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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/

Enhancing Your LinkedIn Profile

Enhancing Your LinkedIn Profile

Your LinkedIn profile is often the first thing recruiters will look at to learn more about you and your experience. So polishing up your profile can make all the difference when trying to establish lasting impressions.

Much like resume preparation, you want your profile to pop! Recruiters and hiring managers go through droves of applicants each day.  You need to ensure you do not get passed over because of a sloppy LinkedIn profile.

Here are some key aspects for enhancing your LinkedIn profile:

1.      Quality Headshots

Your profile picture should be indicative of how you present yourself in the workplace. This doesn’t mean you have to run out and get professional headshots taken. Instead, you want to make sure you are using a photo with a purposeful setting. Position yourself in such a way that you have complementary lighting as well as a simple backdrop. Try to avoid grainy group pictures that need to be awkwardly cropped to include only you.

“Statistics show that LinkedIn members with a photo receive far more engagement: 21 times more profile views and 9 times more connection requests.” – LinkedIn.com

2.      Brief yet Informative

Again, recruiters go through tons of profiles.  Make sure to include key points at each position and leave it at that. You want to present the cliff notes of your background and not an autobiography. If your highlighted skills are of interest, they will reach out and ask for more in-depth information on your background.

3.      Creative Summary

Your summary statement is at the very top of your profile and you can use this to quickly grab people’s attention. Do not only say things like “Research Scientist – Cell Biology.” This is uninformative, broad, and lacks personality. Viewers want to not only see your professional experience, but they are also looking to get to know you as a person.

“You get 2,000 characters total for your summary, but only the first three lines display by default. That means you either need to pack the most essential information in up front, or you need to create suspense  This encourages profile viewers to click the Show more link… Customizing your headline also gets you to All-Star status (assuming you’ve completed all of the steps listed in the last section), which, according to LinkedIn, makes your profile 27 times more likely to appear in recruiter searches.” – Zapier.com

4.      Banner Image

Most people do not change the banner portion of their profile. While the default LinkedIn banner image is appropriate, spicing it up is a great way to stand out from other profiles. You could include cover art from a paper you were on or your favorite fluorescent image of cells you work with. The key is to keep it professional.

Linked In banner image best practices

 

5.      Joining Societies and Groups

There are thousands of society and group pages on LinkedIn. Join pages that are applicable to your work, such as the American Chemical Society or local groups for networking. You’ll be surprised at how many connections you can make online through common groups.

“There are around 2 million groups on LinkedIn and nearly 90% of users are a member of at least one group. It’s like a field ready to harvest when you join groups where your perfect market is and with a small amount of engagement and adding value you can start generating clicks through to your profile. Don’t make groups all about you and what you’re currently doing but add value to its members and they will want to check you out!” – Linkedin.com

6.      Link to Other Digital Work

You worked hard for your publications!  They should be showcased. You can include publications and patents on your LinkedIn profile.  You can also add in a link to your Google Scholar profile or e-portfolio. Make sure to cross-pollinate as much as possible so that it is very easy for viewers to find your publications.

7.      Keep your Information Up to Date

This point cannot be stressed enough! If you have a new position, location, certification, etc., you need to update your profile with this information. Including all your updated information makes it much easier for recruiters to identify jobs that fit you best.  It also makes it easy for them to contact you. Make sure things such as your email and phone number are updated so that you aren’t getting job listings sent to an email you never open anymore.

The Reward of Enhancing Your LinkedIn Profile:

Your online presence is a critical component to initial sourcing for positions. Setting up a professional LinkedIn profile with key information and easy-to-access links to your portfolio is imperative. Having a sloppy profile can give recruiters and employers the wrong first impression. Shoot for a blend of essential information and personality.  This way viewers see you and your experience. Try and customize your profile as much as possible! Your goal is to entice viewers with your skills and expertise in such a way that you are memorable.

5 tips for crafting a professional resume

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.

Finding a job after college in the Pharmaceuticals & Biotech Industry

Finding a job after college in the Pharmaceuticals & Biotech Industry

5 Steps to get your career started in the Pharmaceuticals & Biotech Industry!

There are many recent graduates that are entering pharmaceuticals and biotech workforce every year. Embarking on a new journey and opening a new chapter of your life can be challenging and overwhelming… this is completely normal and you are NOT alone.

Finding a job and kick starting your career is no easy task. It involves hard work, research, commitment and patience. Here are 5 steps to jump start your career!

Customize your resume 

Many headhunters and pharmaceutical recruiters today use applicant tracking systems to scan resumes for keywords. This means that if you do not have specific job related keywords built into your resume you may never receive this opportunity. Finding a job

In order to set yourself up for success it is important to edit your resume to incorporate specific job description keywords into your resume. Take a look at the job requirements and required skills and align your resume to match keywords within these two sections.

Check job postings daily

In order to put yourself in the best position for a job – try and check biotech or pharmaceutical opportunities daily and apply to a job within the first 48 hours after it’s posted. To get into a good routine, start off your day by searching for new job openings each morning. There are different job boards that allow you to set up daily notification based on a custom search that best fits your interests, qualifications and location.

If you have specific companies in mind that you are looking to join follow them on social to make sure you are staying on top of all career opportunity updates.

Use your network

Finding a jobMost colleges maintain an online alumni database that grads can use to get contact information. Other medical colleges set up different graduate programs to assist in career building and education.

Don’t be afraid to reach out to your high school or college network. Utilize these connections to learn more about a specific industry or about a particular company.

NOTE: When contacting alumni you are reaching out for information and/or advice. It’s important to remember you are not reaching out to land a job right away. Instead, if the alumni is local, ask to meet up for coffee to chat about questions that you have prepared. Always be organized, professional and appreciative of their time.

NEWS

You may not have a job just yet – but it’s important to understand what’s going on in “your” field. Making sure you are always up to speed on industry related news could be important in future interviews or once you actually start a job. Join different social groups, read different online publications or blogs, be active on social media channels.

Expanding your knowledge will only help you with you future career search!

Being prepared

To actually get the job you will need to have a great interview. In order to put yourself in the best position you should be prepared. If you research common interview questions and prepare ahead of time this will give you the confidence you need when these questions come up.

Make sure you research the company and do your homework. Have questions prepared, read the company’s website, follow them on social media and make sure you are doing your due diligence on all ends.

GOOD LUCK!

How to Build Resilience as a Jobseeker

How to Build Resilience as a Jobseeker

job seeker challenges by Cliff Mintz  There was a very insightful article in this past Tuesday’s NY Times Science Section entitled “Building Resilience in MIdlife.” that I thought was applicable to the challenges that many job seekers face while searching for a new job or pondering a career change.These insights were offered in a book entitled ‘Resilience:The Science of Mastering Life’s Greatest Challenges’ by Dr. Dennis Charney, a resilience researcher and dean of the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai in New York after being shot several years ago by a disgruntled former employee while leaving a NYC deli.

Practice Optimism. According to Dr. Charney, optimism is part genetic, part learned. That said, looking for a job in a highly competitive field without success can easily lead to feelings of defeat, failure and even depression. Put simply it’s normal to feel sad or “down” when things are not going your way during a job search. Rather than succumb to pessimism, Dr. Charney suggests that learning to think positive thoughts and surrounding yourself with optimistic people (there are people out there who ARE really optimistic all the time) can help. It’s easier to think more optimistically if the people around you are upbeat and always putting a positive rather than negative spin on things. I am not suggesting that that you jettison all of your pessimistic friends but finding new optimistically-thinking ones will not only increase the breadth and size of your social circle but may also help to elevate your emotional state during a frustrating job search.

Rewrite Your Story. Instead of focusing on your shortcomings or difficulties that you have experienced, it may help to change your internal narrative and focus on accomplishments (rather than setbacks) and things that you may have learned about yourself to this point in your life journey. While this may sound like an existential exercise, changing the internal story that you tell yourself (from a negative to a more positive one), may help you to feel better about yourself and make things easier for you. And believe me–from my own personal experiences– others around you will notice the change; most importantly prospective employers and hiring managers!

Don’t Personalize Your Failures. Everyone tend to blame themselves for life’s setbacks and ruminate about the decisions that they have made to put them in difficult situations. A way to counteract this is to recognize that, generally speaking ,other factors and uncontrollable life events likely contributed to the so-called bad decisions that you made. In other words, unexpected, mitigating factors not simply your poor judgement, likely contributed to the situation that you find yourself in. Recognizing this may help to assuage that nagging tendency to blame yourself for your current situation and may also allow to “learn from your mistakes” to avoid making them in future personal and career decisions.

Remember Your Comebacks. It is easy to wallow in your failures and feel bad about your current situation. Rather than letting things get you down, try to remember times earlier in life when you were able to overcome adversity and still “land on your feet.” This will remind you that you have the skills and experience to overcome a current “bad” situation. Also, it may be helpful to read about others who seemingly failed and were able to turn those failures into positive personal and career moves. In my experience, failure is a key ingredient to a successful and meaningful career.

Take Stress Breaks. Stress is a fact of life that nobody can escape. Rather than succumb to life’s constant unrelenting stresses, it is important to take breaks to regroup and push forward.  For example, take walks, have lunch with friends, go to the gym or even meditate. One way that I relieved stress as a graduate student and postdoc was to play intramural softball as much as I could and then drink beer with teammates after the games. Putting your “head down” and pushing forward will not relieve stress or eliminate anxiety in your life.

Step Out of Your Comfort Zone. It is easy to continue to do the same thing even if that thing is stressful or hurtful because you are comfortable (despite assertions to the contrary) with what you know. However, doing the same thing over and over again  because your are familiar with it will not improve your current situation or change how you feel on a daily basis. Perhaps, taking yourself out of your comfort zone and placing yourself in new challenging positions  may help to overcome those feelings of “being stuck.”  For example, if you don’t want to do laboratory research for the rest of your career, learn new skills (that may have always frightened you) to help find a non-laboratory PhD job in the pharmaceutical or biotech industry.

While doing the things that Dr. Charney recommends may not materially improve your current job situation or career choice, they may help  you to look at the world in different terms, feel better about yourself and provide some clarity/insights into t future career directions or job choices.

Until next time…

Good Luck and Good Job Hunting!!!!!!!!