Problem solving

Being skilled in problem solving draws on several other skill areas, including analysis, flexibility and research. These can allow you to deconstruct the problem, making it easier to think laterally and develop informed solutions. A balance of logic, creativity and perseverance can sometimes be required to demonstrate your versatility in this area.

Problem solving appears frequently in job descriptions as an essential skill. No matter which professional area you are considering, a strong ability to demonstrate your problem solving skills will be a valuable offering to a future employer, especially if you can show you have acted swiftly.

Activities where you could develop your problem solving skills

Problem solving skills can be a key learning outcome of many degree courses, but you cannot assume that everyone who reads your CV will recognise this. Take care to provide evidence of the problems encountered, their complexity and the means by which you solved them. Project or business case-based activities can form excellent examples.

  • University hall Residence Association The challenges and rewards of helping to run a hall of residence will put your problem solving to the test.
  • Student representation Fielding questions from both your fellow students and the responses of your academic staff can require a creative approach to problem solving.
  • Peer Mentoring Develop problem solving skills by supporting others through their studies and wider university life.
  • Nightline Lateral thinking, compassion and good listening will help you develop your skills while supporting others.
  • Competitions and prizes Look great on your CV, even if you don't win you will have experience to talk about.

How is problem solving tested in recruitment?

Written applications may start testing your problem solving skills directly by asking for examples of problems you have solved in the past. This can be probed further by psychometric tests, particularly Situational Judgement. At interview, you can expect questions which re-examine this skill:

  • Tell me about a complex problem you have faced – what were the critical issues, and the steps that you took to solve the problem?
  • Describe a time when you demonstrated creativity in solving a difficult problem.
  • Give me an example of when you used good judgment and logic in solving a problem.

If you are unsure how to structure an answer for either application or interview questions, visit the application and interviews section of our website and find out about the CAR (context, action, result) and STAR (situation, task, action, result) models. Our recommendations are based on feedback from employers.

During an assessment centre, real life business problems will be presented to you, either individually or as part of a group task. You will need to deploy a mix of sector knowledge and analytical skills to develop proposals to solve the problem. You will be assessed on your problem solving strategy and your creativity. You may need to think on your feet, and be able to cope well under pressure in order to succeed.

Sometimes you may be asked to complete practical problem solving activities, such as building a tower from Lego, paper or other materials. This will test other skills such as clear communication and team working skills.