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Problem-solving skills: can they help you advance in your career?

Problem-solving skills: can they help you advance in your career?

Artwork by: Lizabeth Zaft

  • What is problem solving? 
  • Why are problem-solving skills so important?
  • 7 Of the best problem solving skills to have
  • How do you include problem-solving skills on your resume?
  • How do you improve your problem-solving skills?
  • Key takeaways 

Among the most sought-after abilities a jobseeker can have are problem-solving skills. Why do employers look for this? And what exactly are problem-solving skills? We’ll give you answers to these questions, as well as some information about how to highlight them when you are going for a job.

Whenever you encounter an issue or challenge in your work or personal life, what do you do? You do whatever is needed to overcome the issue, right? Well, that’s problem-solving. 

You may have great problem-solving skills. But, how do you show that to a potential new boss? 

It is important to understand which problem-solving skills you possess and how to best incorporate them into your resume in a way that will prove it. If you don’t have outstanding problem-solving skills, then how can you improve them? Knowing which skills you have and which you lack is key to being able to address any deficiencies you may have. Only then can you create a plan of action to improve your skills.

We’ll cover all of this as we answer the following questions: 

  • What is problem solving?

  • Why are problem-solving skills Important?

  • What are the 7 top problem-solving skills?

  • How should you include problem-solving on your resume?

  • How can I improve my problem-solving skills?

What is problem solving? 

As we mentioned, everyone has to deal with problems and we all, to some extent, have problem-solving skills. Some very broad examples of problem solving are

  • When you fix something that is not working properly

  • Resolving a dispute between one or more people

  • Avoiding a potentially bad situation

  • Correcting anything that is not going the way you expected 

Problem solving is not a single skill, but a bunch of skills utilized together to overcome challenges. The skills used can vary greatly depending on the problem you are dealing with. Problem-solving skills, in general, involve abilities that aid you in identifying the problem, coming up with solutions, selecting the best one, and acting on it.

We’ll talk about specific problem-solving skills later, but, first off, what makes problem-solving skills so crucial to bosses and companies? 

Why are problem-solving skills so important?

You’ll see it on many job descriptions, and it is consistently listed as one of the most highly valued abilities by hiring managers. There are literally hundreds of different soft skills that exist and are valuable to develop and improve. So, why should you focus on problem-solving? 

Some of the biggest reasons why problem-solving skills matter are

  • They can help you get a job. Again, problem-solving skills are among the most important skills employers look for across a variety of industries and occupations. They want employees that are proactive thinkers and can handle challenges. 

  • Since problem-solving involves a bunch of different skills, being a good problem-solver shows you are good at a wide range of things.

  • Being great at solving problems will make you very popular with your boss and coworkers because they will see you as someone that is smart, creative, and helpful. 

  • They are crucial for career development. An employee that is highly creative and good at solving problems is much more likely to get promoted. 

7 Of the best problem solving skills to have

We’ve already talked about how problem-solving is not just one skill, but a lot of different skills that work together. They are all important in helping you solve issues. But which specific skills are the best to have for solving problems? Below, we’ll cover the most important problem-solving skills that you can have:

  1. Research. To be able to identify and understand a problem, you have to find all the information you need. Research skills involve gathering information from good sources, studying that information in detail, and extracting the specific information you need.

  2. Analysis. Analytical skills are necessary for every step of the problem-solving process. You need them to effectively assess the information you have available. This can involve organizing and interpreting data, detecting patterns, finding new information, and drawing conclusions.

  3. Creativity. Finding a solution to a problem may require you to think outside the box, consider alternatives that may not be conventional, and be inventive. Creativity is essential to being a good problem-solver. It allows you to consider more perspectives, think abstractly, and come up with novel solutions that others wouldn’t think of.

  4. Decision making. Often, when you are solving a problem, you may arrive at a set of options, and you must decide on the best course of action. In a professional setting, making a bad decision may exacerbate the problem, cost the company a lot of money, or even cause you to lose your job. Being able to make good decisions in clutch situations is an invaluable skill.

  5. Critical thinking. This is another popular buzzword in the job market, but what does it really mean? Being a critical thinker means you’re good at rationalizing things, understanding the connections between ideas or scenarios, and logically analyzing situations. People good at critical thinking are usually open-minded, think clearly, and are very detail-oriented.

  6. Collaboration. In a working environment, you will rarely ever deal with a problem by yourself. You will be required to work with other people to resolve issues. Being able to work well with others is a given, and this means cooperatively fixing problems and putting the team’s goal ahead of individual goals. Collaboration can also be shown through other skills like conflict resolution, teamwork, respect, and emotional intelligence.

  7. Communication. This is another super important skill involved in every job. The ability to communicate well should never be undervalued. All problem solving depends on successful communication. Strong communication skills enable you to clearly explain the problem and propose solutions to others. It also allows you to ensure everyone is on the same page to effectively execute the action plan. 

Being a great problem-solver requires a mastery of more than one skill.

How do you include problem-solving skills on your resume?

Now that you know which problem-solving skills are the best to have, let’s talk about how to include them on your resume to highlight them, so they’ll have the most impact on your potential new employer.

  • Summary. If your resume has a summary section (or objective statement), then this is a perfect place to mention one or two of your strongest problem-solving skills. You can simply include them as some of your traits or, better yet, mention an achievement that proves you possess that skill or skills. Use the correct skill keywords to ensure that ATS (applicant tracking systems) will recognize them.

  • Skills. In your skills section, under the soft skills, list your best problem-solving skills. In order to keep your list of skills short, don’t list all your skills. Just your strongest skills. More importantly, look at the job description and use skills you have that are also listed in the job requirements

  • Experience. Your work experience descriptions are where you demonstrate you actually can use problem-solving skills. For each of your jobs, include achievements that show how you used problem-solving skills to resolve a real issue. Tailor each description to match up with things you find in the job description that you are applying for. And don’t forget to make your achievements as quantifiable as possible. 

Expert Tip

For writing your achievements, use the Laszlo Bock (XYZ) formula

Laszlo Bock (Google's former chief of HR) describes the formula as "Accomplished [X] as measured by [Y], by doing [Z]."   … X-Y-Z, for short.

Also, remember to use action verbs for anything you did. You can find many different verbs you can use instead of “worked on,” “accomplished,” “did,” etc. Use more descriptive and non-repetitive words for your achievements, it will make them sound much more impressive.

Example of using problem-solving skills in a work experience section:

Resolved logistics communication issues and improved throughput by 12% by implementing a new workflow management solution.

Improved team productivity by 10% by instituting daily status briefings and task-tracking software.

How do you improve your problem-solving skills?

Employers consistently say that problem-solving skills are vital and are severely lacking among their staff. Employees are often afraid to try new solutions because they lack confidence in their problem-solving abilities, and they don’t want to fail. This makes candidates and employees with strong problem-solving skills so valuable.

So, how do you go about developing your problem-solving skills? Practice is key to improving any skill, but how do you practice something that does not happen on demand? Well, if you think about it, you probably face problems every day. Maybe not big or significant problems, but small things. If you apply your problem-solving strategies to every problem you encounter, even small ones, then you will improve your ability to handle larger problems.

Use a disciplined and methodical approach to problem solving. Follow your process every time you deal with a problem and note how it worked out. Revise and improve your method based on your results. Eventually, you will get it down to a science and will be able to expertly handle any problem thrown at you.

Process Tip

Six-step process for solving a problem

Identify and define the problem

Generate possible solutions

Evaluate alternatives      

Decide on a solution      

Implement the solution

Evaluate the outcome

Key takeaways 

  1. Problem-solving skills are one of the most important skills employers look for when they are hiring.

  2. Problem-solving is not just a single skill, but a set of interrelated abilities that allow you to effectively and efficiently resolve problems.

  3. Demonstrate your problem-solving skills on a resume in multiple places, and make sure they match up with the job you are going for.

  4. You can improve your problem-solving skills by taking a methodical approach and practicing it. Learn from your experiences and refine your process.

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