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:
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.
Harry Joiner is an executive recruiter in the multichannel marketing industry. His weblog Proven Ways to Get New Customers is among the most highly regarded small business marketing weblogs in America.