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How to Demonstrate Problem Solving Skills on Your Resume and At Interview

By Meaghan Marshall, Mar 9 2015 11:11AM

Problem solving is in the top ten of skills potential employers commonly seek in an employee. An employer will want to determine your ability to use analysis and creativity to solve problems, and also your resilience in handling the challenges and pressures problems can bring.

Before we discuss the best way to demonstrate your problem solving abilities during the recruitment process, we will first briefly look at what good problem solving actually looks like:

⇨ Qualities of a Skilled Problem Solver

A capable problem solver is creative, analytical, and persistent, with skills in lateral thinking and logical reasoning.

Analytical and critical thinking assists in evaluating problems and making decisions. At times a logical and a methodical approach will be required and in other situations creativity and lateral thinking will be necessary.

Further skills, such as communication, persuasion and negotiation, will be also important to problem solving. Finding a solution is one step and implementing your plan of action is another. In a work setting you are likely to also need to communicate your ideas and maybe even persuade others to your approach.

You will find a number of different frameworks or models for problem solving; for example FOCUS, Hurson's Productive Thinking Model, the SARA model. How you approach solving a problem is going to depend on the problem, for example your process will be different for solving a problem in a team, for a recurring problem, or technical problem. There will however be a set of similar steps.

One model for problem solving is Branford’s IDEAL model.

The IDEAL problem solving model has five steps:

1) Identify the problem.

2) Define the problem through thinking about it and sorting out the relevant information.

3) Explore solutions through looking at alternatives, brainstorming, and checking out different points of view.

4) Act on the strategies.

5) Look back and evaluate the effects of your activity.

"It's not that I'm so smart, it's just that I stay with problems longer. - Albert Einstein"

⇨ How to Demonstrate Your Problem Solving Skills on Your Resume

Your resume needs to convince a potential employer that you have the above problem solving skills. You want to avoid using vague statements like “exceptional problems solving skills” and instead provide specific achievements that prove your skills in problem solving.

Keeping in mind the above qualities and model for effective problem solving you need to brainstorm examples of times you have effectively solved a problem. The problem can be big or small.

Examples could come from your studies, work or work experience, or even volunteer positions. If you’re having trouble thinking of examples perhaps review the sample interview questions in the next section.

Think broadly, examples could include:

• Handling a difficult customer

• Finding efficiencies in a process

• Overcaming obstacles to achieving a deadline

• Identifying the cause of errors

• Resolving technical issue

• Identifying a safety concern

Review your list and select examples that demonstrate a sound process and results.

You will now need to write your examples as achievement statements for your resume. Describe the problem, the process you used to solve a problem and the outcome.

Remember when describing your process to include the skills and steps discussed above.

⇨ How to Demonstrate Your Problem Solving Skills at Interview

During an interview you will be asked behavioural interview questions to assess your problem solving skills. You will be invited to share a relevant example from your past experience that demonstrates your problem solving ability.

Example behavioural interview questions for problem solving include:

• Explain a specific example when you used problem solving strategies to address a problem at work.

• Describe a complex problem you have faced and the steps that you took to solve it.

• What was the most challenging aspect of your previous job and how did you handle or overcome it?

• Describe a setback in your life and say what you did to overcome it. What lessons did you learn from this?

• How do you gather data and conduct risk management when analysing personal or project performance?

• Describe a time when you provided a new or different solution to a problem?

• Describe a time when you demonstrated creativity in solving a difficult problem?

Choose your best examples. Your best examples will be recent and relevant to the position you are applying, but most importantly you will be the star of the story. Select an experience where you performed well, helped to achieve outstanding results, demonstrated a sound problem solving process and maintained your composure when dealing with problem.

The best way to structure your story is to provide your answer in the STAR format.

S = Situation: Briefly describe the situation to give the interviewer context.

T = Task: Describe what needed to be done to address the situation and what your role and responsibilities were.

A = Action: Describe what you did and how you did it.

R = Results: Describe the outcome, what happened as a result of your actions.

Review the problem solving framework provided above and qualities of a sound problem solver provided at the beginning of this article. These are the qualities and steps an interviewer will be looking for in your examples. You should try to demonstrate that you have these qualities as well as the ability to work through the necessary steps.

⇨ Alternative Methods Used to Assess Your Problem Solving Abilities

Interviews and resume screening are not the only selection tools available to make an assessment of your problem solving ability. You may also be requested to complete psychometric testing or participate in an assessment centre.

Assessment centres usually involve group work. In order to assess problem solving skills you would be provided as a group to resolve a problem. This may be a task that requires discussion or a practical problem. A recruiter will be monitoring the outcome but importantly the process used to resolve problem.

Psychometric testing for problem solving will involve completing an aptitude test. Practice tests are available online. When taking these tests, make sure you; read the instructions carefully and work briskly and accurately.

Related Content:

How to Demonstrate You’re a Team Player

How to Overcome a Case of Foot in Mouth at a Job Interview

External Content:

FOCUS model for Problem Solving

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