysis
  2. Surveys
  3. Feedback
  4. Communication
  5. Close follow-ups
  6. Troubleshooting

Examples of problem-solving techniques

"A problem well stated is a problem half solved." –John Dewey

  • Research: Problem-solving is not complete without extensive research. It is otherwise impossible to identify the problem without gathering enough data on the errors and their analysis. Consulting with your team gives you an edge to find the solution quicker.
  • Analysis: Analysis of the situation is a must. Analytical skills further assist you in identifying the discrepancies and the possible actions which can resolve the issue. 
  • Decision-making: The ability to make decisions in hours of need defines your mettle. The onus is on you to be proactive and choose the right course of action. 
  • Communication: Are you great at conversations? If so, communication skills can help you garner much-required assistance for the project. Communication of the issues and how you want the project done are critical for the problem-solving process's smooth flow. 
  • Dependability: Having dependable members boosts the morale of the team. If you are a problem-solver, taking responsibility and taking it on the chin to solve the issues needs to be your forte. 

TRIVIA

Dos and Don'ts in interviews

  • Select an example or situation that you can handle without any issue.
  • Do not stray off topic and stay on track.
  • Do not use jargon in your interview. So, choose your example and words wisely. 
  • Do not choose a redundant issue.

How to improve your problem-solving skills?

Sam has come to an interview for a team-lead profile. The recruiter asks a situation-based problem in regards to machine learning software. Though tricky, Sam knew the exact way around for the problem and answered it precisely to the point. The recruiter is delighted and hires Sam for the position. 

  • Thirst for knowledge: An insatiable thirst for knowledge is the secret door to success in problem-solving skills. If Sam was unaware of the tweaks needed to solve the problem, do you think the manager would have been impressed? No, managers at companies like Google and Facebook are looking for people who can act independently with their available resources. The question is, are you the problem solver who can be a catch to any company?
  • An intuition for challenge: You need to be intuitive and have a sharp nose for challenges. The more you take up difficult situations and handle them with panache and ease, the more you can hone your problem-solving skills.
  • Practice and more practice: Practice makes a man perfect – truer words have never been said. Effective problem solving is achieved not by slacking off but by acquainting yourself with various situations and applying your skills to resolve them. Remember, experience can never be substituted, and you have to take the long route to success! 
  • Keen and observant eyes: Do you have an eye for detail, and are you quick to point out discrepancies in data analysis? If yes, you are already one step towards becoming a valued problem solver in your company. Also, if you are a person who observes closely what is being done and why others do it, it helps develop your decision-making skills in future. Don't forget to mention this in your resume. 

How to highlight problem-solving skills?

Example 1

Tom has been applying frantically for a job since he moved to Arizona but seemed unable to find just the right one. When he sees his attempts are futile, he decides to add some of his previous company's achievements, thinking it might help. Oh, boy, did it help! Tom writes about when he was asked to handle a team of 12 single-handedly while his manager suddenly went on a sabbatical. Tom had no prior experience of leading a team but appeared to come out of this fix with flying colors. 

Example 2

Megan is currently looking for a step up in her career. She carefully drafts a cover letter that entails her achievements with clarity. The cover letter explained her contributions in reviving team spirit in the office after her predecessor, with his poor man-management, had successfully built a wall of distrust among the employees.  

  • Problem-solving skills for resume: You can convey your achievements or even your hobbies to the person sitting in front of you, or not, depending on his/her nature. But you cannot afford to miss the chance to showcase your best achievement. It is in your best interest to build your CV around the achievements to give it maximum traction and attention. Mention the problem you faced and jot down the course of action you took to nullify the situation. Nobody can stop you if this is done right! 
  • Problem-solving skills for cover letter: Use it as an opportunity to let the company delve into your success story so far and the factors leading to it. If you have done your research on the organization you're applying for, it will not hurt your chances of identifying some challenges of the company and suggesting some solutions. It goes down a long way if you indeed join forces!

If you are adequately seasoned with problem-solving skills with dedication and practice, you're already almost there. Proper interview preparation tips can further help you in this regard.