Problem solving

You will encounter difficulties in any job and applications forms frequently ask for examples of when you have solved challenging problems and how you approached them. As part of the process you are likely to use critical thinking and analytical skills.

Understand it

In the workplace problem solving skills are about the capacity to:
  • Identify a problem by thinking critically about what you are dealing with
  • Break a problem down into each component and analyse relevant information, data and statistics
  • Consider a range of options open to you including the consequences of each
  • A SWOT analysis where you consider the strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats may help you to identify the best way forward
  • Use logical and/or creative thinking to highlight the most appropriate option
  • Decide on the best course of action and make a plan for how you will get there
  • Implement a solution and monitor progress

Develop it  

Problem solving skills can be developed through every day life experiences. The following examples can be developed as part of your degree, part-time work, sandwich placements, voluntary work, hobbies, clubs and societies:

  • Dealing with unexpected staff shortages at work
  • Resolving issues and conflict within your course (student rep)
  • Assisting with technical or IT problems in a part-time job
  • Handling complex customer complaints or queries in retail 

Demonstrate it 

Employers are always hungry for hard evidence. A lot of selection and interview practice is competency based. Basically that means that employers score the evidence they find from your application form, interview and other selection procedures to come up with a final assessment of your suitability for the post.

You will need to be reflective in the way that you describe the examples you have developed. The STAR approach where you explain the situation, task, action and result will help you to articulate your evidence in a convincing way. Identify examples of your problem solving skills in the Identifying Skills work sheet.

Examples of competency based questions used by graduate recruiters relating to problem solving skills:

  • Describe a problem situation where you had to seek out relevant information, define key issues, and decide on which steps to take to get the desired results. Please include details of the context, the actions you took, and the results that were achieved. (Unilever)
  • Describe a time when you overcame obstacles to achieve a successful outcome. What did you want to achieve? What challenges stood in your way? How did you address these? What was the outcome? What did you learn from the experience? (BBC)

The following sources of information will help you to develop your confidence in this area:   

Page last updated: Wednesday 24 July 2013