A Step-by-Step Guide to Problem Solving: Tips and Techniques

A Step-by-Step Guide to Problem Solving: Tips and Techniques

What you do is a lot more important than what’s on your resume. Problem-solving is an analytical skill that many hiring managers look for when reviewing candidates, so questions about how you solve problems should be anticipated in technical interviews. Demonstrating analytical thinking or the ability to break down large, complex problems, and then effectively communicating the solutions is often just as valuable, if not more so, than the baseline technical skills required for a job. In this blog post, I’ll explore methods for how to improve your problem-solving skills.

Follow the IDEAL Problem-Solving Method – Tips and Techniques

If you have a problem in which there isn’t a single best answer, you may use heuristic methods to arrive at a solution. A popular and quick to remember heuristic problem-solving method is IDEAL:

  • Identify the problem and gather information.
  • Define the context of the problem.
  • Explore possible solutions.
  • Act on the best solution.
  • Look back and reflect

Identify the problem and gather information

The first step in the creative problem solving process is to gather information about the problem. In order to effectively solve the problem, you need to know as much about the problem as possible. Be curious, ask questions, gather as many facts as possible, and begin to make logical deductions rather than assumptions. Ask questions about the problem. What do you know about the problem and what are your known unknowns? Can you diagram the process into separate steps or break it down into smaller chunks?

Define the context of the problem

There are multiple strategies that may be used to identify the root cause of a problem. A root cause analysis (RCA) is a problem-solving method that assists us with answering the question of why a problem occurred. The RCA uses a specific set of steps, with associated tools like the 5 Why Analysis” or the Cause and Effect Diagram, in order to determine your problem and its origin, why it occurred in the first place, and then you may resolve the problem so it won’t happen again. However, it’s important to note that RCA assumes a singular root cause of problems, which might not be the best way to think about problem solving because problems tend to be multicausal.

glasses with crumpled paper

Explore possible solutions

Once the underlying cause is identified and the scope of the issue is defined, the next step is to explore possible solutions to resolve our problem. It’s important to generate as many solutions as possible before we analyze the solutions or try to implement them.

There are many different methods for generating solutions, and when we have many different solutions in hand, we need to analyze these solutions to determine the effectiveness of each. One thing I like to consider when weighing multiple possible solutions is a cost/benefit analysis for solving the problem at hand, but also solving other problems that might not even be directly related to the main problem you’re solving. If it takes 20% more effort but solves a bunch of other issues that happen, it’s worth doing but that isn’t always considered if your sole focus is on the original problem.

One tool that can be useful for generating possible solutions is brainstorming.  The ultimate goal is to generate as many ideas and questions as you can, in a fixed amount of time. Although brainstorming is best done with a group, this can be practiced individually. Employers will often assess a candidate’s potential fit on a team through collaborative problem-solving challenges, as this is an important component of culture fit.

business meeting 

Act on the best solution.

In the previous step, you should have eliminated many of the possible solutions. With a short list of possible solutions you can do a final analysis to come up with the most optimal solution(s) to your problem, and then you can move forward with ideas for implementing your solution.

Look back and reflect

In problem solving it is always beneficial to look back and double check and interpret your solution. Basically, check to see if you used all your available information at hand and that your solution is optimal. Doing this will provide a learning opportunity and will assist you with predicting what strategies to use to solve future problems.

We went through IDEAL- now what?

The best way to become a stronger problem-solver is to challenge your thinking. Use a checklist initially, but then try to step away and see if you can organically make inquisitive thinking a habit of mind. When you run into a colleague and she has a problem and you have five minutes, try delving in and just start by asking questions. Use your intuition to figure out how she is talking about this problem, and perhaps there is a question or two you can ask her about the problem that can help her with rethinking her problem. Taking that approach to problems can often help you move forward in a more creative way than just immediately serving up sub-optimal solutions.

Conversely, if you are not sure how to solve a problem, it is okay to ask for input, especially if you’re in an interview. Problem solving is a process and a learned skill and it’s important to remember that everyone makes mistakes. No one knows everything so it’s okay and encouraged to ask for help when you don’t have an immediate answer.

As you’re preparing to ace your next interview, check out our previous blog posts, 7 Tips for Answering Interview Questions, focusing on common interview questions with tips on answering them accordingly.

Additional Resources

https://hbr.org/2015/11/get-more-innovative-by-rethinking-the-way-you-think

https://blogs.scientificamerican.com/guest-blog/the-science-of-problem-solving/

https://www.leadershipnow.com/leadingblog/problem_solving/

https://rubberduckdebugging.com/

More than Happy Hour: Culture Fit in the Workplace

More than Happy Hour: Culture Fit in the Workplace

The most successful teams tend to be composed of diverse individuals who all support and challenge one another to grow: Ocean’s Eleven, Germany’s football team in the 2014 World Cup, or even BTS. When each individual within a team brings their own expertise to the table and manages to successfully collaborate with their partners, they portray the positive effects of finding a “good culture fit.”

When you’re evaluated as a good culture fit, it means that your behavior and professional philosophies align with the employer’s values and interprofessional dynamics. Companies are not only looking for the right technical skills, but also searching for people who fit in, and even more so, add to their teams.

Is the company all about Marvel Mondays or Hawaiian Shirt Fridays? Does your team make bets on March Madness games? Or, does everyone keep to themselves? There’s no right or wrong answer, but it may make the difference between an environment that someone just survives in versus one that person thrives in. Employees who match the company’s personality are more likely to be satisfied with their job.

Culture fit interview questions aim to understand the candidates’ core values and personalities in the context of the open position. These questions come in all shapes and sizes (just like us) and there’s (usually) no right or wrong answer. Below is a sample of questions to think over:

Why do you want to work here?

While this may seem like a routine and standard first question to ask, you would be surprised by the intricacies of its assessment. Hiring managers can learn which candidates have done their research and which ones have not. They will listen and judge your reasoning.

Are they all reasons for why you don’t want to continue working with your current employer? Candidates who focus purely on the negatives of their current workplace do not answer this question well. It actually makes you look like the problem.

It’s important that you answer this question with reasons as to why both parties would benefit: How would you benefit in working at this company and what would the company gain in return?

Do you prefer working on your own, or with a team?

All roles require working with other people, though some roles require more independent and remote work than others. Mention your preference, but also take time to explain that you’re flexible working both independently and on a team.

What was your biggest failure and how did you overcome it?

Questions about your greatest failure are geared to understand your resilience, self-awareness, and vulnerability. Take your time in setting the scene, moment of adversity, and thought process, including how you personally grew from this experience. Everyone has failed at something, so you are not and do not need to be perfect. What sets you apart is how you’ve integrated lessons from each failure into your work and life. Attempt to couple your story with the company’s core values.

What management style motivates you to do your best work?

Every leader has a different style of motivating their team and every individual is not motivated by the same methods. Are you motivated by developing others, improving processes, or creating from scratch? Regardless of the answer, demonstrate self-awareness.

Describe a time when something really unfair happened at work and how you handled it.

Did a coworker throw you under the bus in front of a client? Did your boss give you a big project right before you went on vacation? What are your true values? Is it your integrity, reputation, and/or family?

More than likely, the hiring manager will attempt to dig deeper to understand your perception of personal responsibility in contrast with your expectations of others. Additionally, he or she will want to know how you handled the situation. Did you express your concerns to the team/manager? Were you only concerned about yourself or the whole team? Be aware of making the situation purely about yourself. Hiring managers want to build a successful team where everyone will support one another and help each other grow.

Remember to take some time before your interview to prepare for these culture fit questions, as well as some others that you might come across and check out our post 7 Tips for Answering Interview Questions. Good luck!

Beware of Counteroffers

Beware of Counteroffers

You aced the interview and landed the job of your dreams! Now comes the part you’ve been dreading: resigning from your current company. You imagined the conversation with your boss a million times and feel confident as you walk into his office.

As you expected, your boss is upset. But then he catches you off guard by presenting a counteroffer: an attempt by your current employer to encourage you to stay.

Career changes are often scary and leave you wrought with anxiety about leaving the familiar comfort of your current position. You may also be nervous about starting over and proving yourself in your new position.

Don’t let familiarity cloud your judgment.

Just because the move is scary, doesn’t mean you should accept that counteroffer, which could leave you confused and create buyer’s remorse down the road.

Counteroffers when job huntingIs the new position a positive step toward advancing your career?

Will it be better for you than your current position?

If you answered yes, then pursue the new position.

Why Companies Make Counteroffers

Some companies never make counteroffers, while others do it often. Consider what happens when an employee resigns:

1. Morale will most likely to suffer. Your resignation will probably be viewed as an unfavorable reflection on the company and/or your supervisor and could stall progress on a project, increasing the workloads for your colleagues.

2. It costs the company money. It’s expensive, in terms of time, energy, and money, to replace an employee. Therefore, it may be a cheaper solution to entice you to stay. The counteroffer may include a raise, promotion, change in job title or description, and future promises.

Beware: This “solution” may be a stalling technique that could hurt you in the long run. By convincing you to stay, the company buys itself time to finish a big project, restructure employees or find your replacement.

Companies who have it in their policy to make counteroffers may not be the type you want to work for anyway. They usually have high employee turnover costs and morale problems, so they make counteroffers because they weren’t taking care of their employees like they should have in the first place. Counteroffers cost companies a whole lot less than offering a higher salary, better benefits or more incentives from the beginning.

What Does a Counteroffer Sound Like?

The goal of a counteroffer is to get you to stay, so they are usually filled with praise and adulation, and may sound something like this:

“But you’re in the middle of a big project! You’re much too valuable to the team to desert us now! We were going to wait until next month, but we were just about to give you a raise/promotion to show you how much we appreciate your work. Why don’t we make it effective immediately instead?”

or

“That’s so surprising! We had no idea you were unhappy here. Let’s discuss this further before you make a final decision. We’ll make it worth your while to stay.”

or

“We have great plans for you here! Why would you want to throw away all that you’ve accomplished here just to start over at the other company?”

Why Counteroffers Don’t Work

Counteroffers are often very tempting and flattering. Sometimes, you may even detect a threatening undertone—implying that if you turn down the counteroffer, you’re ruining your entire career.

Here are a couple reasons why counteroffers very rarely work:

1. No matter what anyone says, you will always be the person who tried to quit. Trust and acceptance between you and your boss, and among your immediate colleagues will most likely be lost.

2. The reasons you thought about leaving in the first place will still be there. The counteroffer is a band aid that may temporarily cover up the problems that led you to seek out a new job, but those problems will resurface.

Research shows that 80 percent of employees who accept a counteroffer end up leaving within six months and 90 percent leave within 12 months.

Consider the flattery that makes up a counteroffer: is it really about you?

Remember that every company has a budget. If your counteroffer involves an increase in salary, is it just the raise you would’ve received in a couple months?

Job Counteroffers - what do you need to know?Something to Consider When Presented with a Counteroffer

Before you make a decision, consider your current position and the new position as if you were unemployed. Which position holds the most real potential? The answer is most likely the new one, or you probably wouldn’t have accepted it to begin with.

What should you do with a Counter Offer?

Every recruiter out there has dozens of sob stories involving counteroffers. If you’re ready to leave a job, leave. The attractiveness of the counteroffer will not change your feelings about your current position in the long run.

When You Resign

Avoid any misunderstanding by submitting your resignation in writing. Email is usually the preferred method because it serves as a record of what was said.

In your letter of resignation, focus on the positive opportunity you’ve been offered with your new company and do not feel pressured to explain your reasons for resigning if you do not want to discuss them.

Handling your resignation right the first time is imperative for a clean and positive exit. Strive to be professional and courteous at all times during the process and offer to help during the transition time.

7 Tips for Answering Interview Questions

7 Tips for Answering Interview Questions

Unlike job descriptions, interview questions are much less straightforward in terms of revealing an employer’s expectations. Interviewers are trying to assess if you have the experience, skills, and talent to succeed in the role and if your personality and desired career trajectory complement their company. The most common pitfall is walking into an interview with the mindset that the employer is trying to get to know you. They are most certainly not. Every question interviewers ask is a mostly subtle, sometimes obvious method of getting to know you only in relation to the position at hand. So, make sure you adapt your answers based on the role and company. Below are 7 Tips for Answering Interview Questions, focusing on common interview questions, translated for clarity, and tips on answering them accordingly to help you ace your next interview.

Tips for Answering Interview Questions

1. Tell me about yourself. This may seem like a friendly conversation starter, but its purpose is far more profound. Remember that an interviewer only cares about you when in relation to the open position that they want to fill. By asking this questions, they are really asking you why you are the person they should hire for this role. Demonstrate your dual fit: describe your relevant experience and accomplishments along with your personality in relation to professional ability and personal career ambitions. This is your opportunity to provide a soundbite to employers of why they should choose you for the job. Don’t try to cover too many points or you risk losing the interviewer’s attention. Keep the message simple and clear.

Tell me about yourself

2. Why are you interested in this role? Many people approach this question as a way to compliment the position’s potential, the employer(s), and the company. But, this is already information the interviewer knows. They understand what they are offering, and they know you wouldn’t be here if you didn’t also value the role and company. What they really want to know is how much you understand the role and its responsibilities and the company and its mission. Show them your genuine passion and well-researched knowledge. You know what it is you are getting into, and exactly why you want to pursue this role at this company.

3. Where do you see yourself in five years? Employers want to know if your career trajectory aligns with what they have to offer as a company. If you want to branch off in a different direction, then you are not likely to stay in this position. This makes you, by default, a bad potential hire. If the position you are interviewing for continues you down the path you hope to go, then explain your goal and how this company is a great fit for you. Be sure to also demonstrate your knowledge of the company through your answer. If this position isn’t as obviously situated with your career trajectory, or you are unsure of your career goals, then explain to the employer what skills and knowledge you hope to gain through this role that ultimately lays foundational groundwork for your future. Incorporate the idea that this company is a contributor to your future, not a stepping stone for your success.

4. What is/are your weakness(es)? Interviewers already know what skills or experiences you are lacking or missing. What they are doing is giving you the chance to appease their concern of potential obstacles you may face in this position. They are expecting you to be self-aware and value self-improvement. Prior to the interview, go through the job description and your resume. Then, after identifying potential weaknesses, prepare responses that either explain how you will compensate or demonstrate how you have already overcome similar problems in the past. A common mistake that I hear through this question is, “I’m a quick learner.” Show them you are a quick learner with an example – one that has a successful result or accomplishment – rather than tell them. Unsupported claims do not travel far in terms of reliability.

5. Tell me about a situation or accomplishment you are most proud of. This is often misconstrued as a personality-only question. Remember: the employer only cares about you in relation to this job. So, pick an example that is most relevant to the current position and demonstrate why you can serve and, better yet, further the company’s needs. In order to deliver this answer in a clear manner, use the STAR method: explain the situation, walk the interviewer through your thought process, narrate your action steps, and describe the results.

How to answer interview question about accomplishment

6. How would co-workers and/or supervisors describe you? When answering this question, keep in mind that employers will have access to previous co-workers and/or supervisors through your references. They are assessing if your self-description, which displays your self-awareness, matches the descriptions provided by those who have already worked with you. Yes, they are definitely looking for the classic hallmarks of a good hire: team-oriented, ability to take initiative and problem-solve effectively, and motivated to learn/grow through a position. The trick is to make sure your answer will align with potential answers provided by your references.

7. Do you have any questions? Not only are interviewers assessing what is important to you through your inquiries, but they are also trying to see if you have been engaged with them throughout the interview process. Prepared questions are definitely recommended, especially questions aimed at the interviewer’s personal experiences at the company. They are also very common. Stand out by asking the interviewers about crucial topics they perhaps did not cover during the interview: company culture, potential challenges, potential for growth and so on. With these types of questions, you are essentially filling in the blanks information-wise and demonstrating to the interviewers that you have been paying attention and you want to fully understand the candidate profile they are seeking.

Before every interview, place yourself in the position of the recruiter, human resources professional, or hiring manager and prepare answers that highlight your specific fit for their role and for their company. Get feedback from family, friends, colleagues, and even from prior interviewers. Similar to your resume, interviews are not only about who you are and what you have done or can do but also about how you present your personality, skills, and experiences.

Tools for Setting SMART Goals

Tools for Setting SMART Goals

Setting goals, whether short or long term, is an ongoing and effortful process. Many people tend to set personal and professional goals with a to-do list mindset and superficial consideration. Goal-setting is adeptly illustrated by Aesop’s “The Tortoise and The Hare” fable. When we rush to set goals and consistently compare our progress against others, we become the hare who eventually loses the race. So, let’s take a look at the tortoise’s strategy. And find out how you can begin to set smart goals. 

  1. The hare ran the race to ridicule and beat the tortoise. The tortoise ran the race to prove he could run. They both ran for the specific reason why, a reason that reiterated or added to their self-image. Similarly, start with why you want to set goals in the first place. By understanding the origins of your ambitions, you can discern in which ways your goals will set you up to succeed. When goals tie back into your long-term vision, even if they are short-term in nature, you are much more likely to adhere to them. By framing the why behind the what, you can better define what your goals are and develop strategies to maintain your commitment to them.
  1. The extract above from the fable dually serves as a reminder of how to effectively define our goals. For the hare to be successful, it mattered solely on the tortoise’s progress – not his own. He is not the main character in his definition of success. But, the tortoise established a firm, self-relying reason why he proposed the race. After creating a list of goals, evaluate if how you define success relies on you or others. When you define success in relation to your ability only, you are more readily accepting of difficulties as challenges you can overcome rather than setbacks you cannot surmount. 
  1. The tortoise set an extremely effective goal following the SMART framework: run one marked distance (specific), timed by a judge (measurable), a task he knows he can accomplish (achievable), to prove he can run (relevant), starting as soon as possible (timely). When you adhere to the SMART framework of goal-setting, you provide an effective way to measure your progress towards a goal you know is both doable and supportive of your vision. The more ambiguous you are when defining your goals, the less likely you are in maintaining your drive to achieve them.
  1. As extensive as the process is in setting your goals, the journey to fulfilling them is equally as intensive. Unlike the hare, do not get complacent and procrastinate! The tortoise was able to achieve his goal because he remained steadfast in his pacing and his focus. Be sure to keep your goals in a visible area.  In this way, you will be frequently reminded of your potential destination. Schedule reminders to check on the progress of your goals weekly or biweekly so you can evaluate if your current strategy is effective enough. Goals should not be viewed as something to achieve in the future. They should be seen as daily tasks. If the process of achieving your goal is embedded within your daily routine, then you will be that much more likely to stick to it. 

With the holiday season around the corner, we all have the opportunity to get an early start on our goal-setting for the upcoming year! 

 

Stay motivated during the holidays with these tips

Stay motivated during the holidays with these tips

As we enter the holiday season, it is all too easy to lose momentum as we juggle personal obligations and professional responsibilities. The holiday schedule divides our work week into too-short-to-be-actually-productive fractions, and yet our to-do lists keep swelling in size. Between stress, enjoyment, and productivity, we sacrifice the latter. Instead of attempting to bulldoze through our multiplying commitments, it would be wiser to modify our approach altogether and adopt the holiday mindset to our advantage. Learn how to stay motivated during the holidays this year and get ready for the new year!

stay motivated during the holidays

5 tips to stay motivated during the holidays

  1. The holiday season often initiates and encourages self-reflection. Consider your accomplishments and setbacks for the year, both professionally and personally. Be sure to celebrate those wins and recall how you were able to achieve them. What was your mindset? What steps did you take? How did you handle obstacles, if any? Take those answers and apply them to your setbacks. By reflecting on how you navigated wins, losses, and ties, you can gain more insight and individualize your improvement.
  2. In conjunction, you can set achievable, reasonable, and effective goals allowing small wins in the short-term. This will tee you up for a successful next year. Do not overcommit and do not undersell yourself. For help constructing this balance, we have an article on goal setting for you!
  3. It’s not a secret that administrative tasks take up a disproportionate amount of time in many workloads. Taking the time to schedule out appointments, vacations, errands, and reservations ahead of time gives you the chance to visualize your upcoming week(s). You automatically make room to focus on your to-do list and even leave time for any necessary recuperation.
  4. Set yourself up for success in the coming year by using the holiday schedule for personal and professional outreach. People love to reconnect during the holidays and typically feel more generous in spirit! Take this chance to reach out to friends, networks, colleagues, and companies and seek out opportunities for growth. Even if these conversations are held unofficially, they can still be goldmines for feedback and ideas. Check out our article about the best time to look for a job to fully arm yourself for the new year!
  5. Change up your routine! The holiday season requires more from us: more tasks, more energy, more planning, more small-talk, more money, more reflection, more everything. Maximize time each day by waking up earlier to answer emails, using each night to plan or review the next day’s schedule, and shifting your obligations into an order governed by efficiency rather than convenience!

Enjoy Yourself

The main takeaway from this article is to remember the unparalleled benefit of the holidays. It is one of the best opportunities to truly leave work at work, mentally and physically. For some, it is spending our time laughing with family, and for others, it is spending alone time relaxing. No matter how you choose to celebrate the season, be sure to utilize it to your advantage at home and work. This is when you can clearly stay motivated during the holidays and be your most productive.