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What do a successful nurse, a top engineer and a brilliant customer service agent have in common? They’re great at solving problems.

We’ve been blogging regularly about soft skills and the hiring process. We’ve put three key soft skill competency areas—professionalism, personal value commitment, and interpersonal skills—under the microscope.

This time, we examine a soft-skills competency area that’s arguably even more important: problem solving and adaptability.

Some people adopt a life-long approach to learning and take feedback about their performance as an opportunity to learn and do better versus a personal attack.

Some people are great at taking a challenging situation—be it a logistical nightmare, an engineering impossibility, or an angry customer—adapting to it, and finding the best possible solution.

And these are the people you should be looking to employ, whatever else the job role entails.

Why hiring a problem solver is a smart move

There are certain professions in which great problem solving skills and adaptability are the price of entry.

If you’re a civil engineer designing a network of train tunnels, solving problems—how do we provide ventilation? What’s the best material to reinforce these walls?—is your bread and butter. And when the project requirements change—how tall are the trains going to be now?—you need to be able to adjust plans.

But, in truth, every job requires some ability to:

  •  Analyze information
  •  Use this information to make decisions
  •  Adapt to change

Say you’re a customer service agent, and you’ve just been alerted to the storm AngryMan56 is whipping up on social media:

  • Do you try to resolve his complaint right there and then, with the world watching?
  • Do you try to engage him in a private conversation, and limit any further damage to your brand?
  • Do you wait for your supervisor to come back from lunch, and tell you what to do? And risk AngryMan56 causing a whole lot more harm while she’s eating her sandwich?

Your success will depend on your ability to analyze the situation, evaluate the repercussions of each course of action, and resolve AngryMan56’s issue in the smartest possible way.

Equally, imagine you’re a nurse. A patient’s monitor starts beeping out of control. Do you investigate the situation first to see if it is simply a loose plug or other blocked hose that has caused the alert or do you immediately call for the specialist to take care of the situation?

You get the picture—whatever industry you’re hiring in, and whatever position you’re looking to fill, problem solving and adaptability is an incredibly useful competency area.

The right people, to solve the right problems

As with all the competency areas we’ve discussed previously, problem solving and adaptability skills reveal themselves in different ways in different job roles. It’s crucial to bear this in mind during the hiring process.

Once you’ve considered what kind of day-to-day problems a candidate will face in the role they’re applying for, you can effectively question references about their previous success in solving them.

If you’re recruiting a Customer Service Rep for your call center, you’ll want to know if they can:

  • Effectively resolve customer requests, issues, and complaints using their knowledge of company products, and services
  • Determine when to escalate issues when a problem cannot be solved on its own

But if you’re recruiting a Software Developer, you might want to rate their ability to:

  • Effectively translate design specifications into software code
  • Monitor and test functioning of software to ensure quality of product

The key is to identify these specific behaviors and determine if your candidate has shown signs of them. And you do this by asking the only people who would know: past mangers, direct reports and colleagues.

Specificity is the key here. If you simply ask ‘did this person have problem-solving skills?’ the answers will be as fuzzy as the question. If you probe for the job-specific behaviors that define problem-solving ability, you get a clear indication of this critical skill set.

Ask and you will discover

Today, it’s possible to gain a more reliable, complete picture of a job candidate’s problem-solving and adaptability skills than ever before. That’s what talent analytics is all about – and why job-specific pre-hire assessment is so important.

Soft skills, hard benefits

If you’d like to learn more about how a data driven approach to online reference checking is helping to solve the problems of hiring managers—and get the lowdown on all six of our essential soft skill competency areas—be sure read our free e-book ‘Soft Skills, Hard Benefits’

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