Beyond Good Grades Part 3; Analytical & Problem Solving Skills

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Mrs. A is an experienced human resources manager at a top tier commercial law firm in Lagos, Nigeria. One evening, she was reviewing applications from potential candidates for an associate position at her firm. Out of the 50 resumes she reviewed, she noticed that the skills or summary sections of about 27 candidates contained the following phrases.

“Excellent Problem Solver”, “Expert analytical skills”, and “Highly skilled at analyzing complex legal issues”.

In order to ensure that all candidates were considered fairly, she sent an email to the 27 candidates with the following question?In 500 words or less, describe a project or task where you successfully applied your analytical abilities and your role during such project or task?

Only two candidates provided satisfactory answers. Those candidates automatically moved on to the interview stage and after a successful interview, secured a job at the firm.

From the case study above, it is clear that the other 25 candidates who received the question struggled to come up with satisfactory answers because they may have inserted the phrases without properly understanding how to relate the skills to their experience. Do not be tempted to put “common phrases/skills” on your CV or resume, if you are unable to provide concrete examples to demonstrate them during an interview.

In order to ensure that no reader misses out on any opportunity like the “unlucky 25” above, this article will be focusing on analytical ability and problem solving skills, its importance and how young and aspiring lawyers can further improve or develop those skills and demonstrate them on job applications or during job interviews.

What does analytical ability mean?

Analytical ability and problem solving skills are among the top ten skills considered by employers when recruiting lawyers for their firm or organization. Analytical ability simply refers to the ability of a person to do the following:

  1. gather, collect or extract the right information from single or multiple sources;
  2. break down complex bits of information into simple concepts;
  3. accurately assess a situation or information and arrive at an effective and efficient solution; and
  4. Use logic and reasoning to identify the strengths and weaknesses of alternative solutions or approaches to problems.

What are problem solving skills?

A problem is “a doubtful or difficult matter requiring a solution[1]. “Problem-solving skills” relate to a person’s ability to identify issues, obstacles, and opportunities and subsequently develop and implement effective solutions.       

In order to solve problems effectively, a person needs to develop or possess one or more of the following traits:

Initiative Stepping up and taking action without being asked.
Creativity Ability to go beyond traditional approaches.
Resourcefulness Adapting to new/difficult situations and devising ways to overcome obstacles.
Determination Being persistent and not giving up easily
Results-Oriented Focus on getting to the desired outcome i.e. solving the problem

Why is it important for lawyers to have an analytical ability and problem solving skills?

Legal professionals are required to review and assimilate large volumes of complex information in an efficient and effective manner. Any workplace, project or task will have challenges or obstacles which need to be overcome and lawyers usually play a key role in providing solutions to overcome such challenges.

Also, from a clients’ perspective, lawyers are professional problem-solvers. Clients rely on lawyers to assist them in addressing problems or achieving a goal within the bounds of the law in order to provide legally practical solutions.

How are analytical ability and problem solving skills tested during the recruitment process?

    1. Problem solving questions: these could be scenario-based while completing a job application form or during the job interview. Employers may base problem solving questions around three main areas: (i) How you have approached situations in the past (ii) How you would manage a problem that would arise as part of the job and (iii) how you handle problems throughout the application process. Click here to see examples of some of the questions you may be asked and how to address them.
    2. Psychometric tests: these could be an aptitude test or a personality test.
      1. Aptitude tests assess your reasoning ability. An applicant will often be given one minute to answer a multiple choice question and must achieve a certain score to pass the tests. Common examples include verbal, numerical and abstract reasoning tests
      2. Personality tests typically explore your interests, values and motivations in order to evaluate how your character fits with the role and organisation. You will usually be presented with statements describing various ways of feeling or acting, and asked to record how much you agree on a two, five or seven-point scale.

Psychometric tests can be practiced online for free here, here, and here.

How to demonstrate your analytical ability and problem solving skills?

Prepare examples in advance. These can be mentioned in the experience or skills section of your CV, or during the interview. Consider providing your answer using the STAR format.

S Situation: Briefly describe the situation you faced. What happened? When? Where?
T Task Describe the challenge. What needed to be done? What was your role?
A Action: Explain what you did and how you did it.
R Results: What happened as a result of your actions? Give details of savings, achievements, etc.

The following points are recommended when preparing responses to questions testing your analytical ability and problem solving skills:

  1. Select examples which are relevant to the job you are applying for and also show your interests outside law. You can give an example of how you resolved a problem with a work or academic project.
  2. Describe the problems in a simple manner and give a strong example that truly demonstrates your problem solving ability in a positive manner.
  3. Be specific with your responses and provide enough detail to demonstrate how you approach situations and the way you think.
  4. Make sure the problem is unique. If you have a problem, saying that you simply called someone else to solve it is not impressive and should be avoided.

Do not do the following:

  1. Generalise your answers with responses such as ‘you consider yourself to be an expert problem solver’. You need to show the recruiter how you solve problems effectively.
  2. Provide too much detail, because the recruiter might get bored. Use the STAR method and keep your answer short and precise.
  3. Tell stories about a problem that reflects you in a negative way.
  4. Give examples of negative situations that were a result of your own actions, even if you solved a problem successfullyThe following interests and activities may be useful in improving and developing a high level of analytical ability and problem solving skills.

How to improve or develop your analytical ability and problem-solving skills?

    1. Be observant: Pay attention to your environment when you go out. One way to do this is to look at activities happening around you and ask questions. You can pick a random activity like “garbage collection” in your area and doing research on how the “garbage” is finally disposed and/or recycled.
    2. Play analytical games: Take a free coding course. Try playing games that can help you improve your analytical and strategising skills. Such games include puzzles, “Ludo”, local games like “Ayo”, “Iche” or “Ncho”, Sudoku, some computer games, chess, backgammon and scrabble. You can also play online games on websites like, etc.
    3. Brain and memory training: You can take online courses on Udemy, Coursera and other sources, read books and watch brain and memory training videos on You Tube.
    4. Research and writing: Write more! Evaluating different sources of information for school essays or articles on topical legal issues are a great way to improve your analytical skills.
    5. Pick any process and describe it in written form with any details that come to your mind. Come up with possible solutions for different problems (for example: solutions for cooking food without letting it burn, etc.). You might just come up with a business idea!
    6. Eat a balanced diet, sleep more and increase your exercise levels.

Remember practice makes perfect! Dealing with any of the above situations will help you gain and develop your analytical ability and problem-solving skills without even realising it.

[1] Oxford Concise Dictionary (12th edition).

Gabriella Ndu is a corporate, energy and projects lawyer with experience advising on traditional and renewable energy projects, facility management services, cross-border mergers and acquisitions, project finance and corporate transactions across Africa, Middle East, GCC, and South Asia. She is a law graduate of the University of Nigeria and was called to the bar in 2014. 

She is currently a candidate of the Career Development Program at Middle East, South Asia & Turkey office of ENGIE, a CAC40 company with her first role in the legal team

Photo credit: Zipjob

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There are 2 comments

  1. I like to call this a page “a-must-visit” for all legal practitioners and aspirants. Deeply insightful, informative and educative.
    More grease!


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