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Skill: Problem Solving

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The world is full of problems that require a solution. This also applies to working environments. It is therefore not surprising that many vacancies ask for people who have good problem-solving skills or who are solution-oriented. But what exactly do these cries mean?

It is often not so difficult to establish that there is a problem. A manager sees that his employees are dissatisfied, the management determines that the targets have not been achieved and the secretary sighs that the printer will not work for the third time this week.

The question is much more difficult: how do you solve these problems? There are different ways for this:

- by thoroughly analyzing the problem and addressing the causes
- by searching for a practical solution

These ways don't exclude each other, but have a different character. The first way is thorough but (often) slow, the second way is fast, but not always sufficient for solving the entire (or true) problem. It is also by the nature of the problem which solution method is preferred.

Look back and analyze the problem

Knowing what exactly is causing the problem and finding a viable solution for all elements: that is a thorough, rational approach that often leads to a well-founded solution. A good problem analysis precedes the solution of the problem. By knowing cause and effect and weighing solutions against each other, you come to a well-considered decision about what the right solution is. In this way the true problem is sorted out to the bottom and solved.

Disadvantage: this approach takes time (sometimes so much that the problem has already solved itself) and can get stuck in accusing fingers. Moreover, this way of working sometimes leads to much insight without coming to a solution. People then focus too much on the problem and too little on the result (the realization of the desired situation).

Solution-oriented work

Often situations require a quick, effective solution, even if this doesn't resolve the problem to the bottom. It is even possible to correct a problem without thoroughly figuring out where exactly the problem comes from. A quick solution can be achieved by asking:

- What is the situation that I want to achieve?
- What has already been achieved and how has it been achieved?
- Have certain solutions worked well in the past? If yes which one?

Anyone who asks these questions is likely to get ideas for tackling the problem. These ideas are steps towards the solution. Often these are very small steps, but once the start has been made, it is easier to take a new step in the direction of the solution.

Anyone who works in a solution-oriented manner in this way doesn't focus his attention so much on the problem, but on the solutions that present themselves and which may turn out well.

A disadvantage of this way of working: it can lead to solutions, because the fundamental problem is not really solved, or sometimes even comes to light.

This method often works well for quick solutions of not too serious problems. Many organizations are very happy with employees who master this approach, because things are resolved decisively and effectively, even if only for the short term.

- What kind of problem solver are you?
- Are you pragmatic, flexible and customer-oriented ?
- Do you always find an answer to all questions?
- Do you like to tackle and are you a real doer ?
- Are you satisfied if a result is achieved quickly ?
- If you recognize yourself in these types, then there is a good chance that you are quite solution- oriented.
- Or are you more a thinker and do you work rationally?
- Do you like to view things from different sides ?
- Do you loathe superficiality and do you find quality of great importance?
- Does it not all be so quick for you, as long as it is done well?

You probably fit in more with organizations that are involved in solving complex problems and that take the time to do so.

Again: one way is no better than the other, and they don't exclude each other. One method is more suitable for some problems and the other for others. Anyone who works at an IT organization and needs to develop a new piece of software is advised to work extremely thoroughly. But if there is a notification that an important database has failed at a customer, then you immediately come up with a solution that works within fifteen minutes, even if the problem is not completely solved for the long term. You will work on that long-term solution if the acute problem has been resolved for a while.

How do you demonstrate when you apply that you have problem-solving skills?

First of all, ask yourself what kind of problem solver an organization is looking for if they ask in the vacancy text for someone who has problem solving capacity or is solution-oriented. Do they want someone who seeks out problems in-depth and makes well-considered and meticulous rational decisions? Or are they looking for someone who quickly comes up with a solution that works, if it's not forever? And maybe they are looking for someone who can do both.

In your letter of application, give a concrete example of how you have solved a problem. Use the STAR method for this .

For example, write: "In my job as a branch manager I have a lot to do with large and small problems. I always try to solve things in such a way that the customer notices the problem as much as possible. That is my first goal. Then I make time to really analyze the problem together with a few people involved, so that we can find a real long-term solution. In this way we were able to solve a problem with moldy cheese in our store. We were immediately able to satisfy the customers with a new piece of cheese from a different brand. Then we went to see how it could have happened that we had a batch of moldy cheese on the shelves. It came to light that there was something really wrong with the packaging department. I'm glad we found it, so that bigger problems are avoided. "

Prepare for the interview to questions like:

- Describe a serious problem that you encountered in your work. How did you do that?
- Has a problem ever been prevented because you signaled it in time? What kind of problem was that?
- Can you give an example of a situation in which the results of your work fell short of expectations? What do you think were the causes?
- Has a problem ever occurred that you had not anticipated? How did you proceed?

Through these questions the selection committee will want to find out how analytical and / or decisive you are in solving problems.

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