Comprehensive Interview Guide: 60+ Professions Explored in Detail
26 Good Examples of Problem Solving (Interview Answers)
By Biron Clark
Published: November 15, 2023
Employers like to hire people who can solve problems and work well under pressure. A job rarely goes 100% according to plan, so hiring managers will be more likely to hire you if you seem like you can handle unexpected challenges while staying calm and logical in your approach.
But how do they measure this?
They’re going to ask you interview questions about these problem solving skills, and they might also look for examples of problem solving on your resume and cover letter. So coming up, I’m going to share a list of examples of problem solving, whether you’re an experienced job seeker or recent graduate.
Then I’ll share sample interview answers to, “Give an example of a time you used logic to solve a problem?”
It is the ability to identify the problem, prioritize based on gravity and urgency, analyze the root cause, gather relevant information, develop and evaluate viable solutions, decide on the most effective and logical solution, and plan and execute implementation.
Problem-solving also involves critical thinking, communication , listening, creativity, research, data gathering, risk assessment, continuous learning, decision-making, and other soft and technical skills.
Solving problems not only prevent losses or damages but also boosts self-confidence and reputation when you successfully execute it. The spotlight shines on you when people see you handle issues with ease and savvy despite the challenges. Your ability and potential to be a future leader that can take on more significant roles and tackle bigger setbacks shine through. Problem-solving is a skill you can master by learning from others and acquiring wisdom from their and your own experiences.
It takes a village to come up with solutions, but a good problem solver can steer the team towards the best choice and implement it to achieve the desired result.
Watch: 26 Good Examples of Problem Solving
Examples of problem solving scenarios in the workplace.
- Correcting a mistake at work, whether it was made by you or someone else
- Overcoming a delay at work through problem solving and communication
- Resolving an issue with a difficult or upset customer
- Overcoming issues related to a limited budget, and still delivering good work through the use of creative problem solving
- Overcoming a scheduling/staffing shortage in the department to still deliver excellent work
- Troubleshooting and resolving technical issues
- Handling and resolving a conflict with a coworker
- Solving any problems related to money, customer billing, accounting and bookkeeping, etc.
- Taking initiative when another team member overlooked or missed something important
- Taking initiative to meet with your superior to discuss a problem before it became potentially worse
- Solving a safety issue at work or reporting the issue to those who could solve it
- Using problem solving abilities to reduce/eliminate a company expense
- Finding a way to make the company more profitable through new service or product offerings, new pricing ideas, promotion and sale ideas, etc.
- Changing how a process, team, or task is organized to make it more efficient
- Using creative thinking to come up with a solution that the company hasn’t used before
- Performing research to collect data and information to find a new solution to a problem
- Boosting a company or team’s performance by improving some aspect of communication among employees
- Finding a new piece of data that can guide a company’s decisions or strategy better in a certain area
Problem Solving Examples for Recent Grads/Entry Level Job Seekers
- Coordinating work between team members in a class project
- Reassigning a missing team member’s work to other group members in a class project
- Adjusting your workflow on a project to accommodate a tight deadline
- Speaking to your professor to get help when you were struggling or unsure about a project
- Asking classmates, peers, or professors for help in an area of struggle
- Talking to your academic advisor to brainstorm solutions to a problem you were facing
- Researching solutions to an academic problem online, via Google or other methods
- Using problem solving and creative thinking to obtain an internship or other work opportunity during school after struggling at first
You can share all of the examples above when you’re asked questions about problem solving in your interview. As you can see, even if you have no professional work experience, it’s possible to think back to problems and unexpected challenges that you faced in your studies and discuss how you solved them.
Interview Answers to “Give an Example of an Occasion When You Used Logic to Solve a Problem”
Now, let’s look at some sample interview answers to, “Give me an example of a time you used logic to solve a problem,” since you’re likely to hear this interview question in all sorts of industries.
Example Answer 1:
At my current job, I recently solved a problem where a client was upset about our software pricing. They had misunderstood the sales representative who explained pricing originally, and when their package renewed for its second month, they called to complain about the invoice. I apologized for the confusion and then spoke to our billing team to see what type of solution we could come up with. We decided that the best course of action was to offer a long-term pricing package that would provide a discount. This not only solved the problem but got the customer to agree to a longer-term contract, which means we’ll keep their business for at least one year now, and they’re happy with the pricing. I feel I got the best possible outcome and the way I chose to solve the problem was effective.
Example Answer 2:
In my last job, I had to do quite a bit of problem solving related to our shift scheduling. We had four people quit within a week and the department was severely understaffed. I coordinated a ramp-up of our hiring efforts, I got approval from the department head to offer bonuses for overtime work, and then I found eight employees who were willing to do overtime this month. I think the key problem solving skills here were taking initiative, communicating clearly, and reacting quickly to solve this problem before it became an even bigger issue.
Example Answer 3:
In my current marketing role, my manager asked me to come up with a solution to our declining social media engagement. I assessed our current strategy and recent results, analyzed what some of our top competitors were doing, and then came up with an exact blueprint we could follow this year to emulate our best competitors but also stand out and develop a unique voice as a brand. I feel this is a good example of using logic to solve a problem because it was based on analysis and observation of competitors, rather than guessing or quickly reacting to the situation without reliable data. I always use logic and data to solve problems when possible. The project turned out to be a success and we increased our social media engagement by an average of 82% by the end of the year.
Answering Questions About Problem Solving with the STAR Method
When you answer interview questions about problem solving scenarios, or if you decide to demonstrate your problem solving skills in a cover letter (which is a good idea any time the job description mention problem solving as a necessary skill), I recommend using the STAR method to tell your story.
STAR stands for:
It’s a simple way of walking the listener or reader through the story in a way that will make sense to them. So before jumping in and talking about the problem that needed solving, make sure to describe the general situation. What job/company were you working at? When was this? Then, you can describe the task at hand and the problem that needed solving. After this, describe the course of action you chose and why. Ideally, show that you evaluated all the information you could given the time you had, and made a decision based on logic and fact.
Finally, describe a positive result you got.
Whether you’re answering interview questions about problem solving or writing a cover letter, you should only choose examples where you got a positive result and successfully solved the issue.
Situation : We had an irate client who was a social media influencer and had impossible delivery time demands we could not meet. She spoke negatively about us in her vlog and asked her followers to boycott our products. (Task : To develop an official statement to explain our company’s side, clarify the issue, and prevent it from getting out of hand). Action : I drafted a statement that balanced empathy, understanding, and utmost customer service with facts, logic, and fairness. It was direct, simple, succinct, and phrased to highlight our brand values while addressing the issue in a logical yet sensitive way. We also tapped our influencer partners to subtly and indirectly share their positive experiences with our brand so we could counter the negative content being shared online. Result : We got the results we worked for through proper communication and a positive and strategic campaign. The irate client agreed to have a dialogue with us. She apologized to us, and we reaffirmed our commitment to delivering quality service to all. We assured her that she can reach out to us anytime regarding her purchases and that we’d gladly accommodate her requests whenever possible. She also retracted her negative statements in her vlog and urged her followers to keep supporting our brand.
What Are Good Outcomes of Problem Solving?
Whenever you answer interview questions about problem solving or share examples of problem solving in a cover letter, you want to be sure you’re sharing a positive outcome.
Below are good outcomes of problem solving:
- Saving the company time or money
- Making the company money
- Pleasing/keeping a customer
- Obtaining new customers
- Solving a safety issue
- Solving a staffing/scheduling issue
- Solving a logistical issue
- Solving a company hiring issue
- Solving a technical/software issue
- Making a process more efficient and faster for the company
- Creating a new business process to make the company more profitable
- Improving the company’s brand/image/reputation
- Getting the company positive reviews from customers/clients
Every employer wants to make more money, save money, and save time. If you can assess your problem solving experience and think about how you’ve helped past employers in those three areas, then that’s a great start. That’s where I recommend you begin looking for stories of times you had to solve problems.
Tips to Improve Your Problem Solving Skills
Throughout your career, you’re going to get hired for better jobs and earn more money if you can show employers that you’re a problem solver. So to improve your problem solving skills, I recommend always analyzing a problem and situation before acting. When discussing problem solving with employers, you never want to sound like you rush or make impulsive decisions. They want to see fact-based or data-based decisions when you solve problems.
Next, to get better at solving problems, analyze the outcomes of past solutions you came up with. You can recognize what works and what doesn’t. Think about how you can get better at researching and analyzing a situation, but also how you can get better at communicating, deciding the right people in the organization to talk to and “pull in” to help you if needed, etc.
Finally, practice staying calm even in stressful situations. Take a few minutes to walk outside if needed. Step away from your phone and computer to clear your head. A work problem is rarely so urgent that you cannot take five minutes to think (with the possible exception of safety problems), and you’ll get better outcomes if you solve problems by acting logically instead of rushing to react in a panic.
You can use all of the ideas above to describe your problem solving skills when asked interview questions about the topic. If you say that you do the things above, employers will be impressed when they assess your problem solving ability.
If you practice the tips above, you’ll be ready to share detailed, impressive stories and problem solving examples that will make hiring managers want to offer you the job. Every employer appreciates a problem solver, whether solving problems is a requirement listed on the job description or not. And you never know which hiring manager or interviewer will ask you about a time you solved a problem, so you should always be ready to discuss this when applying for a job.
Related interview questions & answers:
- How do you handle stress?
- How do you handle conflict?
- Tell me about a time when you failed
About the Author
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How to Nail your next Technical Interview
You may be missing out on a 66.5% salary hike*, nick camilleri, how many years of coding experience do you have, free course on 'sorting algorithms' by omkar deshpande (stanford phd, head of curriculum, ik).
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.
Here's what this article will cover:
What are problem-solving skills , how do problem-solving skills help or act as your pillars of success, how do employers assess your problem-solving skills , steps to execute problem-solving skills, skills to hone for an apt solution-finder, examples of problem-solving techniques.
Dos and Don'ts in interviews
How to improve your problem-solving skills ?
How to highlight problem-solving skills .
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.
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.
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.
- Patient listener : To identify a problem, you must first be all ears to gain information about the situation.
- Eye for detail : Once you start listening minutely, you now need to identify the data's discrepancies and have an intuitive eye for detail.
- Thorough research : Background research and data verification is bread and butter for efficient problem-solvers.
- Innovative approach : It is not just about getting it done. It's about taking a challenging approach in a mission to maximize results.
- 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!
- 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.
- 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.
- Team player : Understanding the strengths and weaknesses of your team is instrumental in maintaining team spirit. Higher the team spirit, the better the performance!
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.
"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:
- Gathering of data
- Diligent study of the collected data
- Scrutiny to filter relevant data
- 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:
- Creative thinking
- Planning a project
- Forecasting future trends
- Prediction of possible outcomes
- 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.
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?
- Identifying change in trends
- 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:
- Project management
- Implementation of project strategy
- Time management
- 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.
- Data analysis
- Close follow-ups
"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.
- 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.
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.
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.
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.
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What Are Problem-Solving Skills?
Definition & Examples of Problem-Solving Skills
- Problem-solving skills help you determine why an issue is happening and how to resolve that issue.
Learn more about problem-solving skills and how they work.
Problem-solving skills help you solve issues quickly and effectively. It's one of the key skills that employers seek in job applicants, as employees with these skills tend to be self-reliant. Problem-solving skills require quickly identifying the underlying issue and implementing a solution.
Problem-solving is considered a soft skill (a personal strength) rather than a hard skill that's learned through education or training. You can improve your problem-solving skills by familiarizing yourself with common issues in your industry and learning from more experienced employees.
How Problem-Solving Skills Work
Problem-solving starts with identifying the issue. For example, a teacher might need to figure out how to improve student performance on a writing proficiency test. To do that, the teacher will review the writing tests looking for areas of improvement. They might see that students can construct simple sentences, but they're struggling with writing paragraphs and organizing those paragraphs into an essay.
To solve the problem, the teacher would work with students on how and when to write compound sentences, how to write paragraphs, and ways to organize an essay.
Theresa Chiechi / The Balance
There are five steps typically used in problem-solving.
1. Analyze Contributing Factors
To solve a problem, you must find out what caused it. This requires you to gather and evaluate data, isolate possible contributing circumstances, and pinpoint what needs to be addressed for a resolution.
To do this, you'll use skills like :
- Data gathering
- Data analysis
- Historical analysis
2. Generate Interventions
Once you’ve determined the cause, brainstorm possible solutions. Sometimes this involves teamwork since two (or more) minds are often better than one. A single strategy is rarely the obvious route to solving a complex problem; devising a set of alternatives helps you cover your bases and reduces your risk of exposure should the first strategy you implement fail.
This involves skills like :
- Creative thinking
- Project design
- Project planning
3. Evaluate Solutions
Depending on the nature of the problem and your chain of command, evaluating best solutions may be performed by assigned teams, team leads, or forwarded to corporate decision-makers. Whoever makes the decision must evaluate potential costs, required resources, and possible barriers to successful solution implementation.
This requires several skills, including:
- Test development
4. Implement a Plan
Once a course of action has been decided, it must be implemented along with benchmarks that can quickly and accurately determine whether it’s working. Plan implementation also involves letting personnel know about changes in standard operating procedures.
This requires skills like:
- Project management
- Project implementation
- Time management
- Benchmark development
5. Assess the Solution's Effectiveness
Once a solution is implemented, the best problem-solvers have systems in place to evaluate if and how quickly it's working. This way, they know as soon as possible whether the issue has been resolved or whether they’ll have to change their response to the problem mid-stream.
- Customer feedback
Here's an example of showing your problem-solving skills in a cover letter.
When I was first hired as a paralegal, I inherited a backlog of 25 sets of medical records that needed to be summarized, each of which was hundreds of pages long. At the same time, I had to help prepare for three major cases, and there weren’t enough hours in the day. After I explained the problem to my supervisor, she agreed to pay me to come in on Saturday mornings to focus on the backlog. I was able to eliminate the backlog in a month.
Here's another example of how to show your problem-solving skills in a cover letter:
When I joined the team at Great Graphics as Artistic Director, the designers had become uninspired because of a former director who attempted to micro-manage every step in the design process. I used weekly round-table discussions to solicit creative input and ensured that each designer was given full autonomy to do their best work. I also introduced monthly team-based competitions that helped build morale, spark new ideas, and improve collaboration.
Highlighting Problem-Solving Skills
- Since this is a skill that's important to most employers, put them front and center on your resume, cover letter, and in interviews.
If you're not sure what to include, look to previous roles—whether in academic, work, or volunteer settings—for examples of challenges you met and problems you solved. Highlight relevant examples in your cover letter and use bullet points in your resume to show how you solved a problem.
During interviews, be ready to describe situations you've encountered in previous roles, the processes you followed to address problems, the skills you applied, and the results of your actions. Potential employers are eager to hear a coherent narrative of the ways you've used problem-solving skills .
Interviewers may pose hypothetical problems for you to solve. Base your answers on the five steps and refer to similar problems you've resolved, if possible. Here are tips for answering problem-solving interview questions , with examples of the best answers.
- It's one of the key skills that employers seek in job applicants.
- Problem-solving starts with identifying the issue, coming up with solutions, implementing those solutions, and evaluating their effectiveness.
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7 Problem-Solving Skills That Can Help You Be a More Successful Manager
Discover what problem-solving is, and why it's important for managers. Understand the steps of the process and learn about seven problem-solving skills.
1Managers oversee the day-to-day operations of a particular department, and sometimes a whole company, using their problem-solving skills regularly. Managers with good problem-solving skills can help ensure companies run smoothly and prosper.
If you're a current manager or are striving to become one, read this guide to discover what problem-solving skills are and why it's important for managers to have them. Learn the steps of the problem-solving process, and explore seven skills that can help make problem-solving easier and more effective.
What is problem-solving?
Problem-solving is both an ability and a process. As an ability, problem-solving can aid in resolving issues faced in different environments like home, school, abroad, and social situations, among others. As a process, problem-solving involves a series of steps for finding solutions to questions or concerns that arise throughout life.
The importance of problem-solving for managers
Managers deal with problems regularly, whether supervising a staff of two or 100. When people solve problems quickly and effectively, workplaces can benefit in a number of ways. These include:
Increased job fulfillment
Satisfied clients or customers
Better cooperation and cohesion
Improved environments for employees and customers
7 skills that make problem-solving easier
Companies depend on managers who can solve problems adeptly. Although problem-solving is a skill in its own right, a subset of seven skills can help make the process of problem-solving easier. These include analysis, communication, emotional intelligence, resilience, creativity, adaptability, and teamwork.
As a manager , you'll solve each problem by assessing the situation first. Then, you’ll use analytical skills to distinguish between ineffective and effective solutions.
Effective communication plays a significant role in problem-solving, particularly when others are involved. Some skills that can help enhance communication at work include active listening, speaking with an even tone and volume, and supporting verbal information with written communication.
3. Emotional intelligence
Emotional intelligence is the ability to recognize and manage emotions in any situation. People with emotional intelligence usually solve problems calmly and systematically, which often yields better results.
Emotional intelligence and resilience are closely related traits. Resiliency is the ability to cope with and bounce back quickly from difficult situations. Those who possess resilience are often capable of accurately interpreting people and situations, which can be incredibly advantageous when difficulties arise.
When brainstorming solutions to problems, creativity can help you to think outside the box. Problem-solving strategies can be enhanced with the application of creative techniques. You can use creativity to:
Approach problems from different angles
Improve your problem-solving process
Spark creativity in your employees and peers
Adaptability is the capacity to adjust to change. When a particular solution to an issue doesn't work, an adaptable person can revisit the concern to think up another one without getting frustrated.
Finding a solution to a problem regularly involves working in a team. Good teamwork requires being comfortable working with others and collaborating with them, which can result in better problem-solving overall.
Steps of the problem-solving process
Effective problem-solving involves five essential steps. One way to remember them is through the IDEAL model created in 1984 by psychology professors John D. Bransford and Barry S. Stein [ 1 ]. The steps to solving problems in this model include: identifying that there is a problem, defining the goals you hope to achieve, exploring potential solutions, choosing a solution and acting on it, and looking at (or evaluating) the outcome.
1. Identify that there is a problem and root out its cause.
To solve a problem, you must first admit that one exists to then find its root cause. Finding the cause of the problem may involve asking questions like:
Can the problem be solved?
How big of a problem is it?
Why do I think the problem is occurring?
What are some things I know about the situation?
What are some things I don't know about the situation?
Are there any people who contributed to the problem?
Are there materials or processes that contributed to the problem?
Are there any patterns I can identify?
2. Define the goals you hope to achieve.
Every problem is different. The goals you hope to achieve when problem-solving depend on the scope of the problem. Some examples of goals you might set include:
Gather as much factual information as possible.
Brainstorm many different strategies to come up with the best one.
Be flexible when considering other viewpoints.
Articulate clearly and encourage questions, so everyone involved is on the same page.
Be open to other strategies if the chosen strategy doesn't work.
Stay positive throughout the process.
3. Explore potential solutions.
Once you've defined the goals you hope to achieve when problem-solving , it's time to start the process. This involves steps that often include fact-finding, brainstorming, prioritizing solutions, and assessing the cost of top solutions in terms of time, labor, and money.
4. Choose a solution and act on it.
Evaluate the pros and cons of each potential solution, and choose the one most likely to solve the problem within your given budget, abilities, and resources. Once you choose a solution, it's important to make a commitment and see it through. Draw up a plan of action for implementation, and share it with all involved parties clearly and effectively, both verbally and in writing. Make sure everyone understands their role for a successful conclusion.
5. Look at (or evaluate) the outcome.
Evaluation offers insights into your current situation and future problem-solving. When evaluating the outcome, ask yourself questions like:
Did the solution work?
Will this solution work for other problems?
Were there any changes you would have made?
Would another solution have worked better?
As a current or future manager looking to build your problem-solving skills, it is often helpful to take a professional course. Consider Improving Communication Skills offered by the University of Pennsylvania on Coursera. You'll learn how to boost your ability to persuade, ask questions, negotiate, apologize, and more.
You might also consider taking Emotional Intelligence: Cultivating Immensely Human Interactions , offered by the University of Michigan on Coursera. You'll explore the interpersonal and intrapersonal skills common to people with emotional intelligence, and you'll learn how emotional intelligence is connected to team success and leadership.
Tennessee Tech. “ The Ideal Problem Solver (2nd ed.) , https://www.tntech.edu/cat/pdf/useful_links/idealproblemsolver.pdf.” Accessed December 6, 2022.
This content has been made available for informational purposes only. Learners are advised to conduct additional research to ensure that courses and other credentials pursued meet their personal, professional, and financial goals.
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10 Best Examples Of Problem-Solving Skills For Interviews
March 13, 2023 by Hannah Morgan
Being prepared to speak about your problem-solving skills is essential if you want to be a competitive applicant for any job. But many job-seekers aren’t sure where to start!
This guide will help you come up with great examples of your problem-solving skills, so you can impress the interviewer.
Table of contents
The importance of demonstrating problem-solving skills, tips for sharing examples of problem-solving in the workplace, problem-solving examples, how to find examples if this is your first job.
Problem-solving skills are a critical piece of the puzzle when it comes to your success in any position. Things often veer off course and rarely go according to the plans you make on the job. Because of this, employers want to hire people who can pivot when necessary and resolve problems quickly and efficiently.
Showcasing your problem-solving skills to interviewers is a great way to prove you’re up for any challenge. It’s about showing that you know how to assess a situation, identify issues that arise, get to the root of those problems, and take the necessary steps with available resources to finesse your way out of any pickle. Highlighting your ability to navigate tough situations reassures hiring managers that you’re well-equipped to serve the company’s bottom line no matter what.
It’s an essential skill that will serve you well in any industry. From entry-level jobs up to C-suite executive roles, knowing how to solve problems will take you far.
Interviewers may ask you directly to provide examples of your problem-solving skills in action. Alternatively, they may use a series of questions to gauge your ability to overcome hurdles. Either way, you should use every opportunity to provide examples and prove that you’re capable of filling the role and using your skills to succeed.
There are many ways to discuss your problem-solving skills in the workplace. However, some examples are more effective than others. Follow these tips to choose moments that are impactful enough to leave a lasting impression.
1. Pick Examples That are Relevant to the Position You Want
The best approach when sharing examples is to choose situations that are relevant to the job you want to get. Think about the role and its responsibilities. Study the job description and research as much as you can about what this role entails.
Your goal is to identify common problems you’ll face if offered the position. Some examples are easily translatable across industries. For example, everyone’s had to deal with difficult clients or navigate tight deadlines.
If you want to deliver a memorable answer, choose unique examples that easily tie into the position. Maybe you faced similar challenges in roles you’ve already held in this industry. Or, you might want to provide examples that speak to common hurdles the hiring managers are all-too-familiar tackling.
Keep it related to the position you are interviewing for to make things easier for hiring decision-makers to envision you working in this position. It’s your chance to show precisely how you’d react to the challenges you face in this position.
2. Explain the Process
When giving your example, do more than keep it high level. You want to set the stage, provide some context, and fully explain your process and the skills you used.
That’s what hiring managers are interested in learning more about when speaking to you. Anyone can say they’ve experienced problems and fixed them. That doesn’t provide any meat to your response and barely scratches the surface of what interviewers want to know. (This is a great time to use the STAR interview method ).
Employers are interested in learning about your approach to problem-solving. What steps do you take to find a solution? Do you throw everything at the wall until something sticks? Or are you more methodical?
Hopefully, you’re the latter. Go into detail about what you do to navigate tough situations and find the solutions that work. Let them into your thought process and show them how you operate when push comes to shove.
3. Be Prepared for Follow-Up Questions
If there’s any time that interviewers will ask for follow-ups, it’ll be when talking about your problem-solving skills. This is their chance to poke for more information and gain deeper insight into your methods. You can expect follow-ups.
Don’t find yourself looking like a deer caught in the headlights.
Think about your examples and refresh your memory as much as possible. Because you’re preparing before your interview, consider taking notes about those examples.
Recall specific details. Use the acronym PEPI (Productivity, Efficiency, Profitability, Impact) to quantify your answer. Use values such as dollars or percentage saved, number of people impacted, or time saved.
It’s impossible to know what interviewers will ask, so you need to be well-versed in the events you are talking about. It would be best to remember it as clear as day so that you’re fully prepared to answer any follow-up questions.
4. Keep It Positive
Our final tip is to keep things positive.
Everyone has come up short when trying to resolve a problem. Those moments are teachable and help you grow as a person. But should you talk about them during your interview?
Ideally, you should stick to problem-solving examples with positive outcomes. And never blame or bad-mouth others. Leave out the fact that your boss was a micromanager or that the client had unrealistic expectations. Instead, focus on how the challenging situation helped in your professional development.
Go over what you learned and how you did things differently to make future problems smoother. Employers love to see growth and initiative. Ending on a positive note can make your response memorable while indicating that you’re not done learning.
You should also touch on what positive outcomes came from your efforts. That could be something as simple as avoiding disaster for your company or as impactful as increasing revenue. Highlighting your contributions can make interviewers want you even more.
Need some inspiration? The problem-solving scenarios you discuss should be unique to your own experiences, but we have also provided some solid examples you can use as a jumping-off point.
Here’s a common problem you’ll have to overcome at many jobs. Whether you work in sales or marketing, budget restrictions can severely impact how you work.
Companies operate on limited budgets, and you must often find creative solutions to maximize your resource spending to create a killer final product. This example works because it demonstrates a desired skill: Resourcefulness.
You can provide a real-world example of problem-solving where you had to get resourceful with your work without sacrificing productivity or quality. Detail how you developed a plan of attack, where you found ways to save, and the results of your work.
Using budgetary restrictions as an example of problem-solving shows that you can work with what you have. It reassures hiring managers that you can make the most out of any budget and aren’t afraid to get resourceful when necessary.
Another great example you can use is to talk about a time when you took the initiative to meet with a supervisor about a problem you anticipated.
This is a situation that can determine how successful any given employee is. Your goal is to maximize profits and maintain efficient operations. If you see something that’s not right, employers want you to take action.
That’s why this problem-solving example works so well. Not only does it give you a chance to talk about how you discovered the problem and what steps you took to resolve it, but it shows that you have the initiative to do something, even if it’s outside your wheelhouse.
Detail the problem and explain how you discovered it. Then, go into how you broached the issue with your immediate supervisor and how your initiative saved your company from a major disaster. Think critically about the cost savings this saved the company.
Everyone makes mistakes. But not everyone is willing to admit they did or take steps to resolve the subsequent problems they cause.
This example is a fantastic way to show hiring managers that you do not ignore the problems you create. It takes a lot of guts to own up to your mistakes, let alone talk about them openly during a job interview. Usually, the goal would be to avoid discussing anything that could paint you in a bad light.
But this is an exception.
Reflect on the mistake and detail how you discovered it. Then, share what actions you took. How did you get to the root of the problem, and what did you do to resolve it? You don’t need to go deep into the details of the problem. Instead, focus on the steps you took to correct the misstep.
Don’t be afraid to discuss the self-inflicted nature of the issue. However, make sure to emphasize the positive outcome and touch on the lessons you learned to avoid similar problems in the future.
Navigating Timeline Issues
Scheduling conflicts are another common occurrence in the workplace. Deadlines can pile up, forcing you to reevaluate your time-management skills or be at risk of delivering subpar work.
A good way to talk about your problem-solving skills is to reference when you had to actively change how you prioritize your work . Consider sharing a situation where the timelines were stressful, and the resources were too tight to pass your work to someone else.
Explain how you discovered that your workload was too much to handle. Then, detail what you did to reassess and reprioritize. Highlight the changes you made and why they were impactful.
End on a positive note to show the good results of your problem-solving skills. Include the value of getting the project back on track. You can also bring up the lessons you learned and how this situation helped you evolve as an employee and avoid similar problems in the future.
Sometimes, projects experience a rough start. This is especially true if you’re working on a multi-department effort that requires coordination between multiple teams.
That means a great example of problem-solving skills is talking about a time when you helped turn a project around for the better. Reflect on a situation that required your direct intervention to turn around.
This example is superb because it shows you know how to solve issues under intense pressure. It also proves that you’re capable of interdepartmental collaboration and can overcome hurdles that cause others to falter.
Describe how you reinvigorated the project by meeting with every department and explaining how the effort was at risk of falling behind. Explain your communication process and what changes you implemented to get everything back on track. Perhaps you created a new deliverables timeline and scheduled follow-up meetings to check progress.
End on the positive results and how the finished project benefited from your intervention. Use specific numbers or percentages to emphasize time saved.
Taking Action to Get Clarity
Here’s a suitable example for those who don’t have much real-world experience. Though, you can adjust the example if you have a similar story about on-the-job challenges.
In this example, you can talk about a time when you had to speak up to get clarity, despite seemingly being the only one confused about what was expected of you.
It’s a common scenario that occurs in meetings. You may sit through part of a presentation being utterly confused about the subject matter. You’re probably not the only one, but no one else feels like speaking up to ask questions.
Describe how you took the initiative to make sure everything was crystal clear. Talk about how you spoke up in the room or scheduled a meeting with your manager to ensure that you’re all on the same page. Also, think about including what didn’t happen. It could have extended a timeline by days or cost the company tens of thousands of dollars.
It sounds like a simple enough solution, but it’s one that many fail to reach.
We live in a data-heavy world, and organizations often use data to guide their decision-making. But it’s not a perfect science.
Companies can make sweeping changes based on outdated or biased information. One example you can use to display your problem-solving skills is about a time when you found additional insights that changed how your company moved forward with a big decision.
Whether you were in charge of data acquisition or not, you might have taken the initiative because you felt the information provided was inaccurate.
Describe how you came to that conclusion and why you felt the company was headed in the wrong direction. What were the red flags, and how did you get to the core of the problem?
Detail what you did to obtain the proper research and present it to key decision-makers. End on a positive outcome, and be sure to include the cost savings this had for your company. This helps you prove you’re an asset to the company you’re currently interviewing for.
Here’s an example hiring managers would love to hear more about during your interview.
If you have a moment from your past that allowed you to directly boost company profits, don’t hesitate to discuss it! Employers want to hear about major contributions like this because it shows how you can be an asset to the bottom line.
Think about when you realized you could find ways to make new or existing products more profitable. Your plan might have involved adjustments to current sales strategies, the development of new marketing initiatives, innovative sales ideas, etc.
Whatever the case, describe how you found room for growth. Explain your thought process and go into detail about how you pitched your ideas to sales leaders. Quantify the profit you contributed by bringing the idea forward. l
Once again, this example is about problem-solving and taking action. Furthermore, it highlights your creative thinking and illustrates a relevant skill that can make a difference in a sales-focused job.
Far too many people are content with doing things the way they’ve always been done. It’s fear of “rocking the boat” or hesitation to make pitches that fall outside standard job responsibilities.
An example of problem-solving that involves you making suggestions on how to streamline and improve operations can leave a lasting impact on hiring managers. These examples work because they show how you solved a relevant problem in any industry. Every organization can benefit from better efficiency.
Talk about the problems you noticed and how they affected the bottom line. Detail how you came to that conclusion and what rabbit holes you followed to get there. Describe the root of the problem and what ideas you bounced around to solve it.
Whether it was a simple change that resulted in substantial operational cost savings or an exploration into brand-new tools that took productivity through the roof, use numbers to prove your point. This example can significantly improve your chances of continuing in the hiring process.
Our final example of problem-solving is to talk about a situation when a former company was in dire need of better communication. Maybe important information got lost by the wayside due to a lack of a centralized communication hub. Or perhaps the managerial hierarchy left too much room for miscommunication.
Whatever the case, showing that you know how to solve communication barriers can work in your favor. Good communication is crucial to the success of countless industries. Detailing how you solved these problems can make you look like a skilled innovator ready to tackle the organization’s current issues.
Explain how you discovered the communication errors and what it took to understand your company’s core problem. Describe the changes you recommended and how they ultimately improved efficiency for the organization.
If this is your first job, you may feel that you don’t have enough work experience to provide meaningful examples of your problem-solving skills.
But that’s not the case. There are plenty of non-work related avenues to go.
Think about your education. You may have experience working in a collaborative environment rife with issues. Or, you could have experienced workload management problems that forced you to reevaluate and find solutions that helped you stay on top of your responsibilities.
You can also reflect on volunteering opportunities, internships, and even part-time jobs you held during your education. Get creative and think outside the job to develop examples illustrating your problem-solving skills.
Being ready to give examples of your problem-solving skills in action will go a long way when it comes to getting a job offer.
If you follow our recommendations and use our examples for inspiration, you’ll be well on your way!
Hannah Morgan speaks and writes about job search and career strategies. She founded CareerSherpa.net to educate professionals on how to maneuver through today’s job search process. Hannah was nominated as a LinkedIn Top Voice in Job Search and Careers and is a regular contributor to US News & World Report. She has been quoted by media outlets, including Forbes, USA Today, Money Magazine, Huffington Post, as well as many other publications. She is also author of The Infographic Resume and co-author of Social Networking for Business Success .
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39 Best Problem-Solving Examples
Problem-solving is a process where you’re tasked with identifying an issue and coming up with the most practical and effective solution.
This indispensable skill is necessary in several aspects of life, from personal relationships to education to business decisions.
Problem-solving aptitude boosts rational thinking, creativity, and the ability to cooperate with others. It’s also considered essential in 21st Century workplaces.
If explaining your problem-solving skills in an interview, remember that the employer is trying to determine your ability to handle difficulties. Focus on explaining exactly how you solve problems, including by introducing your thoughts on some of the following frameworks and how you’ve applied them in the past.
1. divergent thinking.
Divergent thinking refers to the process of coming up with multiple different answers to a single problem. It’s the opposite of convergent thinking, which would involve coming up with a singular answer .
The benefit of a divergent thinking approach is that it can help us achieve blue skies thinking – it lets us generate several possible solutions that we can then critique and analyze .
In the realm of problem-solving, divergent thinking acts as the initial spark. You’re working to create an array of potential solutions, even those that seem outwardly unrelated or unconventional, to get your brain turning and unlock out-of-the-box ideas.
This process paves the way for the decision-making stage, where the most promising ideas are selected and refined.
Go Deeper: Divervent Thinking Examples
2. Convergent Thinking
Next comes convergent thinking, the process of narrowing down multiple possibilities to arrive at a single solution.
This involves using your analytical skills to identify the best, most practical, or most economical solution from the pool of ideas that you generated in the divergent thinking stage.
In a way, convergent thinking shapes the “roadmap” to solve a problem after divergent thinking has supplied the “destinations.”
Have a think about which of these problem-solving skills you’re more adept at: divergent or convergent thinking?
Go Deeper: Convergent Thinking Examples
Brainstorming is a group activity designed to generate a multitude of ideas regarding a specific problem. It’s divergent thinking as a group , which helps unlock even more possibilities.
A typical brainstorming session involves uninhibited and spontaneous ideation, encouraging participants to voice any possible solutions, no matter how unconventional they might appear.
It’s important in a brainstorming session to suspend judgment and be as inclusive as possible, allowing all participants to get involved.
By widening the scope of potential solutions, brainstorming allows better problem definition, more creative solutions, and helps to avoid thinking “traps” that might limit your perspective.
Go Deeper: Brainstorming Examples
4. Thinking Outside the Box
The concept of “thinking outside the box” encourages a shift in perspective, urging you to approach problems from an entirely new angle.
Rather than sticking to traditional methods and processes, it involves breaking away from conventional norms to cultivate unique solutions.
In problem-solving, this mindset can bypass established hurdles and bring you to fresh ideas that might otherwise remain undiscovered.
Think of it as going off the beaten track when regular routes present roadblocks to effective resolution.
5. Case Study Analysis
Analyzing case studies involves a detailed examination of real-life situations that bear relevance to the current problem at hand.
For example, if you’re facing a problem, you could go to another environment that has faced a similar problem and examine how they solved it. You’d then bring the insights from that case study back to your own problem.
This approach provides a practical backdrop against which theories and assumptions can be tested, offering valuable insights into how similar problems have been approached and resolved in the past.
See a Broader Range of Analysis Examples Here
6. Action Research
Action research involves a repetitive process of identifying a problem, formulating a plan to address it, implementing the plan, and then analyzing the results. It’s common in educational research contexts.
The objective is to promote continuous learning and improvement through reflection and action. You conduct research into your problem, attempt to apply a solution, then assess how well the solution worked. This becomes an iterative process of continual improvement over time.
For problem-solving, this method offers a way to test solutions in real-time and allows for changes and refinements along the way, based on feedback or observed outcomes. It’s a form of active problem-solving that integrates lessons learned into the next cycle of action.
Go Deeper: Action Research Examples
7. Information Gathering
Fundamental to solving any problem is the process of information gathering.
This involves collecting relevant data , facts, and details about the issue at hand, significantly aiding in the understanding and conceptualization of the problem.
In problem-solving, information gathering underpins every decision you make.
This process ensures your actions are based on concrete information and evidence, allowing for an informed approach to tackle the problem effectively.
8. Seeking Advice
Seeking advice implies turning to knowledgeable and experienced individuals or entities to gain insights on problem-solving.
It could include mentors, industry experts, peers, or even specialized literature.
The value in this process lies in leveraging different perspectives and proven strategies when dealing with a problem. Moreover, it aids you in avoiding pitfalls, saving time, and learning from others’ experiences.
9. Creative Thinking
Creative thinking refers to the ability to perceive a problem in a new way, identify unconventional patterns, or produce original solutions.
It encourages innovation and uniqueness, often leading to the most effective results.
When applied to problem-solving, creative thinking can help you break free from traditional constraints, ideal for potentially complex or unusual problems.
Go Deeper: Creative Thinking Examples
10. Conflict Resolution
Conflict resolution is a strategy developed to resolve disagreements and arguments, often involving communication, negotiation, and compromise.
When employed as a problem-solving technique, it can diffuse tension, clear bottlenecks, and create a collaborative environment.
Effective conflict resolution ensures that differing views or disagreements do not become roadblocks in the process of problem-solving.
Go Deeper: Conflict Resolution Examples
11. Addressing Bottlenecks
Bottlenecks refer to obstacles or hindrances that slow down or even halt a process.
In problem-solving, addressing bottlenecks involves identifying these impediments and finding ways to eliminate them.
This effort not only smooths the path to resolution but also enhances the overall efficiency of the problem-solving process.
For example, if your workflow is not working well, you’d go to the bottleneck – that one point that is most time consuming – and focus on that. Once you ‘break’ this bottleneck, the entire process will run more smoothly.
12. Market Research
Market research involves gathering and analyzing information about target markets, consumers, and competitors.
In sales and marketing, this is one of the most effective problem-solving methods. The research collected from your market (e.g. from consumer surveys) generates data that can help identify market trends, customer preferences, and competitor strategies.
In this sense, it allows a company to make informed decisions, solve existing problems, and even predict and prevent future ones.
13. Root Cause Analysis
Root cause analysis is a method used to identify the origin or the fundamental reason for a problem.
Once the root cause is determined, you can implement corrective actions to prevent the problem from recurring.
As a problem-solving procedure, root cause analysis helps you to tackle the problem at its source, rather than dealing with its surface symptoms.
Go Deeper: Root Cause Analysis Examples
14. Mind Mapping
Mind mapping is a visual tool used to structure information, helping you better analyze, comprehend and generate new ideas.
By laying out your thoughts visually, it can lead you to solutions that might not have been apparent with linear thinking.
In problem-solving, mind mapping helps in organizing ideas and identifying connections between them, providing a holistic view of the situation and potential solutions.
15. Trial and Error
The trial and error method involves attempting various solutions until you find one that resolves the problem.
It’s an empirical technique that relies on practical actions instead of theories or rules.
In the context of problem-solving, trial and error allows you the flexibility to test different strategies in real situations, gaining insights about what works and what doesn’t.
16. SWOT Analysis
SWOT is an acronym standing for Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, and Threats.
It’s an analytic framework used to evaluate these aspects in relation to a particular objective or problem.
In problem-solving, SWOT Analysis helps you to identify favorable and unfavorable internal and external factors. It helps to craft strategies that make best use of your strengths and opportunities, whilst addressing weaknesses and threats.
Go Deeper: SWOT Analysis Examples
17. Scenario Planning
Scenario planning is a strategic planning method used to make flexible long-term plans.
It involves imagining, and then planning for, multiple likely future scenarios.
By forecasting various directions a problem could take, scenario planning helps manage uncertainty and is an effective tool for problem-solving in volatile conditions.
18. Six Thinking Hats
The Six Thinking Hats is a concept devised by Edward de Bono that proposes six different directions or modes of thinking, symbolized by six different hat colors.
Each hat signifies a different perspective, encouraging you to switch ‘thinking modes’ as you switch hats. This method can help remove bias and broaden perspectives when dealing with a problem.
19. Decision Matrix Analysis
Decision Matrix Analysis is a technique that allows you to weigh different factors when faced with several possible solutions.
After listing down the options and determining the factors of importance, each option is scored based on each factor.
Revealing a clear winner that both serves your objectives and reflects your values, Decision Matrix Analysis grounds your problem-solving process in objectivity and comprehensiveness.
20. Pareto Analysis
Also known as the 80/20 rule, Pareto Analysis is a decision-making technique.
It’s based on the principle that 80% of problems are typically caused by 20% of the causes, making it a handy tool for identifying the most significant issues in a situation.
Using this analysis, you’re likely to direct your problem-solving efforts more effectively, tackling the root causes producing most of the problem’s impact.
21. Critical Thinking
Critical thinking refers to the ability to analyze facts to form a judgment objectively.
It involves logical, disciplined thinking that is clear, rational, open-minded, and informed by evidence.
For problem-solving, critical thinking helps evaluate options and decide the most effective solution. It ensures your decisions are grounded in reason and facts, and not biased or irrational assumptions.
Go Deeper: Critical Thinking Examples
22. Hypothesis Testing
Hypothesis testing usually involves formulating a claim, testing it against actual data, and deciding whether to accept or reject the claim based on the results.
In problem-solving, hypotheses often represent potential solutions. Hypothesis testing provides verification, giving a statistical basis for decision-making and problem resolution.
Usually, this will require research methods and a scientific approach to see whether the hypothesis stands up or not.
Go Deeper: Types of Hypothesis Testing
23. Cost-Benefit Analysis
A cost-benefit analysis (CBA) is a systematic process of weighing the pros and cons of different solutions in terms of their potential costs and benefits.
It allows you to measure the positive effects against the negatives and informs your problem-solving strategy.
By using CBA, you can identify which solution offers the greatest benefit for the least cost, significantly improving efficacy and efficiency in your problem-solving process.
Go Deeper: Cost-Benefit Analysis Examples
24. Simulation and Modeling
Simulations and models allow you to create a simplified replica of real-world systems to test outcomes under controlled conditions.
In problem-solving, you can broadly understand potential repercussions of different solutions before implementation.
It offers a cost-effective way to predict the impacts of your decisions, minimizing potential risks associated with various solutions.
25. Delphi Method
The Delphi Method is a structured communication technique used to gather expert opinions.
The method involves a group of experts who respond to questionnaires about a problem. The responses are aggregated and shared with the group, and the process repeats until a consensus is reached.
This method of problem solving can provide a diverse range of insights and solutions, shaped by the wisdom of a collective expert group.
26. Cross-functional Team Collaboration
Cross-functional team collaboration involves individuals from different departments or areas of expertise coming together to solve a common problem or achieve a shared goal.
When you bring diverse skills, knowledge, and perspectives to a problem, it can lead to a more comprehensive and innovative solution.
In problem-solving, this promotes communal thinking and ensures that solutions are inclusive and holistic, with various aspects of the problem being addressed.
Benchmarking involves comparing one’s business processes and performance metrics to the best practices from other companies or industries.
In problem-solving, it allows you to identify gaps in your own processes, determine how others have solved similar problems, and apply those solutions that have proven to be successful.
It also allows you to compare yourself to the best (the benchmark) and assess where you’re not as good.
28. Pros-Cons Lists
A pro-con analysis aids in problem-solving by weighing the advantages (pros) and disadvantages (cons) of various possible solutions.
This simple but powerful tool helps in making a balanced, informed decision.
When confronted with a problem, a pro-con analysis can guide you through the decision-making process, ensuring all possible outcomes and implications are scrutinized before arriving at the optimal solution. Thus, it helps to make the problem-solving process both methodical and comprehensive.
29. 5 Whys Analysis
The 5 Whys Analysis involves repeatedly asking the question ‘why’ (around five times) to peel away the layers of an issue and discover the root cause of a problem.
As a problem-solving technique, it enables you to delve into details that you might otherwise overlook and offers a simple, yet powerful, approach to uncover the origin of a problem.
For example, if your task is to find out why a product isn’t selling your first answer might be: “because customers don’t want it”, then you ask why again – “they don’t want it because it doesn’t solve their problem”, then why again – “because the product is missing a certain feature” … and so on, until you get to the root “why”.
30. Gap Analysis
Gap analysis entails comparing current performance with potential or desired performance.
You’re identifying the ‘gaps’, or the differences, between where you are and where you want to be.
In terms of problem-solving, a Gap Analysis can help identify key areas for improvement and design a roadmap of how to get from the current state to the desired one.
31. Design Thinking
Design thinking is a problem-solving approach that involves empathy, experimentation, and iteration.
The process focuses on understanding user needs, challenging assumptions , and redefining problems from a user-centric perspective.
In problem-solving, design thinking uncovers innovative solutions that may not have been initially apparent and ensures the solution is tailored to the needs of those affected by the issue.
32. Analogical Thinking
Analogical thinking involves the transfer of information from a particular subject (the analogue or source) to another particular subject (the target).
In problem-solving, you’re drawing parallels between similar situations and applying the problem-solving techniques used in one situation to the other.
Thus, it allows you to apply proven strategies to new, but related problems.
33. Lateral Thinking
Lateral thinking requires looking at a situation or problem from a unique, sometimes abstract, often non-sequential viewpoint.
Unlike traditional logical thinking methods, lateral thinking encourages you to employ creative and out-of-the-box techniques.
In solving problems, this type of thinking boosts ingenuity and drives innovation, often leading to novel and effective solutions.
Go Deeper: Lateral Thinking Examples
Flowcharting is the process of visually mapping a process or procedure.
This form of diagram can show every step of a system, process, or workflow, enabling an easy tracking of the progress.
As a problem-solving tool, flowcharts help identify bottlenecks or inefficiencies in a process, guiding improved strategies and providing clarity on task ownership and process outcomes.
Multivoting, or N/3 voting, is a method where participants reduce a large list of ideas to a prioritized shortlist by casting multiple votes.
This voting system elevates the most preferred options for further consideration and decision-making.
As a problem-solving technique, multivoting allows a group to narrow options and focus on the most promising solutions, ensuring more effective and democratic decision-making.
36. Force Field Analysis
Force Field Analysis is a decision-making technique that identifies the forces for and against change when contemplating a decision.
The ‘forces’ represent the differing factors that can drive or hinder change.
In problem-solving, Force Field Analysis allows you to understand the entirety of the context, favoring a balanced view over a one-sided perspective. A comprehensive view of all the forces at play can lead to better-informed problem-solving decisions.
TRIZ, which stands for “The Theory of Inventive Problem Solving,” is a problem-solving, analysis, and forecasting methodology.
It focuses on finding contradictions inherent in a scenario. Then, you work toward eliminating the contraditions through finding innovative solutions.
So, when you’re tackling a problem, TRIZ provides a disciplined, systematic approach that aims for ideal solutions and not just acceptable ones. Using TRIZ, you can leverage patterns of problem-solving that have proven effective in different cases, pivoting them to solve the problem at hand.
38. A3 Problem Solving
A3 Problem Solving, derived from Lean Management, is a structured method that uses a single sheet of A3-sized paper to document knowledge from a problem-solving process.
Named after the international paper size standard of A3 (or 11-inch by 17-inch paper), it succinctly records all key details of the problem-solving process from problem description to the root cause and corrective actions.
Used in problem-solving, this provides a straightforward and logical structure for addressing the problem, facilitating communication between team members, ensuring all critical details are included, and providing a record of decisions made.
39. Scenario Analysis
Scenario Analysis is all about predicting different possible future events depending upon your decision.
To do this, you look at each course of action and try to identify the most likely outcomes or scenarios down the track if you take that course of action.
This technique helps forecast the impacts of various strategies, playing each out to their (logical or potential) end. It’s a good strategy for project managers who need to keep a firm eye on the horizon at all times.
When solving problems, Scenario Analysis assists in preparing for uncertainties, making sure your solution remains viable, regardless of changes in circumstances.
How to Answer “Demonstrate Problem-Solving Skills” in an Interview
When asked to demonstrate your problem-solving skills in an interview, the STAR method often proves useful. STAR stands for Situation, Task, Action, and Result.
Situation: Begin by describing a specific circumstance or challenge you encountered. Make sure to provide enough detail to allow the interviewer a clear understanding. You should select an event that adequately showcases your problem-solving abilities.
For instance, “In my previous role as a project manager, we faced a significant issue when our key supplier abruptly went out of business.”
Task: Explain what your responsibilities were in that situation. This serves to provide context, allowing the interviewer to understand your role and the expectations placed upon you.
For instance, “It was my task to ensure the project remained on track despite this setback. Alternative suppliers needed to be found without sacrificing quality or significantly increasing costs.”
Action: Describe the steps you took to manage the problem. Highlight your problem-solving process. Mention any creative approaches or techniques that you used.
For instance, “I conducted thorough research to identify potential new suppliers. After creating a shortlist, I initiated contact, negotiated terms, assessed samples for quality and made a selection. I also worked closely with the team to re-adjust the project timeline.”
Result: Share the outcomes of your actions. How did the situation end? Did your actions lead to success? It’s particularly effective if you can quantify these results.
For instance, “As a result of my active problem solving, we were able to secure a new supplier whose costs were actually 10% cheaper and whose quality was comparable. We adjusted the project plan and managed to complete the project just two weeks later than originally planned, despite the major vendor setback.”
Remember, when you’re explaining your problem-solving skills to an interviewer, what they’re really interested in is your approach to handling difficulties, your creativity and persistence in seeking a resolution, and your ability to carry your solution through to fruition. Tailoring your story to highlight these aspects will help exemplify your problem-solving prowess.
Go Deeper: STAR Interview Method Examples
Benefits of Problem-Solving
Problem-solving is beneficial for the following reasons (among others):
- It can help you to overcome challenges, roadblocks, and bottlenecks in your life.
- It can save a company money.
- It can help you to achieve clarity in your thinking.
- It can make procedures more efficient and save time.
- It can strengthen your decision-making capacities.
- It can lead to better risk management.
Whether for a job interview or school, problem-solving helps you to become a better thinking, solve your problems more effectively, and achieve your goals. Build up your problem-solving frameworks (I presented over 40 in this piece for you!) and work on applying them in real-life situations.
Chris Drew (PhD)
Dr. Chris Drew is the founder of the Helpful Professor. He holds a PhD in education and has published over 20 articles in scholarly journals. He is the former editor of the Journal of Learning Development in Higher Education. [Image Descriptor: Photo of Chris]
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What Are Problem-Solving Skills? (Definition, Examples, And How To List On A Resume)
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Summary. Problem-solving skills include analysis, creativity, prioritization, organization, and troubleshooting. To solve a problem, you need to use a variety of skills based on the needs of the situation.
Most jobs essentially boil down to identifying and solving problems consistently and effectively. That’s why employers value problem-solving skills in job candidates for just about every role.
We’ll cover problem-solving methods, ways to improve your problem-solving skills, and examples of showcasing your problem-solving skills during your job search .
If you can show off your problem-solving skills on your resume , in your cover letter , and during a job interview, you’ll be one step closer to landing a job.
Companies rely on employees who can handle unexpected challenges, identify persistent issues, and offer workable solutions in a positive way.
It is important to improve problem solving skill because this is a skill that can be cultivated and nurtured so you can become better at dealing with problems over time.
Types of Problem-Solving Skills
How to improve your problem-solving skills, example answers to problem-solving interview questions, how to show off problem-solving skills on a resume, example resume and cover letter with problem-solving skills, more about problem-solving skills, problem solving skills faqs.
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Problem-solving skills are skills that help you identify and solve problems effectively and efficiently . Your ability to solve problems is one of the main ways that hiring managers and recruiters assess candidates, as those with excellent problem-solving skills are more likely to autonomously carry out their responsibilities.
A true problem solver can look at a situation, find the cause of the problem (or causes, because there are often many issues at play), and then come up with a reasonable solution that effectively fixes the problem or at least remedies most of it.
The ability to solve problems is considered a soft skill , meaning that it’s more of a personality trait than a skill you’ve learned at school, on the job, or through technical training.
That being said, your proficiency with various hard skills will have a direct bearing on your ability to solve problems. For example, it doesn’t matter if you’re a great problem-solver; if you have no experience with astrophysics, you probably won’t be hired as a space station technician .
Problem-solving is considered a skill on its own, but it’s supported by many other skills that can help you be a better problem solver. These skills fall into a few different categories of problem-solving skills.
Problem recognition and analysis. The first step is to recognize that there is a problem and discover what it is or what the root cause of it is.
You can’t begin to solve a problem unless you’re aware of it. Sometimes you’ll see the problem yourself and other times you’ll be told about the problem. Both methods of discovery are very important, but they can require some different skills. The following can be an important part of the process:
Create possible solutions. You know what the problem is, and you might even know the why of it, but then what? Your next step is the come up with some solutions.
Most of the time, the first solution you come up with won’t be the right one. Don’t fall victim to knee-jerk reactions; try some of the following methods to give you solution options.
Evaluation of solution options. Now that you have a lot of solution options, it’s time to weed through them and start casting some aside. There might be some ridiculous ones, bad ones, and ones you know could never be implemented. Throw them away and focus on the potentially winning ideas.
This step is probably the one where a true, natural problem solver will shine. They intuitively can put together mental scenarios and try out solutions to see their plusses and minuses. If you’re still working on your skill set — try listing the pros and cons on a sheet of paper.
Evaluating and weighing
Solution implementation. This is your “take action” step. Once you’ve decided which way to go, it’s time to head down that path and see if you were right. This step takes a lot of people and management skills to make it work for you.
Evaluation of the solution. Was it a good solution? Did your plan work or did it fail miserably? Sometimes the evaluation step takes a lot of work and review to accurately determine effectiveness. The following skills might be essential for a thorough evaluation.
You now have a ton of skills in front of you. Some of them you have naturally and some — not so much. If you want to solve a problem, and you want to be known for doing that well and consistently, then it’s time to sharpen those skills.
Develop industry knowledge. Whether it’s broad-based industry knowledge, on-the-job training , or very specific knowledge about a small sector — knowing all that you can and feeling very confident in your knowledge goes a long way to learning how to solve problems.
Be a part of a solution. Step up and become involved in the problem-solving process. Don’t lead — but follow. Watch an expert solve the problem and, if you pay attention, you’ll learn how to solve a problem, too. Pay attention to the steps and the skills that a person uses.
Practice solving problems. Do some role-playing with a mentor , a professor , co-workers, other students — just start throwing problems out there and coming up with solutions and then detail how those solutions may play out.
Go a step further, find some real-world problems and create your solutions, then find out what they did to solve the problem in actuality.
Identify your weaknesses. If you could easily point out a few of your weaknesses in the list of skills above, then those are the areas you need to focus on improving. How you do it is incredibly varied, so find a method that works for you.
Solve some problems — for real. If the opportunity arises, step in and use your problem-solving skills. You’ll never really know how good (or bad) you are at it until you fail.
That’s right, failing will teach you so much more than succeeding will. You’ll learn how to go back and readdress the problem, find out where you went wrong, learn more from listening even better. Failure will be your best teacher ; it might not make you feel good, but it’ll make you a better problem-solver in the long run.
Once you’ve impressed a hiring manager with top-notch problem-solving skills on your resume and cover letter , you’ll need to continue selling yourself as a problem-solver in the job interview.
There are three main ways that employers can assess your problem-solving skills during an interview:
By asking questions that relate to your past experiences solving problems
Posing hypothetical problems for you to solve
By administering problem-solving tests and exercises
The third method varies wildly depending on what job you’re applying for, so we won’t attempt to cover all the possible problem-solving tests and exercises that may be a part of your application process.
Luckily, interview questions focused on problem-solving are pretty well-known, and most can be answered using the STAR method . STAR stands for situation, task, action, result, and it’s a great way to organize your answers to behavioral interview questions .
Let’s take a look at how to answer some common interview questions built to assess your problem-solving capabilities:
At my current job as an operations analyst at XYZ Inc., my boss set a quarterly goal to cut contractor spending by 25% while maintaining the same level of production and moving more processes in-house. It turned out that achieving this goal required hiring an additional 6 full-time employees, which got stalled due to the pandemic. I suggested that we widen our net and hire remote employees after our initial applicant pool had no solid candidates. I ran the analysis on overhead costs and found that if even 4 of the 6 employees were remote, we’d save 16% annually compared to the contractors’ rates. In the end, all 6 employees we hired were fully remote, and we cut costs by 26% while production rose by a modest amount.
I try to step back and gather research as my first step. For instance, I had a client who needed a graphic designer to work with Crello, which I had never seen before, let alone used. After getting the project details straight, I began meticulously studying the program the YouTube tutorials, and the quick course Crello provides. I also reached out to coworkers who had worked on projects for this same client in the past. Once I felt comfortable with the software, I started work immediately. It was a slower process because I had to be more methodical in my approach, but by putting in some extra hours, I turned in the project ahead of schedule. The client was thrilled with my work and was shocked to hear me joke afterward that it was my first time using Crello.
As a digital marketer , website traffic and conversion rates are my ultimate metrics. However, I also track less visible metrics that can illuminate the story behind the results. For instance, using Google Analytics, I found that 78% of our referral traffic was coming from one affiliate, but that these referrals were only accounting for 5% of our conversions. Another affiliate, who only accounted for about 10% of our referral traffic, was responsible for upwards of 30% of our conversions. I investigated further and found that the second, more effective affiliate was essentially qualifying our leads for us before sending them our way, which made it easier for us to close. I figured out exactly how they were sending us better customers, and reached out to the first, more prolific but less effective affiliate with my understanding of the results. They were able to change their pages that were referring us traffic, and our conversions from that source tripled in just a month. It showed me the importance of digging below the “big picture” metrics to see the mechanics of how revenue was really being generated through digital marketing.
You can bring up your problem-solving skills in your resume summary statement , in your work experience , and under your education section , if you’re a recent graduate. The key is to include items on your resume that speak direclty to your ability to solve problems and generate results.
If you can, quantify your problem-solving accomplishments on your your resume . Hiring managers and recruiters are always more impressed with results that include numbers because they provide much-needed context.
This sample resume for a Customer Service Representative will give you an idea of how you can work problem solving into your resume.
Michelle Beattle 111 Millennial Parkway Chicago, IL 60007 (555) 987-6543 [email protected] Professional Summary Qualified Customer Services Representative with 3 years in a high-pressure customer service environment. Professional, personable, and a true problem solver. Work History ABC Store — Customer Service Representative 01/2015 — 12/2017 Managed in-person and phone relations with customers coming in to pick up purchases, return purchased products, helped find and order items not on store shelves, and explained details and care of merchandise. Became a key player in the customer service department and was promoted to team lead. XYZ Store — Customer Service Representative/Night Manager 01/2018 — 03/2020, released due to Covid-19 layoffs Worked as the night manager of the customer service department and filled in daytime hours when needed. Streamlined a process of moving customers to the right department through an app to ease the burden on the phone lines and reduce customer wait time by 50%. Was working on additional wait time problems when the Covid-19 pandemic caused our stores to close permanently. Education Chicago Tech 2014-2016 Earned an Associate’s Degree in Principles of Customer Care Skills Strong customer service skills Excellent customer complaint resolution Stock record management Order fulfillment New product information Cash register skills and proficiency Leader in problem solving initiatives
You can see how the resume gives you a chance to point out your problem-solving skills and to show where you used them a few times. Your cover letter is your chance to introduce yourself and list a few things that make you stand out from the crowd.
Michelle Beattle 111 Millennial Parkway Chicago, IL 60007 (555) 987-6543 [email protected] Dear Mary McDonald, I am writing in response to your ad on Zippia for a Customer Service Representative . Thank you for taking the time to consider me for this position. Many people believe that a job in customer service is simply listening to people complain all day. I see the job as much more than that. It’s an opportunity to help people solve problems, make their experience with your company more enjoyable, and turn them into life-long advocates of your brand. Through my years of experience and my educational background at Chicago Tech, where I earned an Associate’s Degree in the Principles of Customer Care, I have learned that the customers are the lifeline of the business and without good customer service representatives, a business will falter. I see it as my mission to make each and every customer I come in contact with a fan. I have more than five years of experience in the Customer Services industry and had advanced my role at my last job to Night Manager. I am eager to again prove myself as a hard worker, a dedicated people person, and a problem solver that can be relied upon. I have built a professional reputation as an employee that respects all other employees and customers, as a manager who gets the job done and finds solutions when necessary, and a worker who dives in to learn all she can about the business. Most of my customers have been very satisfied with my resolution ideas and have returned to do business with us again. I believe my expertise would make me a great match for LMNO Store. I have enclosed my resume for your review, and I would appreciate having the opportunity to meet with you to further discuss my qualifications. Thank you again for your time and consideration. Sincerely, Michelle Beattle
You’ve no doubt noticed that many of the skills listed in the problem-solving process are repeated. This is because having these abilities or talents is so important to the entire course of getting a problem solved.
In fact, they’re worthy of a little more attention. Many of them are similar, so we’ll pull them together and discuss how they’re important and how they work together.
Communication, active listening, and customer service skills. No matter where you are in the process of problem-solving, you need to be able to show that you’re listening and engaged and really hearing what the problem is or what a solution may be.
Obviously, the other part of this is being able to communicate effectively so people understand what you’re saying without confusion. Rolled into this are customer service skills , which really are all about listening and responding appropriately — it’s the ultimate in interpersonal communications.
Analysis (data and historical), research, and topic knowledge/understanding. This is how you intellectually grasp the issue and approach it. This can come from studying the topic and the process or it can come from knowledge you’ve gained after years in the business. But the best solutions come from people who thoroughly understand the problem.
Creativity, brainstorming, troubleshooting, and flexibility. All of you creative thinkers will like this area because it’s when your brain is at its best.
Coming up with ideas, collaborating with others, leaping over hurdles, and then being able to change courses immediately, if need be, are all essential. If you’re not creative by nature, then having a team of diverse thinkers can help you in this area.
Dependability, believability, trustworthiness, and follow-through. Think about it, these are all traits a person needs to have to make change happen and to make you comfortable taking that next step with them. Someone who is shifty and shady and never follows through, well, you’re simply not going to do what they ask, are you?
Leadership, teambuilding, decision-making, and project management. These are the skills that someone who is in charge is brimming with. These are the leaders you enjoy working for because you know they’re doing what they can to keep everything in working order. These skills can be learned but they’re often innate.
Prioritizing, prediction, forecasting, evaluating and weighing, and process flow. If you love flow charts, data analysis, prediction modeling, and all of that part of the equation, then you might have some great problem-solving abilities.
These are all great skills because they can help you weed out bad ideas, see flaws, and save massive amounts of time in trial and error.
What is a good example of problem-solving skills?
Good examples of porblem-solving skills include research, analysis, creativity, communciation, and decision-making. Each of these skills build off one another to contribute to the problem solving process. Research and analysis allow you to identify a problem.
Creativity and analysis help you consider different solutions. Meanwhile, communication and decision-making are key to working with others to solve a problem on a large scale.
What are 3 key attributes of a good problem solver?
3 key attributes of a good problem solver are persistence, intellegince, and empathy. Persistence is crucial to remain motivated to work through challenges. Inellegince is needed to make smart, informed choices. Empathy is crucial to maintain positive relationships with others as well as yourself.
What can I say instead of problem-solving skills?
Instead of saying problem-solving skills, you can say the following:
Using different words is helpful, especially when writing your resume and cover letter.
What is problem-solving in the workplace?
Problem-solving in the workplace is the ability to work through any sort of challenge, conflict, or unexpected situation and still achieve business goals. Though it varies by profession, roblem-solving in the workplace is very important for almost any job, because probelms are inevitable. You need to have the appropriate level of problem-solving skills if you want to succeed in your career, whatever it may be.
Department of Labor – Problem Solving and Critical Thinking
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Kristin Kizer is an award-winning writer, television and documentary producer, and content specialist who has worked on a wide variety of written, broadcast, and electronic publications. A former writer/producer for The Discovery Channel, she is now a freelance writer and delighted to be sharing her talents and time with the wonderful Zippia audience.
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How to Build Your Problem-Solving Skills
Get curious, think big, and get outside of your comfort zone..
Posted March 4, 2022 | Reviewed by Tyler Woods
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- Get curious to alternative perspectives and viewpoints.
- Daydream without restrictions to break thought patterns.
- Think of alternative ways to do things should you need to be flexible.
People say you can't teach an old dog new tricks. I prefer the expression "it takes more effort to teach an old dog new tricks." Any time you want to learn something new it takes your brain a great amount of energy to build new neural pathways. If you are trying to change something you've already learned, it takes extra effort to build pathways that override the previous ones.
There are many ways to help build new skills, particularly problem-solving skills; they start with getting curious, thinking big, and then trying new things.
It will be hard to learn anything unless you are genuinely interested in it. So find ways to get curious. You can align the new topic to something that already motivates you—this can be a passion, a value, an attribute you like about yourself, or a goal you have. For example, you may want to be that go-to expert or may want to develop deeper relationships with others. Choose whatever will keep you engaged in the learning and build upon that. From there, here are some tips on how to get curious:
- Block out time in your calendar to get curious, either in isolation or with others
- Ponder and expose yourself to how people from an opposing viewpoint see a topic
- Ask others their opinion or their input before making a choice
- Ask people to walk you through how they made previous decisions
- Reflect back on successes and failures: were there themes?
- Have coffee with colleagues once-removed to understand what they do and figure out how your roles may intertwine
- Find connections between others or the bigger picture. For example, how do the other department's objectives impact your day-to-day? How do your customers' actions impact your role?
- Read the news and determine how events/laws/policies impact you or your organization
To see if you are building on your knowledge from someone else's viewpoint, say summary statements of what you have heard and whether you have heard them correctly.
Once you have had time to get curious and gather information, it's time to dream big. What would you do with unlimited time, money, and resources? What would you do if there were no office politics or bureaucracy? "Blue sky" thinking can help you get outside existing processes and thought patterns to find new solutions. Some tips on how to build daydreaming into your routine are:
- Schedule time for daydreaming and block out distractions (either individually or as part of a team)
- Break the adrenaline rush of firefighting the small problems. The quick checklist items feel good in the moment but don't contribute to your sense of meaning or purpose in your work
- Think one step ahead, about how others may react to your moves
- Become a student of the competitor. Act as if you are an employee of the competitor and try to understand why they are choosing their strategy
- Consider how your daydreams could become reality. How much effort and resources are needed and compare it to the potential payoff
To check yourself on this is to see whether you are actually spending the time daydreaming. Whether it's weekly/monthly/quarterly, hold yourself accountable for achieving this goal.
Work outside your comfort zone
It's one thing to have a well-thought-out plan, but it's another to be able to flex that plan at a moment's notice. If you have done your due diligence in getting curious and daydreaming, you will know the pros/cons of contingency plans by understanding the drivers, the downstream implications, and who needs to be looped in. Here are some ideas and tips on how to try different solutions:
- Make "what if" plans for likely risks/bumps in the process
- Take on a task that is ambiguous or has a high likelihood of failing
- Do a feasibility study to determine potential risks/rewards of a new idea
- If and when resources are limited, look for alternatives (e.g., what tasks can be done with tightened budgets)
- Offer to do the budget or forecast
- Get out of perfectionist thinking and recognize when 80 percent is good enough
You will know your problem-solving skills are developing when you begin to get excited about change and ambiguity rather than anxious .
As learning and trying new things becomes more exciting and second nature, you will find that this energy transfers across your whole life. You are more likely to gain empathy for others , you can build resilience during stressful times , and you gain confidence and self-esteem to take on bigger challenges.
Lauren Florko has a Ph.D. in Industrial/Organizational Psychology. She also owns her own company, Triple Threat Consulting, based out of Vancouver, British Columbia.
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How Students Can Rethink Problem Solving
Finding, shaping, and solving problems puts high school students in charge of their learning and bolsters critical-thinking skills.
As an educator for over 20 years, I’ve heard a lot about critical thinking , problem-solving , and inquiry and how they foster student engagement. However, I’ve also seen students draw a blank when they’re given a problem to solve. This happens when the problem is too vast for them to develop a solution or they don’t think the situation is problematic.
As I’ve tried, failed, and tried again to engage my students in critical thinking, problem-solving, and inquiry, I’ve experienced greater engagement when I allow them to problem-find, problem-shape, and problem-solve. This shift in perspective has helped my students take direct ownership over their learning.
Encourage Students to Find the Problem
When students ask a question that prompts their curiosity, it motivates them to seek out an answer. This answer often highlights a problem.
For example, I gave my grade 11 students a list of topics to explore, and they signed up for a topic that they were interested in. From that, they had to develop a research question. This allowed them to narrow the topic down to what they were specifically curious about.
Developing a research question initiated the research process. Students launched into reading information from reliable sources including Britannica , Newsela , and EBSCOhost . Through the reading process, they were able to access information so that they could attempt to find an answer to their question.
The nature of a good question is that there isn’t an “answer.” Instead, there are a variety of answers. This allowed students to feel safe in sharing their answers because they couldn’t be “wrong.” If they had reliable, peer-reviewed academic research to support their answer, they were “right.”
Shaping a Problem Makes Overcoming It More Feasible
When students identify a problem, they’re compelled to do something about it; however, if the problem is too large, it can be overwhelming for them. When they’re overwhelmed, they might shut down and stop learning. For that reason, it’s important for them to shape the problem by taking on a piece they can handle.
To help guide students, provide a list of topics and allow them to choose one. In my experience, choosing their own topic prompts students’ curiosity—which drives them to persevere through a challenging task. Additionally, I have students maintain their scope at a school, regional, or national level. Keeping the focus away from an international scope allows them to filter down the number of results when they begin researching. Shaping the problem this way allowed students to address it in a manageable way.
Students Can Problem-Solve with Purpose
Once students identified a slice of a larger problem that they could manage, they started to read and think about it, collaborate together, and figure out how to solve it. To further support them in taking on a manageable piece of the problem, the parameters of the solution were that it had to be something they could implement immediately. For example, raising $3 million to build a shelter for those experiencing homelessness in the community isn’t something that students can do tomorrow. Focusing on a solution that could be implemented immediately made it easier for them to come up with viable options.
With the problem shaped down to a manageable piece, students were better able to come up with a solution that would have a big impact. This problem-solving process also invites ingenuity and innovation because it allows teens to critically look at their day-to-day lives and experiences to consider what actions they could take to make a difference in the world. It prompts them to look at their world through a different lens.
When the conditions for inquiry are created by allowing students to problem-find, problem-shape and problem-solve, it allows students to do the following:
- Critically examine their world to identify problems that exist
- Feel empowered because they realize that they can be part of a solution
- Innovate by developing new solutions to old problems
Put it All Together to Promote Change
Here are two examples of what my grade 11 students came up with when tasked with examining the national news to problem-find, problem-shape, and problem-solve.
Topic: Indigenous Issues in Canada
Question: How are Indigenous peoples impacted by racism?
Problem-find: The continued racism against Indigenous peoples has led to the families of murdered women not attaining justice, Indigenous peoples not being able to gain employment, and Indigenous communities not being able to access basic necessities like healthcare and clean water.
Problem-shape: A lot of the issues that Indigenous peoples face require government intervention. What can high school teens do to combat these issues?
Problem-solve: Teens need to stop supporting professional sports teams that tokenize Indigenous peoples, and if they see a peer wearing something from such a sports team, we need to educate them about how the team’s logo perpetuates racism.
Topic: People With Disabilities in Canada
Question: What leads students with a hearing impairment to feel excluded?
Problem-find: Students with a hearing impairment struggle to engage with course texts like films and videos.
Problem-shape: A lot of the issues that students with a hearing impairment face in schools require teachers to take action. What can high school teens do to help their hearing-impaired peers feel included?
Problem-solve: When teens share a video on social media, they should turn the closed-captioning on, so that all students can consume the media being shared.
Once my students came up with solutions, they wanted to do something about it and use their voices to engage in global citizenship. This led them to create TikTok and Snapchat videos and Instagram posts that they shared and re-shared among their peer group.
The learning that students engaged in led to their wanting to teach others—which allowed a greater number of students to learn. This whole process engendered conversations about our world and helped them realize that they aren’t powerless; they can do things to initiate change in areas that they’re interested in and passionate about. It allowed them to use their voices to educate others and promote change.
Problem-Solving Skills: 5 Ways to Evaluate Them When Hiring
Knowing how to hire employees with strong problem-solving skills can make all the difference in becoming the next Netflix – or Blockbuster.
Because every role, from the penthouse corner office to the high street, involves a degree of problem-solving. Whether managing a team, developing a web page, or resolving a customer complaint, what matters is how people deal with the problems they face .
To ensure your company is prepared to tackle even the most challenging situations, we’ll first look at what problem solving skills are, using some real-life applications, before walking you through 5 of the best ways to test for them.
TL;DR – Key Takeaways
- Problem-solving skills encompass all the skills that employees use in the workplace to analyze problems and come up with solutions .
- Examples of typical problem-solving skills include good communication skills , active listening skills, decision-making skills, analytical skills, creativity, and collaboration.
- Different problem-solving skills are required from a manager compared to an individual contributor, so hiring managers should look for different competencies according to the seniority of the role.
- There are several ways to assess a candidate’s problem-solving skills when hiring, such as asking behavioral interview questions, running assessment tests or job simulations , conducting reference checks, and asking cultural fit questions.
- Toggl Hire has an impressive library of customizable skills tests and homework assignments that hiring managers can plug into their hiring pipeline to help identify the best problem-solvers right from the start.
What are problem-solving skills?
“Problem solving skills” refers to someone’s ability to identify problems , analyze possible solutions , and think through the steps required to solve those problems. For example, an HR specialist faced with the problem of filling a new position might first analyze whether it would be best filled internally or externally before posting a job description .
Problem solving skills are critical for every possible industry, role, and level of seniority, because at the bottom of each job is solving some type of problem.
Examples of typical problems in the workplace include:
- Finding out the reason behind increased customer complaints
- Improving the efficiency of outbound cold calls for your sales team
- Overhauling a landing page so that it drives more people to subscribe to a software
As you can see, every possible role that exists requires people to solve problems effectively.
What skills make up the problem-solving competency?
“Problem solving skills” is an umbrella term that covers a wide variety of different skills . Here are some examples of typical problem solving abilities that an employee may need for any given role:
- Communication skills
- Decision-making skills
- Research skills
- Analytical skills
- Active listening skills
Not all of them are necessary for every role, but these examples of hard and soft skills are a great starting point if you’re putting together a job description for your next role.
Problem-solving skills examples at different levels
In addition to the variety of skills that fall under the term “problem-solving”, there are also different competency levels of problem-solving.
Just like the difference between hiring an intern , a manager , and a director, choosing the right level of problem-solving competency will depend on the role you’re hiring for.
To explain this further, let’s dig into the 3 basic levels of problem-solving skills.
Entry-level problem-solving skills
A candidate with entry-level problem-solving skills is capable of identifying what the problem is and considering the potential solution. However, they struggle to move beyond this point. These types of skills are suitable if you’re looking to hire for a junior position.
Intermediate-level problem-solving skills
At an intermediate level, the candidate not only identifies problems and finds potential solutions for them, but also uses different types of problem-solving skills and strategies to tackle them from different angles.
However, for more complex problems, they might struggle to implement the solution and will look for assistance from other team members.
Expert-level problem-solving skills
At an expert level, a candidate is capable of solving problems from beginning to end . They are skilled in different problem-solving strategies, including how to gather and analyze relevant information. They are able to see creative solutions where others do not and can anticipate potential obstacles before they happen.
Why are problem-solving skills so important at work?
The modern workplace is full of problems that need solving. Solution-focused employees are a valuable asset to any company in any possible role. They help your company save money , keep customers happy , and inspire colleagues by coming up with new ways to solve old problems .
Employers like to see good problem-solving skills because it also helps to show them you have a range of other competencies such as logic, creativity, resilience, imagination, lateral thinking, and determination.
Here are some of the benefits amazing problem solvers bring to an organization and those around them:
Problem-Solvers Work Well Under Pressure
When a problem arises, it needs to be fixed quickly. Employees with amazing problem-solving skills roll with the punches and tight deadlines to deliver when it matters.
To do this, expert problem-solvers react quickly to short-term situations while thinking proactively about future problems. That ability to act fast and effectively exuberates confidence, creating a sense of calm across the wider team.
They Create Amazing New Ideas
Problem-solving and creative thinking go hand-in-hand. The best problem-solvers don’t just put bandaids over an issue, they fix them in a dynamic, value-adding way.
Exciting, out-of-the-box thinking isn’t just good in the moment but creates an exciting, innovative culture across the organization. That helps organizations stay ahead of the curve and attracts other expert problem-solvers to join the organization, improving the workforce’s capability over time.
Problems Create Risk, and Problem-Solvers Fix Problems
From an organizational perspective, problems create risk. Even if a business process is slightly off-kilter, it can become a much greater issue.
Problem-solvers help organizations reduce risk in the moment while mitigating future risks before they even occur. That helps everyone sleep sounder at night and also removes financial liability from the C-suite.
Problem-Solvers Beat The Competition
Ultimately, excellent problem-solvers help organizations stay ahead of their competition. Whether through creative ideas, faster outputs, or reduced risk, organizations with awesome problem solvers deliver better products and services to their clients.
As we all know, it’s the people that make an organization great, and problem-solvers are some of the best people out there!
Next, let’s take a closer look at how problem-solving skills may differ between individual contributors and managers.
Example of using problem-solving skills in the workplace: manager vs individual contributor
While their approaches may differ, both the manager and the individual contributor go through the same stages of the problem-solving process.
Managers look at the broader perspective of solving a problem and the different ways of coordinating their team and the organization. Their focus is the long-term success of their team and the company.
The individual contributor, on the other hand, is more concerned with individual tasks and technical problems, as well as instant solutions to a problem at hand.
Both sides of the coin are important if you want to succeed at problem solving in the long run and thrive as a team and as a company.
Step 1 – Problem definition
Quick example – A Sales Exec goes to their manager with a problem – they’re struggling to hit their sales target. The Sales Manager sits down with them to understand the situation, where they are with their sales, and the gap to the target.
Step 2 – Problem analysis
Quick example – The Sales Manager goes away and gathers some information about the Sales Exec. They look at their CRM notes, speak with other team members, and shadow the Sales Exec on the job.
Step 3 – Generating the possible solutions
Quick example – The Sales Manager comes up with some solutions to help their Sales Exec. Options on the table include additional training, a structured work plan, and re-prioritizing their workload.
Step 4 – Implementing the best solution(s)
Quick example – The Sales Manager lays out the next steps with the Sales Exec, explaining the proposed solutions. The Sales Exec will do some re-training on the sales process and will re-prioritize their workload to focus on particular, high-value customers.
5 Ways to Evaluate Problem-Solving Skills When Hiring
There are many practical ways to evaluate how people solve problems during the hiring process. Depending on your needs, you can use one, more, or all of these in combination.
#1 – Behavioral interview questions
These are questions you ask candidates to find out how they solved problems in the past and behaved in a certain situation. Here are some examples:
- How do you handle setbacks at work?
- A customer came back to you with a complaint and the fault is on your company’s end. How do you resolve the issue?
- Your employees have a conflict and you need to resolve it without taking sides. How do you go about this?
- You have a certain timeframe to complete a complex task. How do you prioritize the work to ensure you meet the deadline and not burn out?
You can use the STAR method to assess how they solve problems in specific situations:
S – Situation: how well did they explain the situation they faced?
T – Task: what was the task they had to complete in that situation?
A – Action: did they clearly show the action they took to resolve the problem?
R – Result: how did they explain the result, and measure success?
With the right set of questions and the application of the STAR method, you can see if your candidates have good problem solving skills or not. However, this method is not 100% reliable as your candidates could be less than honest in their responses, which brings us to the other methods.
#2 – Job simulation exercises
Instead of asking candidates to think of past experiences, you can put them in a real-life situation to judge how they think and react in real time. And see for yourself how analytical, creative, and competent they are. The best way to do this is with a simulation exercise .
Note that these job simulation tasks only resemble what the candidate will be doing in their job but shouldn’t include real data or customers to protect your business.
One such example is our Homework assessments . Designed as an assessment tool for hiring managers, Homework assessments offer 500 pre-built tasks you can give to potential candidates before inviting them for an interview or extending an offer.
Candidates can do these tasks on their own and in their free time. In our library, you can choose from a variety of tasks where candidates can show off their analytical skills and proficiency in solving problems.
Once they’re done, you can review the tasks and create shared notes for your entire team to review. Just like that, you’re one step closer to making a more confident hiring decision, and your candidates can practice solving problems without causing risks for your ongoing work.
#3 – Assessment tools
Putting candidates in different situations is a solid way to find out more about their problem solving skills. However, another fantastic way to see how they solve problems is by using skills assessment tools .
Tools like Toggl Hire allow you to create pre-employment tests often used in the first step of the hiring process. That way, you can tell early on how good someone is at solving problems and whether they have the key skills to meet the requirements for the job .
In our problem-solving skills test, we test for four crucial skills:
- Problem solving
- Innovative thinking
- Logical reasoning
- Decision making
Problem solving assessment template
The assessment takes only 15 minutes , making it a great alternative to submitting a resume and cover letter. Applicants love Toggl Hire because they get feedback rapidly, and know within minutes of completing the test if they are a good fit for the role. [ Grab the template here ]
#4 – References and past performance
Reference checking is a simple but effective way to evaluate the skills of potential candidates. To understand if someone has the right problem-solving skills for the job, simply ring up their past employers and ask!
The more specific your questions, the better. Ask about objectives and goals that they completed that stand out during their time with the company. Moreover, you need to make sure that they have a pattern in their performance. In other words, were they consistent in finding new ways to solve problems and tackle complex issues?
A word of caution.
References are not always reliable. Past employers may refuse to comment on an employee’s performance, or they could be forbidden from doing so by their contracts. Sometimes, you may be unable to get ahold of the point of contact. Other times, their feedback can be overly positive.
This is why it’s important to consider other possible solutions for assessing problem solving skills in combination with reference checks.
#5 – Cultural fit
When you have all of this information in one place, it’s time to find the last piece of the puzzle. In other words, to see if the way a candidate solves problems aligns with your values and company culture.
For example, you may have a customer who has a problem with their account and wants a full subscription refund. One approach to problem-solving, in this case, would be to give the full refund because the customer is right – no matter what.
On the other hand, someone else might try and talk to the customer and get them to stay. You can come up with different problem solving skills examples to inquire about during the interview stage.
The candidate should be able not just to solve problems, but also do it in a way that matches your company culture .
Employees with great problem-solving skills will always be in demand, no matter the profession or seniority level. However, testing for those skills can present a challenge for recruiters.
With the right tools, problem solving interview questions , and reference checks, you can determine if a candidate is a good problem solver or not.
If you need a bit more guidance on how to test for problem solving skills, try a ready-made Toggl Hire skills test to quickly screen candidates and determine who will continue to the job interview.
Juste loves investigating through writing. A copywriter by trade, she spent the last ten years in startups, telling stories and building marketing teams. She works at Toggl Hire and writes about how businesses can recruit really great people.
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When Your Go-To Problem-Solving Approach Fails
- Cheryl Strauss Einhorn
Eight steps to help you assess what’s not working — and why.
We make decisions all day, every day. The way we make decisions depends largely on context and our own unique problem-solving style. But, sometimes a tough workplace situation turns our usual problem-solving style on its head. Situationality is the culmination of many factors including location, life stage, decision ownership, and team dynamics. To make effective choices in the workplace, we often need to put our well-worn decision-making habits to the side and carefully ponder all aspects of the situation at hand.
Have you ever noticed that when you go home to your parents’ house, no matter what age you are, you make decisions differently than when you’re at work or out with a group of friends? For many of us, this is a familiar and sometimes frustrating experience — for example, allowing our parent to serve us more food than we want to eat. We feel like adults in our day-to-day lives, but when we step into our childhood homes we revert.
- Cheryl Strauss Einhorn is the founder and CEO of Decisive, a decision sciences company using her AREA Method decision-making system for individuals, companies, and nonprofits looking to solve complex problems. Decisive offers digital tools and in-person training, workshops, coaching and consulting. Cheryl is a long-time educator teaching at Columbia Business School and Cornell and has won several journalism awards for her investigative news stories. She’s authored two books on complex problem solving, Problem Solved for personal and professional decisions, and Investing In Financial Research about business, financial, and investment decisions. Her new book, Problem Solver, is about the psychology of personal decision-making and Problem Solver Profiles. For more information please watch Cheryl’s TED talk and visit areamethod.com .
Beyond the Carnegie Unit: Schools Are Already Testing Ways to Measure ‘Durable’ Skills
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What happens when a school district boosts test scores for students in poverty, raises their graduation rates, and gets more of them to enroll in college, but the students’ lives just don’t improve in the long-term?
That was the nightmare scenario facing David Miyashiro, the superintendent of the Cajon Valley Union schools in California. Nearly a decade ago, the high-poverty district just east of San Diego had undergone an overhaul to boost student achievement and a massive technology upgrade to promote digital and personalized learning. But educators who kept in touch with their students after they graduated saw that “they were still going into generational gangs, … they were repeating a cycle of poverty,” Miyashiro said.
“We were doing the game of school better and faster,” he said, “but still we’re not changing the postsecondary trajectory for our students.”
To improve those outcomes, Cajon Valley, starting in 2015,developed and began piloting the “World of Work,” a K-8 program in which students explore career interests and learn how skills like organization, investigation, or interacting with people underlie different jobs. Now, the district is working with the testing group ETS and the University of San Diego toassess those skills.
The goal is to give students a digital transcript of both content mastery and skills across high school classes and in jobs, clubs, or volunteering. The transcript could ultimately be converted into a resume aligned with the students’ career interests after graduation. This spring, the first class to participate in the program throughout all of secondary school will graduate.
Cajon Valley is part of a growing wave of efforts to assess students’ educational progress not just through content knowledge or classroom seat time, but through the so-called “durable skills” that are transferable across many different careers: skills like critical thinking, collaboration, communication, creativity, digital literacy, and civic engagement. Many of these have previously been called “soft skills” to contrast with career-specific “hard skills” like programming for a software developer. But experts consider these skills “durable” because they benefit students regardless of the career they pursue.
So, a transcript showing progress in these skills can help a student make a case for themselves to a variety of colleges or employers.
“For 40 years, we’ve heard from employers that we need more people who have these skills and we know that they are actually highly predictive of student success,” said Timothy Knowles, the president of the Carnegie Foundation, the education policy and research center.
Assessment and accountability systems, by their nature, focus on the things easiest to measure, like testing facts and procedures, or tracking students’ learning time in class. But as the saying goes, “what gets tested gets taught.” And to have students better prepared for life after high school, they need systems that credit broader skills.
‘A longer set of lenses’
The Carnegie Foundation developed the time-based credit system most used in high schools and colleges today. A standard Carnegie unit equates to 7,200 minutes of instruction—an hour each weekday for 24 weeks—to earn one credit in a given subject. A regular high school diploma in most districts requires 18 to 24 credit hours.
Now it’s spearheading the nationwide coalition working to push past the Carnegie unit and develop better systems for measuring student progress.Carnegie, ETS, the nation’s largest nonprofit assessment group; the nonprofit high school reform group XQ Institute, and the Chan-Zuckerburg Initiative education philanthropy, are working with districts across more than a dozen states to develop new systems to assess students’ content mastery.
( The Chan Zuckerberg Initiative supports coverage of whole-child approaches to learning at Education Week and provides general support for investments in Education Week’s technology infrastructure. Education Week retains sole control of its editorial content.)
But as states explore project- and competency-based assessments in subjects like math and reading, they also need “a longer set of lenses focused on how young people are developing skills” across both formal settings, like school, and informal settings, like sports or jobs, Knowles said. That’s where efforts like Cajon Valley’s come in.
Skills-based systems are already used or being developed in college and career settings. For example, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation has been developing learning and employment records , intended to be the educational equivalent of digital health records, and job networking sites like LinkedIn allow users to post commendations from others on a user’s skills. But these can be trickier to implement in a K-12 system.
Difficult to measure
The possibilities are wide-ranging. In the past year, ETS researchers analyzed a national sample of districts’ learning priorities— often called a “ portrait of a learner ” or a “ portrait of a graduate .” Thirty of the most often-prioritized skills—from academic habits and creativity to empathy and perseverance—are the most associated with long-term success in college and careers after high school.
Because these skills are developed across a wide range of environments, schools will need measure them within their subject-area assessments, said Lydia Liu, ETS associate vice president of research.
That might means their analyzing a student’s creativity in approaching a science experiment or their communication skills in algebra.
And technology has evolved to help obtain those measures. For example, Liu noted, educational software programs now can track students’ gestures, facial expression, and time on task to measure communication and collaborative problem-solving within a group project. Companies already track and use this kind of data, but advocates argue this approach would give studentsmore control over their records.
“In the past, we didn’t really have an adequate way to capture the interactions, to reflect the collaboration,” she said. “But now we have digital tools and platforms that could allow us to, for example, randomly assign the task to a group of four people and observe how they exchange information on the platform, how they present their own arguments, how they reconcile with somebody else’s opinions, and finally, how the group reaches a conclusion on how it’s best to solve the problem.”
The technology tools already exist to collect the data, but it’s a challenge to structure and validate assessments to award students credit.
Cajon Valley so far has used teacher observations and projects to show students’ growth.
Banaowsha Mikhael, for example, came to the district’s Magnolia Elementary School as an Iraqi refugee in 2015. As a 5th grader (shown in the video below), she gave a “TED-style” talk about how her refugee status affected her education, and how she had started to build on what she had learned to help translate for other students.
As a high schooler who now does regular public speaking (below), she called the early experience one of her “biggest accomplishments so far.”
Now, Miyashiro said, he hopes to work with ETS to develop objective measures to track student skills—and give students like Mikhael credit for their successes.
“We have been doing the work for seven years,” he said. “We just don’t have the assessments or the data system to capture it.”
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