The company I work for recently hired a Software QA position. I’m the first one working with him and I’m finding him extremely hesitant to try anything he is not familiar with. I’ll give him a task and if he runs into any difficulty he will ask me what to do. I’ve been replying by asking him what he thinks he should do and I have told him specify that he has the time right now to learn by trial and error. This has not changed his behavior. I’ve stood over him at his desk and made him think through problems and he has been able to solve them so I think he is smart enough. After I leave he goes right back to trying to find someone to answer his problems for him.
Does he have a self-confidence issue? Or is he looking for someone to do his thinking for him? I am giving this answer on the assumption that you are his manager or team lead:
In the first case, no one should tell him what to do but make him work out the solution on his own.
Usually, when I am done with helping such an individual, I tell him "You asked me for help. Then you solved it on your own. What did you need me for?"
At some point I move to "You are perfectly capable of figuring it out on your own, and it should take you x hours to figure it out. Check back with me on your progress in one hour"
Final stage: I ask him "Well, do you have a plan for solving this in mind? If you don't, don't come back to me until you do until you have something to discuss"
@ColleenV's idea of pairing him up with someone is great, if you can find someone to pair him up with who is on the same professional level. My concern with pairing is that he will be content to let the other person take the lead and do whatever the other person says. But my concern can be met if you ask the other person how he is performing. My other concern is that pairing is probably not part of your setup - in which case, tough love will have to be.
In the second case, I'd tell him either he starts acting like an individual who is capable of doing their own thinking, or I make him walk the plank. And don't expect any reference from me.
In either case, I'd give specific instructions to his co-workers to redirect his questions to me, as I am closing all escape hatches and I want to know exactly what's going on with him and I want to keep him honest - I don't want him presenting someone else's idea as his own.
I note again with some irritation that some people will do extremely well and talk a great game at interviews but show their true colors and fall apart for whatever reason when the time comes to walk the talk.
Just because he's smart doesn't mean that he's creative/imaginative. It doesn't mean that he's a good problem solver. Many QA positions are specifically the sort that these sort of people thrive in, since attention to detail (and tolerance of tedium) are more important than imagination.
If you're his manager or lead, you should set him up for success. If he needs detailed instructions, work to get that. If he needs training to get familiar with things, then set that up. If he needs some coaching to be more confident, that's easy enough to find. If you need someone that can work well independently... then maybe you should cut your losses.
If you're not his manager or lead, you should let them handle it. Focus on letting this person know what you need and let them deal with providing it. Otherwise a person like this will be a constant burden, since it's very unlikely you're going to change them.