Improve Your Problem-Solving Skills

This is the fifth post in an occasional series about the importance of technical communication in the workplace.

 “Work organisations are not only using and applying knowledge produced in the university but they are also producing, transforming, and managing knowledge by themselves to create innovations (Tynjälä, Slotte, Nieminen, Lonka, & Olkinuora, 2006)”.

Problem-solving skills are rooted in the fact that you must learn how to think, not what to think. Most classes in high schools and colleges teach you what to think (e.g., history dates, mathematical equations, grammar rules), but you must learn further problem-solving skills in order to help you learn how to think.

In the technical workplace, you are expected to be able to be given a problem and come up with a solution; a solution that possibly has never been thought of before. Employers are looking for people that have the right skills in order to do that very thing. Because of this, most interview processes will inevitably include at least one problem-solving question.

  • “How have you handled a problem in your past? What was the result?”
  • “How would you settle the concerns of a client?”
  • “How would you handle a tight deadline on a project?”

The way you answer the problem-solving question usually gives the interviewer a good sense of your problem-solving skills. Unfortunately, for the interviewee, problem solving is grouped into a BROAD skill set made up of:

  • Active listening: in order to identify that there is a problem
  • Research: in order to identify the cause of the problem
  • Analysis: in order to fully understand the problem
  • Creativity: in order to come up with a solution, either based on your current knowledge (intuitively) or using creative thinking skills (systematically)
  • Decision making: in order to make a decision on how to solve the problem
  • Communication: in order to communicate the issue or your solution to others
  • Teamwork: in order to work with others to solve the problem
  • Dependability: in order to solve the problem in a timely manner

So how do you, as the interviewee, convey that you have good problem-solving skills? First, acknowledge the skill set needed to solve the problem relating to each step in the problem-solving process:

Step in Problem SolvingSkill Set Needed
1. Identifying the problemActive listening, research
2. Understanding and structuring the problemAnalysis
3. Searching for possible solutions or coming up with your own solutionCreativity, communication
4. Making a decisionDecision making
5. Implementing a solutionTeamwork, dependability, communication
6. Monitoring the problem and seeking feedbackActive listening, dependability, communication

Then, note how you are either planning to or are improving your problem-solving skills. This may include gaining more technical knowledge in your field, putting yourself in new situations where you may need to problem solve, observing others who are known for their good problem-solving skills, or simply practicing problems on your own. Problem solving involves a diverse skill set and is key to surviving in a technical workplace.

Resources:

  1. Problem-Solving Skills: Definitions and Examples. Indeed Career Guide.
  2. Tynjälä, Päivi & Slotte, Virpi & Nieminen, Juha & Lonka, Kirsti & Olkinuora, Erkki. (2006). From university to working life: Graduates’ workplace skills in practice.

 

Samantha Zerger, business analytics consultant with the Financial Risk Group, is skilled in technical writing. Since graduating from the North Carolina State University’s Financial Mathematics Master’s program in 2017 and joining FRG, she has taken on leadership roles in developing project documentation as well as improving internal documentation processes.

 

 

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