Problem Solving Skills and Examples

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In nearly every sector, problem solving is one of the key skills that employers seek in job applicants. It is hard to find a blue collar, administrative, managerial, or professional position that doesn't require problem solving skills of some kind. 

How to Show You Have Problem Solving Skills

Your problem solving skills should be on display in your cover letter, resume, and application materials. Be prepared to discuss specific ways you used your problem solving skills during phone screens and interviews.

 

Look to previous roles - whether in academic, work, or volunteer settings - for examples of challenges you met and problems you solved while carrying out each function. You can highlight relevant examples in your cover letter. You can also frame bullet points in your resume to show off how you solved a problem.  

During interviews, be ready to describe situations you encountered in previous roles, the processes you followed to address the problems, the skills you applied, and the results of your actions. Potential employers are eager to hear a coherent narrative of the specific ways you have used problem solving skills. 

Interviewers may also provide an example of a potential problem, and ask you to outline the steps you should take to address it. To prepare, brainstorm issues that may arise in your field. For example, a cable television technician might be trying to resolve a customer problem with a weak signal.

A teacher might need to figure out how to improve the performance of her students on a writing proficiency test. A store manager might be trying to reduce theft of merchandise. A computer specialist might be looking for a way to speed up a slow program. 

Problem-Solving Steps

Now that you've brainstormed a list of potential problems, your next step is to think up effective solutions for these issues.

 

The steps in problem solving include:

  • Analyzing the factors or causes contributing to the unwanted situation
  • Generating a set of alternative interventions to achieve your end goal
  • Evaluating the best solutions
  • Implementing a plan
  • Assessing the effectiveness of your interventions

Be Creative When Offering Solutions

You don't have to provide a cookie-cutter answer. Employers are always eager for individuals who can "think outside of the box" and present new solutions, especially when old ones aren't working. 

The most important thing is to demonstrate your problem solving skills in your answer. If the interviewer proposes a potential problem, share how you'd resolve it. As you explain your thought process, use the steps listed above (from analyzing the cause to assessing the effectiveness of your interventions). Or, share an example of a problem you solved in a previous role. Explain how and why you solved the issue. 

Examples of Problem Solving Skills

The list below includes common strategies involved in problem solving. These skills can be useful to include in your answer to an interview question related to problem solving.

A – D

  • Active Listening
  • Anticipating Obstacles to Implementation
  • Assessing the Effectiveness of Interventions
  • Brainstorming Solutions
  • Collaboration
  • Determining Factors Impacting Stress
  • Developing Treatment Plans
  • Devising a Classroom Management Plan to Address Student Misbehavior 
  • Devising Hypotheses
  • Diagnosing Illnesses
  • Drawing Consensus Around a Set of Solutions

E – M

  • Evaluating Alternative Strategies for Reducing Stress
  • Finding Middle Ground 
  • Flexibility to Try New Approaches
  • Follow Through
  • Gathering Data
  • Identifying the Causes for Social Problems
  • Identifying the Interests of all Parties 
  • Implementing Solutions
  • Interpreting Data to Determine the Scope of Problems
  • Mediating Interpersonal Conflicts

P – Z

  • Pinpointing Behaviors Contributing to Marital Distress
  • Proposing Diplomatic Solutions to Border Disputes
  • Recognizing Invalid Research Models
  • Recommending Ways to Improve Communication in Relationships
  • Repairing Malfunctioning Machinery
  • Resolving a Customer Complaint
  • Restructuring a Budget after a Revenue Shortfall
  • Selecting Employees to Layoff During a Business Downturn
  • Testing Hypotheses
  • Troubleshooting Computer Malfunctions
  • Validating Data to Correctly Identify Problems

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