Assessing Problem-Solving Skills in Your Potential Hires

Written By Neha Ahmed

What are problem-solving skills?

Problem solving in the workplace refers to a person’s ability to handle difficult or unexpected situations and find solutions to complex business challenges. Employees with exceptional problem solving ability will carefully analyse the problem, identify a range of potential solutions, and correctly identify the most effective of the available solutions to remedy the situation. This ensures that employees in complex work who are relied upon to find effective solutions to key business issues are maximally equipped to deal with modern problems that face 21st century businesses.

Those with good problem solving ability will move the business forward more effectively.

Those lacking problem solving ability will inevitably recommend ineffective solutions to key business issues, solutions which will either fail to resolve the underlying issue or indeed exasperate it. For example, they may misinterpret the information presented to them, fail to identify effective solutions to problems, or provide solutions which are unsuitable or indeed counterproductive. Employees with poor problem solving ability cannot be relied upon when the unexpected happens, shifting the burden on other staff. As a result, problem solving ability is a common core competency when hiring professional, managerial, or technical roles, and highly prized by HR professionals and hiring managers.

How to Gauge Problem-Solving Skills in Your Prospective Employees

Different tests that employers could set to gauge a candidate’s problem-solving skills include:

Online aptitude, psychometric and ability tests.

These are normally taken as part of the application stage, although they may be repeated at an assessment center. The tests that are most likely to assess your problem-solving skills are situational judgement tests and any that assess your reasoning, such as inductive reasoning or diagrammatic reasoning tests.

Video ‘immersive experiences’, game-based recruitment exercises or virtual reality assessments.

Not all of these methods are widely used yet but they are becoming more common. They are usually the recruitment stage before a face-to-face interview or assessment center.

Case study exercises.

These are common assessment center tasks. You’d be set a business problem, typically related to the sector in which you’d be working, and asked to make recommendations for solving it, either individually or in groups. You’ll also usually be asked to outline your recommendations in either a presentation or in written form, a task that assesses your ability to explain your problem-solving approach.

In-tray (or e-tray) exercises.

These always used to be set at an assessment center but nowadays can also be part of the online testing stage. In-tray exercises primarily test your time management skills, but also assess your ability to identify a potential problem and take actions to solve it.

Job-specific or task-specific exercises, given at an assessment center or at an interview.

If set, these will be related to the role you are applying for and will either require you to devise a solution to a problem or to spot errors. Civil and structural engineering candidates, for example, will often be required to sketch a design in answer to a client’s brief and answer questions on it, while candidates for editorial roles may be asked to proofread copy or spot errors in page proofs (fully designed pages about to be published).

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