How to Identify a Problem Solver

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How to Identify a Problem Solver

By: Harry Joiner

As an executive recruiter, I interview a lot of people. And while most candidates find a way to look good on paper, their resumes don't always reveal how good of a problem solver they are. Yet all of my clients want to hire problem solvers - people who can walk into their operation and make their problems go away.

This is understandable. Business, of course, is all about problems. In fact, whether your business is in growth mode or decline, you will always have problems. And it's management's job to either come up with the answers, or hire people who will. This article is about the latter.

How We Learned about Solving Problems

Through conventional classroom education, most of us have come to believe that there is usually a right or a wrong answer to a problem. As such, we tend to study our most pressing business problems to find a single "right" answer - as if we are solving for X in a math problem. Yet in the business world, many problems don't become clearer the more we study them. Instead, they may become larger and more confusing. Problems involving a mix of personalities and dynamic markets can be especially vexing.

Naturally, hiring managers who fail to understand the nature of their business problems will find it difficult to hire someone who can solve them.

Seven Steps to Successful Problem Solving

When solving problems - whether in real life or in a job interview - it's important to follow a logical process. Most business problems are not solved because people don't define the "real problem" clearly. Therefore, the strength of a job applicant's problem solving ability can be seen by walking them through the following seven step framework while getting them to describe how they solved a real life problem in their last job. When discussing a problem that they solved in a previous job, the applicant should demonstrate an ability to:

1.) Define the problem: Have the candidate identify what went wrong by including both a cause and an effect in the definition in the problem they solved.

2.) Define the objectives: Have the candidate explain the outcome he wanted to achieve as a result of solving the problem.

3.) Generate alternatives: How many alternatives did the candidate generate? Did the quality of the alternatives vary greatly? Was there a significant difference in the hard (and soft) costs associated with each idea? And so on. This is the area in which the candidate can demonstrate their creativity and resourcefulness as a problem solver.

4.) Develop an action plan: Have the candidate recap their detailed action plan. Most action plans for tough problems involve taking several steps over a period of time. In his recap, does the candidate specify who did what? And by what dates? The devil is in the details, and detailed problem solvers are usually more effective than generalists.

5.) Troubleshoot: This is where the candidate can recap the worst cases scenarios. What could have gone wrong in his plan? What might have been the side effects? How did the candidate ensure this plan would work? Were there any unintended consequences?

6.) Communicate: Getting information to the right people is key for getting the buy-in to make it a success. Have the candidate address which individuals or groups affected the success of his action plan. Does he explain who was impacted by it and who needed to be informed about it? How did he communicate with relevant parties? The most effective executives are those who can leverage their time and talents by getting things done through other people. This is your opportunity to build your company's management bench.

7.) Implement: Have the candidate address who carried out the plan and monitor its implementation. Who was accountable for each part of the solution? What were the consequences for failure to meet the plan? Try to determine: As a manager, will the candidate be "hard on the issues and soft on the people?"

Drilling down on how a candidate has solved problems in the past will give you a good idea of how they will solve problems in the future. Think in terms of the quality, consistency, and costs of their solutions. During the interview, you must get the candidate to be specific about their problem solving experience. Minimize the chances of being duped by getting the candid to recap in vivid detail exactly what happened in a given situation.

Think like a little kid: Ask "Why?" or "How?" to everything they say. If you don't challenge them during the interview process, you may pay a steep price later for your lack of persistence.

About The Author

Harry Joiner comes to The SearchLogix Group from Reliable Growth, an Atlanta-based Sales and Marketing consultancy which he founded in August 2001.) Working with Fortune 500 clients such as Aflac Insurance and NCR Corporation, Harry is a recognized thought-leader in the area of new business development. He has a long history of developing domestic and international markets in multiple industries including software, food, insurance, telecoms and shipping. Harry's regular columns have appeared in ERP Tips; Institutional Distributor magazine; and Marketing & Technology magazine. His creative business development ideas have been featured in Competitive Edge magazine, TEC World News, the Journal of Business & Industrial Marketing, Best of Law Marketing, and the CPA Marketing Report. You can email Harry at


Human 23.09.2008. 04:48

What is the best way to learn all the Mathematical concepts in a short amount of time? Generally books contain lots of stories and explanations
How to comprehend all mathematical concepts in a short amount of time...
By the way I wanted to ask this question.What is the secret behind a good problem solver?
What makes someone talented in math
What makes someone talented in problem solving


Admin 23.09.2008. 04:48

Solving mathematical problems is best accomplished by breaking down a problem into smaller pieces. Eventually, you'll come to a piece small enough that you know how to do it.

For example, when looking at a lengthy equation, there shouldn't be any pressure to get the answer quickly. Rather, one should identify which parts can be substituted for, evaluated, or simplified, and proceed slowly. Doing more than one operation on each new line is a good way to make mistakes.

Even more important than innate ability is finding someone who can explain mathematics in a way you understand. If your teacher can't do this, find someone else in the class who can. One good explanation is worth ten bad ones.


yankee 24.07.2011. 07:53

Which major forces does Dante identify in his poem? Which major forces (internal and/or external, individual and/or collective) does Dante identify in his poem as responsible for producing disorder in the world he inhabited that are still at large in the world today? Does Dante's analysis offer any new solutions to these problems?


Admin 24.07.2011. 07:53

infidelity and lust, gluttony, anger, greed, profligacy, nepotism (or simony), self-justification and defense of these wrongs, as well as all kinds of violence and treacheries--which are, perhaps, intensifications of infidelity, lust, greed, and so on

Are these still in force?

Anthony Weiner, John Edwards, Mark Sanford, epidemic obesity, the gunman in Norway, Bernie Madoff, the scandals in the Catholic church, etc. Politicians giving favors to others from whom they want something. The particulars have changed--Paola and Francesca have been reincarnated, Ciaccio is now younger, and I can't cite the names of the people who have protected priestly abuses, and so on, but the world is the same as it was then: debased, corrupt, and treacherous--with some pockets of shining goodness (getting harder to see them, though).

Dante is a literary artist, not a problem solver. The sins of incontinence can still be solved by the will, as those in Purgatory solve them (the avaricious can look at the ground until they are worthy to look up to see God, gluttons can stop eating, the lustful can still burn in purifying fire; perhaps Bill Clinton has learned this). The sins of violence and fraud cannot be atoned for because they infect character too deeply. If one can get out of oneself and say, as those in Paradise do, in His will is our peace, one can be redeemed. Those are solutions. New they are not.

As Ecclesiastes says, however, there is nothing new under the sun.


Disco Diva 11.05.2007. 16:32

What can be used to keep bugs away from veggie garden that is not a pesticide? We are new to country living, and have planted a large veggie garden. I want to keep it pesticide free, but we are worried about bugs.

Disco Diva

Admin 11.05.2007. 16:32

check out these websites...

they have "pest problem solvers" which will help you identify the areas you need to address...

also check out Organic Materials Review Institute... as a certified Organic Grower I only use items on this list. Also~ are you fertilizing using organic products? I reccomend Fish Emulsion... I use it on EVERYTHING!!

Have Fun!!!!


Isaac S 10.05.2011. 01:54

How should I study for my Electric Circuits 2 final? This is assuming you have taken this course (Doesn't matter what college) and have an idea of whats the best way to study for the final. Obviously different professors will teach the course differently but I'm just looking for ideas. Thank you.

Isaac S

Admin 10.05.2011. 01:54

The subjects are taught with some text as background. Get to identify the questions at end of chapters in these texts and try answering them. Do not jump from one problem to another until you have understood why the problem was asked in the first place. each problem often is a way of getting the student understand some intricacies. It might help to make subtle changes in the problem and solve it again. If you have a simulator such as Circuit maker, it might be helpful, as this software solves problems much faster!! Note however there are times when it can go wrong (mostly becuase you have not enetered right set up values).
Search through books such as problem solver in electrical circuits, schaums series books and so on. Some snippets are available in "google books". ALL THE BEST


sarahh . 04.03.2010. 16:50

Where Can I Find A Free Algebra Solver? I need a free algebra solver website or download or something. I'm terrible at math and if I dont pass, im not gonna graduate. no one im around is good at math either. so any help is appriciated, thanks.

sarahh .

Admin 04.03.2010. 16:50

Euler is the name of the program. I think it is on

You need to examine the sample problems, understand each step of the sample solution. To make sure you understand, cover the solution with an index card and try to write it down from memory, understanding why you write down each step.

Now, look at the back of the book. Usually there are the result of the solutions for the odd-numbered problems.

Go to those problems in the chapter that you are dealing with. Look at the problem. Before you start hacking away at it figure out which example problem it corresponds to. If you cannot do this go to the teacher and say, "how do I figure out which sample problem this is closest to?"

That is 90% of what you need to learn. The other 10% is using the numbers in the problem instead of the numbers in the example. The only reason you won't get the answer in the back is an arithmetic mistake (or a typo in the back).

Getting the number in the back is much less important than identifying which example problem is the same as your problem.

Good luck. If you can't wait for a teacher ask one of your geek friends to help you. You would be surprised what kind of help you can get splitting a pizza or boiling up some hot dogs.


Tari17 27.04.2007. 00:36

Is it a good idea to major in Business Management for job security and flexibility after graduation? Here's the deal, I plan on owning my own business one day, but I will need a job and a degree before that point. My interests in Business is okay, I am not just super interested in it or anything, but I am okay with it. I am considering majoring in Business and Management for the job security, so no matter what I will have a job and job flexibility. So should I major in it for flexibility (because I am always changing my mind constantly about important decisions, plus I like for my options to be open) and job security? Also, if anyone majored in or is currently majoring in business and/or management, can you give me some feedback! Any REAL, SERIOUS answers will be appreciated!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!


Admin 27.04.2007. 00:36

First of all, you're on the right track in looking at flexibility, but you're looking in the wrong direction by focusing on the degree.

Look at the skill sets you already have. Are you a leader? A problem solver? An out of the box thinker? Do you like mundane details and repitious tasks? Do you follow through. Do you work well with others?

Now, look at the skill set you will need to own your own business. Identify the gaps and the strengths. Now look at that Business Management degree. Will it provide you with the necessary skill set to get you where you need to go? If not, I'd suggest perusing the college catalog and looking at the options with this new framework. Simply getting a degree does not mean that you will be good at anything you are trained for. Getting a dregree that builds on and enhances your natural abilities and desires almost guarantees that you will always have some job security - and the flexibility will come because of your strengths and abilities - not your degree.

You'll laugh, but one of the most flexible degrees out there is a Recreation degree. You have to learn management, program planning and administration - and you have to learn to do it in small groups, large groups, communities and regions. Those skills alone, will take you a long, long way.

Good Luck!


babyface 02.08.2006. 15:10

How does the use of decision-making tools increase the problem solvers objectivity? Array


Admin 02.08.2006. 15:10

Decision making tools help in the following ways:
1. Correct identification of the problem itself.
2. Solutions with alternatives with merits and demerits.
3. Cost effectiveness and benefits that will accrue.
4. To identify weaknesses and threats and to convert them as strength and opportunity.
The above are some of the results of decision-making tools with a decision tree various alternatives also will be known. Problem solvers objectivity is to get the best method for solving problem on hand at the least cost and proper inputs and optimising efficiency of any system.


Logic 21.08.2008. 23:51

What are the qualities of a good programmer? What are the qualities of a good programmer?

Like i want to be good at API[Application Programming Interface] and Java. What do u think i should possess to be a good programmer in these fields?



Admin 21.08.2008. 23:51

Any good programmer needs to be a good (and patient) problem solver. You need to be able to break down a problem into it's component parts and make decisions about the best way to handle the pieces within the overall design. You need to be able to anticipate and trap potential problems and keep things like performance/efficiency and the user experience in mind.

Having this sort of foundation is the critical part. Learning a particular language and syntax is trivial and quickly becomes pretty useless if you can't identify the problem you're trying to solve in the first place.


Stepford Wife 01.05.2007. 01:28

I need help with planting flowers? I live in Plant City (Central ) Florida. I have no green thumb whatsoever- but I want to make a difference in my lawn... I adore Hibiscus. But before I go and flop one down, I need to find out if it will survive in a mix of sun and shade and what I specifically need to do to help it grow. My soil has a ph level of 7 roughly. Also, Do you have any suggestions for a very low maintence flowering plant?

Stepford Wife

Admin 01.05.2007. 01:28

There are several books specific to Florida gardening.

Easy Gardens for South Florida by Pamela Crawford
Florida Gardening : Newcomer's Survival Manual by Monica Moran Brandies
The Florida Gardener's Book of Lists (Book of Lists Series) by Lois Trigg Chaplin
Xeriscaping for Florida Homes by Monica Moran Brandies
Southern Living Garden Problem Solver by Steve Bender
Florida Butterfly Gardening; A Complete Guide to Attracting, Identifying, and Enjoying Butterflies of the Lower South by Marc C. Minno and Maria Minno

There is a central Florida garden blog

And a guide to Floridian plants


Kelly-lea 11.03.2012. 16:41

What are dynamics of effective team working? What are team dynamics?


Admin 11.03.2012. 16:41

good team player must have these properties:

Adaptable: You have to adapt and mould yourself to fit into the team. Be willing to help others and learn and have the power to think outside the box. You must re-evaluate your role in the team from time to time.

Collaborative: Collaboration is the key to success. You have to meet the challenges head-on as a team. There should be perfect co-ordination among the members and each one of you has to deliver, working together ungrudgingly. For perfect collaboration, you should be focused and result oriented. Your perceptions must be clear, transparent and tangible to the entire team.

Committed: You should be ready to give more than your 100%. Nothing can be achieved half-heartedly. Do not shy away from risks.

Competent: Being competent does not mean possessing the required skills, but that you can execute the job well.

Dependable and Reliable: You should be responsible and possess good judgmental skills. Also, leave scope for someone to hold you accountable. Be consistent while delivering.

Disciplined: Discipline is doing what you really don't want to do, so that you can do what you really want to do. Be disciplined in your thinking, emotions and actions.

Communicative: Your communication with the team members has to be clear. Put it down in writing, so that everyone is aware of what you are doing lest there is confusion. Be confident and never be jittery about saying what you feel. Also, believe in others before they believe in you.

Enthusiastic: You have to infuse enthusiasm among the team members even during the drabbest exercise. Remember, enthusiasm is contagious.

Goal-centric: You ought to know the goal of the team; the bigger picture has to be loud and clear. Always be prepared to pitch in whenever there is an exigency.

Problem Solver: When your team has to deal with changing conditions, don't fret or get stressed out because something new is being tried out. Consider different view points and compromise when need be. Don't be rigid, give your suggestions as well as be open to others' and see that the outcome is flawless. Strong team players are firm in their thoughts yet open to what others have to offer. Remember, don't get into the allegation mode when things go wrong, be quick on identifying the mistake and rectify it.

learn more and free about "be a good team player" at my resource link


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