What Are Problem-Solving Skills? Definition and Examples
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Why do employers hire employees? To help them solve problems. Whether you’re a financial analyst deciding where to invest your firm’s money, or a marketer trying to figure out which channel to direct your efforts, companies hire people to help them find solutions. Problem-solving is an essential and marketable soft skill in the workplace.
So, how can you improve your problem-solving and show employers you have this valuable skill? In this guide, we’ll cover:
Problem-Solving Skills Definition
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Problem-solving skills are the ability to identify problems, brainstorm and analyze answers, and implement the best solutions. An employee with good problem-solving skills is both a self-starter and a collaborative teammate; they are proactive in understanding the root of a problem and work with others to consider a wide range of solutions before deciding how to move forward.
Examples of using problem-solving skills in the workplace include:
- Researching patterns to understand why revenue decreased last quarter
- Experimenting with a new marketing channel to increase website sign-ups
- Brainstorming content types to share with potential customers
- Testing calls to action to see which ones drive the most product sales
- Implementing a new workflow to automate a team process and increase productivity
Problem-solving skills are the most sought-after soft skill of 2022. In fact, 86% of employers look for problem-solving skills on student resumes, according to the National Association of Colleges and Employers Job Outlook 2022 survey .
It’s unsurprising why employers are looking for this skill: companies will always need people to help them find solutions to their problems. Someone proactive and successful at problem-solving is valuable to any team.
“Employers are looking for employees who can make decisions independently, especially with the prevalence of remote/hybrid work and the need to communicate asynchronously,” Eric Mochnacz, senior HR consultant at Red Clover, says. “Employers want to see individuals who can make well-informed decisions that mitigate risk, and they can do so without suffering from analysis paralysis.”
Problem-solving includes three main parts: identifying the problem, analyzing possible solutions, and deciding on the best course of action.
Research is the first step of problem-solving because it helps you understand the context of a problem. Researching a problem enables you to learn why the problem is happening. For example, is revenue down because of a new sales tactic? Or because of seasonality? Is there a problem with who the sales team is reaching out to?
Research broadens your scope to all possible reasons why the problem could be happening. Then once you figure it out, it helps you narrow your scope to start solving it.
Analysis is the next step of problem-solving. Now that you’ve identified the problem, analytical skills help you look at what potential solutions there might be.
“The goal of analysis isn’t to solve a problem, actually — it’s to better understand it because that’s where the real solution will be found,” Gretchen Skalka, owner of Career Insights Consulting, says. “Looking at a problem through the lens of impartiality is the only way to get a true understanding of it from all angles.”
Once you’ve figured out where the problem is coming from and what solutions are, it’s time to decide on the best way to go forth. Decision-making skills help you determine what resources are available, what a feasible action plan entails, and what solution is likely to lead to success.
On a Resume
Employers looking for problem-solving skills might include the word “problem-solving” or other synonyms like “critical thinking” or “analytical skills” in the job description.
“I would add ‘buzzwords’ you can find from the job descriptions or LinkedIn endorsements section to filter into your resume to comply with the ATS,” Matthew Warzel, CPRW resume writer, advises. Warzel recommends including these skills on your resume but warns to “leave the soft skills as adjectives in the summary section. That is the only place soft skills should be mentioned.”
On the other hand, you can list hard skills separately in a skills section on your resume .
In a Cover Letter or an Interview
Explaining your problem-solving skills in an interview can seem daunting. You’re required to expand on your process — how you identified a problem, analyzed potential solutions, and made a choice. As long as you can explain your approach, it’s okay if that solution didn’t come from a professional work experience.
“Young professionals shortchange themselves by thinking only paid-for solutions matter to employers,” Skalka says. “People at the genesis of their careers don’t have a wealth of professional experience to pull from, but they do have relevant experience to share.”
Aaron Case, career counselor and CPRW at Resume Genius, agrees and encourages early professionals to share this skill. “If you don’t have any relevant work experience yet, you can still highlight your problem-solving skills in your cover letter,” he says. “Just showcase examples of problems you solved while completing your degree, working at internships, or volunteering. You can even pull examples from completely unrelated part-time jobs, as long as you make it clear how your problem-solving ability transfers to your new line of work.”
Learn How to Identify Problems
Problem-solving doesn’t just require finding solutions to problems that are already there. It’s also about being proactive when something isn’t working as you hoped it would. Practice questioning and getting curious about processes and activities in your everyday life. What could you improve? What would you do if you had more resources for this process? If you had fewer? Challenge yourself to challenge the world around you.
“Employers in the modern workplace value digital problem-solving skills, like being able to find a technology solution to a traditional issue,” Case says. “For example, when I first started working as a marketing writer, my department didn’t have the budget to hire a professional voice actor for marketing video voiceovers. But I found a perfect solution to the problem with an AI voiceover service that cost a fraction of the price of an actor.”
Being comfortable with new technology — even ones you haven’t used before — is a valuable skill in an increasingly hybrid and remote world. Don’t be afraid to research new and innovative technologies to help automate processes or find a more efficient technological solution.
Problem-solving isn’t done in a silo, and it shouldn’t be. Use your collaboration skills to gather multiple perspectives, help eliminate bias, and listen to alternative solutions. Ask others where they think the problem is coming from and what solutions would help them with your workflow. From there, try to compromise on a solution that can benefit everyone.
If we’ve learned anything from the past few years, it’s that the world of work is constantly changing — which means it’s crucial to know how to adapt . Be comfortable narrowing down a solution, then changing your direction when a colleague provides a new piece of information. Challenge yourself to get out of your comfort zone, whether with your personal routine or trying a new system at work.
Put Yourself in the Middle of Tough Moments
Just like adapting requires you to challenge your routine and tradition, good problem-solving requires you to put yourself in challenging situations — especially ones where you don’t have relevant experience or expertise to find a solution. Because you won’t know how to tackle the problem, you’ll learn new problem-solving skills and how to navigate new challenges. Ask your manager or a peer if you can help them work on a complicated problem, and be proactive about asking them questions along the way.
Companies always need people to help them find solutions — especially proactive employees who have practical analytical skills and can collaborate to decide the best way to move forward. Whether or not you have experience solving problems in a professional workplace, illustrate your problem-solving skills by describing your research, analysis, and decision-making process — and make it clear that you’re the solution to the employer’s current problems.
Looking to learn more workplace professional skills? Check out Two Sigma’s Professional Skills Development Virtual Experience Program .
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Problem solving: the mark of an independent employee
Problem-solving abilities are essential in virtually any graduate role you can think of. Discover how to develop your problem-solving skills and demonstrate them to eagle-eyed recruiters.
Interviewers will be interested to discover how you'd approach problems that could arise in the workplace.
Problem solving is all about using logic, as well as imagination, to make sense of a situation and come up with an intelligent solution. In fact, the best problem solvers actively anticipate potential future problems and act to prevent them or to mitigate their effects.
Problem-solving abilities are connected to a number of other skills, including:
- analytical skills
- innovative and creative thinking
- a lateral mindset
- adaptability and flexibility
- resilience (in order to reassess when your first idea doesn’t work)
- teamworking (if problem solving is a team effort)
- influencing skills (to get colleagues, clients and bosses to adopt your solutions).
Identifying a problem is often the kernel for a new business or product idea – and, as such, problem solving is an essential ingredient of entrepreneurialism . It is also a key component of good leadership .
Short on time? Watch our one-minute guide to problem solving
- how to answer problem-solving interview questions
- how to think of examples of your problem-solving skills
- a problem-solving technique you can use in any work or life situation.
Our targetjobs careers expert gives you a quick guide to showing off your problem-solving skills in a job interview.
Why all graduates require problem-solving skills in the workplace
Some graduate careers revolve around finding solutions – for example, engineering , management consulting , scientific research and technology . Graduates in other careers, meanwhile, will be expected to solve problems that crop up in the course of their jobs: for example, trainee managers should deal with operational problems (such as delays in the supply chain) or resolve conflict between team members.
In fact, the ability to solve problems is an essential part of any employee’s skill set, even if it isn’t specified on the job description.
Get the insights and skills you need to shape your career journey with Pathways. Learn and practise a selection of simple yet effective reasoning strategies to take your problem solving to the next level.
How will employers assess your problem-solving skills?
Your problem-solving abilities can be assessed in three ways: by asking for examples of times when you previously solved a problem; by presenting you with certain hypothetical situations and asking how you would respond to them; and by seeing how you apply your problem-solving skills to different tests and exercises.
Competency-based application and interview questions about problem solving
You may be asked for an example of when you solved a problem on an application form – for instance, an engineering firm’s application form has previously included the question ‘Please tell us about a time when you have used your technical skills and knowledge to solve a problem’. But these questions are more likely at interview. Typical problem-solving competency-based questions include:
- Give me an example of a time when you ran into a problem on a project. What did you do?
- Give me an example of a difficult problem you had to solve outside of your course. How did you approach it?
- Tell me about a time you worked through a problem as a team.
- Have you ever had a disagreement with a team member? How was it resolved?
- Give me an example of a time when you spotted a potential problem and took steps to stop it becoming one.
- Give me an example of a time when you handled a major crisis.
- Give me an example of your lateral thinking.
Hypothetical interview questions about problem solving
Interviewers will also be interested to know how you would approach problems that could arise when you are in the workplace. The precise interview questions will vary according to the job, but common ones include:
- How would you deal with conflict in the workplace? (This is especially likely to be asked of trainee managers and graduate HR professionals.)
- What would you do if there is an unexpected delay to one of your projects because of supply chain issues? (This is particularly likely to be asked in construction, logistics or retail interviews).
- What would you do if a client or customer raised a complaint?
- What would you do if you noticed that a colleague was struggling with their work?
- How would you react if given negative feedback by a manager on an aspect of your performance?
- How would you judge whether you should use your own initiative on a task or ask for help?
Problem-solving exercises and tests for graduate jobs
Different tests that employers could set to gauge your problem-solving skills include:
- Online aptitude, psychometric and ability tests . These are normally taken as part of the application stage, although they may be repeated at an assessment centre. The tests that are most likely to assess your problem-solving skills are situational judgement tests and any that assess your reasoning, such as inductive reasoning or diagrammatic reasoning tests.
- Video ‘immersive experiences’ , game-based recruitment exercises or virtual reality assessments. Not all of these methods are widely used yet but they are becoming more common. They are usually the recruitment stage before a face-to-face interview or assessment centre.
- Case study exercises. These are common assessment centre tasks. You’d be set a business problem, typically related to the sector in which you’d be working, and asked to make recommendations for solving it, either individually or in groups. You’ll also usually be asked to outline your recommendations in either a presentation or in written form , a task that assesses your ability to explain your problem-solving approach.
- In-tray (or e-tray) exercises. These always used to be set at an assessment centre but nowadays can also be part of the online testing stage. In-tray exercises primarily test your time management skills, but also assess your ability to identify a potential problem and take actions to solve it.
- Job-specific or task-specific exercises, given at an assessment centre or at an interview. If set, these will be related to the role you are applying for and will either require you to devise a solution to a problem or to spot errors. Civil and structural engineering candidates , for example, will often be required to sketch a design in answer to a client’s brief and answer questions on it, while candidates for editorial roles may be asked to proofread copy or spot errors in page proofs (fully designed pages about to be published).
How to develop and demonstrate your problem-solving skills
Here are some tips on how to develop the problem-solving techniques employers look for.
Seek out opportunities to gain problem-solving examples
Dealing with any of the following situations will help you gain problem-solving skills, perhaps without even realising it:
- Sorting out a technical problem with your phone, device or computer.
- Resolving a dispute with a tricky landlord in order to get your deposit back.
- Carrying out DIY.
- Serving a demanding customer or resolving a complaint.
- Finding a way round a funding shortfall in order to pay for travel or a gap year.
- Turning around the finances or increasing the membership of a struggling student society.
- Organising a student society’s trip overseas, overcoming unforeseen difficulties on the way.
- Acting as a course rep or as a mentor for other students.
There should also be opportunities for you to develop problem-solving skills through your studies. Many assignments in subjects such as engineering and computer science are explicitly based around solving a problem in a way that, for example, essay topics in English literature aren’t. But, then, English literature students may also encounter academic problems, such as difficulties in tracking down the best source material.
Some professional bodies (for example, those in construction) run competitions for students, which often ask students to suggest solutions for problems facing the industry; entering these can provide good evidence of your problem-solving skills.
Games such as Sudoku and chess can also strengthen your ability to think strategically and creatively.
Practise recruitment exercises beforehand
Any candidate, no matter how high-flying, may be thrown by undertaking an online test or attending an assessment centre for the first time, so do everything you can to practise beforehand. Access our links to free and paid-for practice tests. Contact your careers service and book in for a mock-interview or mock-assessment centre.
Keep in mind this problem-solving technique
If you’re provided with a scenario or a case study during the graduate recruitment process, you could try using the IDEAL model, described by Bransford and Stein in their book Ideal Problem Solver . It breaks down what you need to do to solve a problem into stages:
- Identify the issue
- Define the obstacles
- Examine your options
- Act on an agreed course of action
- Look at how it turns out, and whether any changes need to be made.
Give detail in your answers
You will need to explain how you identified the problem, came up with a solution and implemented it. Quantifiable results are good, and obviously the more complex the situation, the more impressive a successful result is. Follow the STAR technique outlined in our article on competency-based interview questions .
If you tackled a problem as part of a team, explain how your role was important in ensuring the positive solution, but also explain how your group worked together. This could be an opportunity to promote your teamworking skills as well.
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Everybody can benefit from having good problem solving skills as we all encounter problems on a daily basis. Some of these problems are obviously more severe or complex than others.
It would be wonderful to have the ability to solve all problems efficiently and in a timely fashion without difficulty, unfortunately though there is no one way in which all problems can be solved.
You will discover, as you read through our pages on problem solving, that the subject is complex.
However well prepared we are for problem solving, there is always an element of the unknown. Although planning and structuring will help make the problem solving process more likely to be successful, good judgement and an element of good luck will ultimately determine whether problem solving was a success.
Interpersonal relationships fail and businesses fail because of poor problem solving.
This is often due to either problems not being recognised or being recognised but not being dealt with appropriately.
Problem solving skills are highly sought after by employers as many companies rely on their employees to identify and solve problems.
A lot of the work in problem solving involves understanding what the underlying issues of the problem really are - not the symptoms. Dealing with a customer complaint may be seen as a problem that needs to be solved, and it's almost certainly a good idea to do so. The employee dealing with the complaint should be asking what has caused the customer to complain in the first place, if the cause of the complaint can be eliminated then the problem is solved.
In order to be effective at problem solving you are likely to need some other key skills, which include:
Creativity. Problems are usually solved either intuitively or systematically. Intuition is used when no new knowledge is needed - you know enough to be able to make a quick decision and solve the problem, or you use common sense or experience to solve the problem. More complex problems or problems that you have not experienced before will likely require a more systematic and logical approach to solve, and for these you will need to use creative thinking. See our page on Creative Thinking for more information.
Researching Skills. Defining and solving problems often requires you to do some research: this may be a simple Google search or a more rigorous research project. See our Research Methods section for ideas on how to conduct effective research.
Team Working. Many problems are best defined and solved with the input of other people. Team working may sound like a 'work thing' but it is just as important at home and school as well as in the workplace. See our Team-Working page for more.
Emotional Intelligence. It is worth considering the impact that a problem and/or its solution has on you and other people. Emotional intelligence, the ability to recognise the emotions of yourself and others, will help guide you to an appropriate solution. See our Emotional Intelligence pages for more.
Risk Management. Solving a problem involves a certain amount of risk - this risk needs to be weighed up against not solving the problem. You may find our Risk Management page useful.
Decision Making . Problem solving and decision making are closely related skills, and making a decision is an important part of the problem solving process as you will often be faced with various options and alternatives. See Decision Making for more.
The measure of success is not whether you have a tough problem to deal with, but whether it is the same problem you had last year.
John Foster Dulles, Former US Secretary of State.
What is a Problem?
The Concise Oxford Dictionary (1995) defines a problem as:
“ A doubtful or difficult matter requiring a solution ”
“ Something hard to understand or accomplish or deal with.”
It is worth also considering our own view of what a problem is.
We are constantly exposed to opportunities in life, at work, at school and at home. However many opportunities are missed or not taken full advantage of. Often we are unsure how to take advantage of an opportunity and create barriers - reasons why we can't take advantage. These barriers can turn a potentially positive situation into a negative one, a problem.
Are we missing the 'big problem'? It is human nature to notice and focus on small, easy to solve problems but much harder to work on the big problems that may be causing some of the smaller ones.
It's useful to consider the following questions when faced with a problem.
Is the problem real or perceived?
Is this problem really an opportunity?
Does the problem need solving?
All problems have two features in common: goals and barriers.
Problems involve setting out to achieve some objective or desired state of affairs and can include avoiding a situation or event.
Goals can be anything that you wish to achieve, or where you want to be. If you are hungry then your goal is probably to eat something. If you are the head of an organisation (CEO), then your main goal may be to maximise profits and this main goal may need to be split into numerous sub-goals in order to fulfil the ultimate aim of increasing profits.
If there were no barriers in the way of achieving a goal, then there would be no problem. Problem solving involves overcoming the barriers or obstacles that prevent the immediate achievement of goals.
Following our examples above, if you feel hungry then your goal is to eat. A barrier to this may be that you have no food available - so you take a trip to the supermarket and buy some food, removing the barrier and thus solving the problem. Of course for the CEO wanting to increase profits there may be many more barriers preventing the goal from being reached. The CEO needs to attempt to recognise these barriers and remove them or find other ways to achieve the goals of the organisation.
Our problem solving pages provide a simple and structured approach to problem solving.
The approach referred to is generally designed for problem solving in an organisation or group context, but can also be easily adapted to work at an individual level at home or in education.
Trying to solve a complex problem alone however can be a mistake. The old adage " A problem shared is a problem halved " is sound advice.
Talking to others about problems is not only therapeutic but can help you see things from a different point of view, opening up more potential solutions.
Stages of Problem Solving
Effective problem solving usually involves working through a number of steps or stages, such as those outlined below.
This stage involves: detecting and recognising that there is a problem; identifying the nature of the problem; defining the problem.
The first phase of problem solving may sound obvious but often requires more thought and analysis. Identifying a problem can be a difficult task in itself. Is there a problem at all? What is the nature of the problem, are there in fact numerous problems? How can the problem be best defined? By spending some time defining the problem you will not only understand it more clearly yourself but be able to communicate its nature to others, which leads to the second phase.
Structuring the Problem:
This stage involves: a period of observation, careful inspection, fact-finding and developing a clear picture of the problem.
Following on from problem identification, structuring the problem is all about gaining more information about the problem and increasing understanding. This phase is all about fact finding and analysis, building a more comprehensive picture of both the goal(s) and the barrier(s). This stage may not be necessary for very simple problems but is essential for problems of a more complex nature.
Looking for Possible Solutions:
During this stage you will generate a range of possible courses of action, but with little attempt to evaluate them at this stage.
From the information gathered in the first two phases of the problem solving framework it is now time to start thinking about possible solutions to the identified problem. In a group situation this stage is often carried out as a brain-storming session, letting each person in the group express their views on possible solutions (or part solutions). In organisations different people will have different expertise in different areas and it is useful, therefore, to hear the views of each concerned party.
Making a Decision:
This stage involves careful analysis of the different possible courses of action and then selecting the best solution for implementation.
This is perhaps the most complex part of the problem solving process. Following on from the previous step it is now time to look at each potential solution and carefully analyse it. Some solutions may not be possible, due to other problems like time constraints or budgets. It is important at this stage to also consider what might happen if nothing was done to solve the problem - sometimes trying to solve a problem that leads to many more problems requires some very creative thinking and innovative ideas.
Finally, make a decision on which course of action to take - decision making is an important skill in itself and we recommend that you see our pages on decision making .
This stage involves accepting and carrying out the chosen course of action.
Implementation means acting on the chosen solution. During implementation more problems may arise especially if identification or structuring of the original problem was not carried out fully.
The last stage is about reviewing the outcomes of problem solving over a period of time, including seeking feedback as to the success of the outcomes of the chosen solution.
The final stage of problem solving is concerned with checking that the process was successful. This can be achieved by monitoring and gaining feedback from people affected by any changes that occurred. It is good practice to keep a record of outcomes and any additional problems that occurred.
Continue to: Identifying and Structuring Problems Social Problem Solving
See also: Project Management Risk Management Effective Decision Making
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What Are Problem-Solving Skills?
Definition & examples of problem-solving skills.
Alison Doyle is one of the nation’s foremost career experts.
- Problem-solving skills help you determine why an issue is happening and how to resolve that issue.
Learn more about problem-solving skills and how they work.
Problem-solving skills help you solve issues quickly and effectively. It's one of the key skills that employers seek in job applicants, as employees with these skills tend to be self-reliant. Problem-solving skills require quickly identifying the underlying issue and implementing a solution.
Problem-solving is considered a soft skill (a personal strength) rather than a hard skill that's learned through education or training. You can improve your problem-solving skills by familiarizing yourself with common issues in your industry and learning from more experienced employees.
How Problem-Solving Skills Work
Problem-solving starts with identifying the issue. For example, a teacher might need to figure out how to improve student performance on a writing proficiency test. To do that, the teacher will review the writing tests looking for areas of improvement. They might see that students can construct simple sentences, but they're struggling with writing paragraphs and organizing those paragraphs into an essay.
To solve the problem, the teacher would work with students on how and when to write compound sentences, how to write paragraphs, and ways to organize an essay.
Theresa Chiechi / The Balance
There are five steps typically used in problem-solving.
1. Analyze Contributing Factors
To solve a problem, you must find out what caused it. This requires you to gather and evaluate data, isolate possible contributing circumstances, and pinpoint what needs to be addressed for a resolution.
To do this, you'll use skills like :
- Data gathering
- Data analysis
- Historical analysis
2. Generate Interventions
Once you’ve determined the cause, brainstorm possible solutions. Sometimes this involves teamwork since two (or more) minds are often better than one. A single strategy is rarely the obvious route to solving a complex problem; devising a set of alternatives helps you cover your bases and reduces your risk of exposure should the first strategy you implement fail.
This involves skills like :
- Creative thinking
- Project design
- Project planning
3. Evaluate Solutions
Depending on the nature of the problem and your chain of command, evaluating best solutions may be performed by assigned teams, team leads, or forwarded to corporate decision-makers. Whoever makes the decision must evaluate potential costs, required resources, and possible barriers to successful solution implementation.
This requires several skills, including:
- Test development
4. Implement a Plan
Once a course of action has been decided, it must be implemented along with benchmarks that can quickly and accurately determine whether it’s working. Plan implementation also involves letting personnel know about changes in standard operating procedures.
This requires skills like:
- Project management
- Project implementation
- Time management
- Benchmark development
5. Assess the Solution's Effectiveness
Once a solution is implemented, the best problem-solvers have systems in place to evaluate if and how quickly it's working. This way, they know as soon as possible whether the issue has been resolved or whether they’ll have to change their response to the problem mid-stream.
- Customer feedback
Here's an example of showing your problem-solving skills in a cover letter.
When I was first hired as a paralegal, I inherited a backlog of 25 sets of medical records that needed to be summarized, each of which was hundreds of pages long. At the same time, I had to help prepare for three major cases, and there weren’t enough hours in the day. After I explained the problem to my supervisor, she agreed to pay me to come in on Saturday mornings to focus on the backlog. I was able to eliminate the backlog in a month.
Here's another example of how to show your problem-solving skills in a cover letter:
When I joined the team at Great Graphics as Artistic Director, the designers had become uninspired because of a former director who attempted to micro-manage every step in the design process. I used weekly round-table discussions to solicit creative input and ensured that each designer was given full autonomy to do their best work. I also introduced monthly team-based competitions that helped build morale, spark new ideas, and improve collaboration.
Highlighting Problem-Solving Skills
- Since this is a skill that's important to most employers, put them front and center on your resume, cover letter, and in interviews.
If you're not sure what to include, look to previous roles—whether in academic, work, or volunteer settings—for examples of challenges you met and problems you solved. Highlight relevant examples in your cover letter and use bullet points in your resume to show how you solved a problem.
During interviews, be ready to describe situations you've encountered in previous roles, the processes you followed to address problems, the skills you applied, and the results of your actions. Potential employers are eager to hear a coherent narrative of the ways you've used problem-solving skills .
Interviewers may pose hypothetical problems for you to solve. Base your answers on the five steps and refer to similar problems you've resolved, if possible. Here are tips for answering problem-solving interview questions , with examples of the best answers.
- It's one of the key skills that employers seek in job applicants.
- Problem-solving starts with identifying the issue, coming up with solutions, implementing those solutions, and evaluating their effectiveness.
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The Top 5 Problem-Solving Skills Employers Want In 2023
Problem-solving is one of the top skills that employers believe will grow in importance over the next five years (and beyond), according to the Future of Jobs report by the World Economic Forum.
“Research in the past few years points to problem-solving skills as being crucial to business success. Many employers now put these ahead of technical skills,” says John Kleeman , founder of the online assessment platform Questionmark.
What does this mean for you, the job seeker?
It means that it’s more important than ever to show employers that you can identify and solve problems quickly and efficiently, whether you’re applying to an entry-level job or a senior executive position.
Table of Contents
What are problem-solving skills?
The top 5 problem-solving skills to put on your resume, why are problem-solving skills important, how to highlight problem-solving skills on a resume, how to highlight problem-solving skills in a job interview, how to develop and improve your problem-solving skills.
Use Jobscan’s free ATS-friendly resume templates and start building your resume that gets noticed by recruiters!
Problem-solving is a complex skill. It involves critical thinking , decision-making, creativity, and information processing.
Effective problem-solvers use a systematic approach that allows them to break down difficult problems into smaller, more manageable parts.
In its simplest form, problem-solving involves three basic steps:
Step 1 – Identify the problem. This may seem obvious, but it is important to take the time to really understand what the problem is before trying to solve it.
This can involve talking to people who are affected by the problem, doing research, or consulting experts in the field.
Step 2 – Generate a list of possible solutions. Consider how effective each solution would be and whether or not it is feasible to implement.
Once you have narrowed down the list of possible solutions, you can then start testing out the most promising ones.
Step 3 – Implement the solution . This step also includes determining what resources are needed to put the solution into action, such as money, personnel, or technology.
Ultimately, the goal is to come up with the most effective, practical solution that will address both the immediate issue and any underlying causes.
By following these three steps, you should be able to easily identify and solve problems quickly and efficiently!
Employees who have good problem-solving skills are vital for the successful functioning of any business.
But what specific skills are employers looking for?
Here are five of the most important problem-solving skills that businesses want their employees to have.
“ Problems are nothing but wake-up calls for creativity. ” –Gerhard Gschwandtner
Creativity allows us to examine a problem from multiple perspectives, use outside-the-box thinking, and come up with innovative solutions.
By embracing creativity, we open ourselves up to new possibilities and make our problem-solving efforts more effective.
How to use creativity in the workplace
- Create processes to improve workflow and reduce costs.
- Brainstorm ideas to develop new products or services for a company.
- Develop strategies to increase customer loyalty and satisfaction.
- Leverage technology to create more efficient processes and systems.
- Analyze data to identify trends and opportunities for improvement.
“ Research is formalized curiosity. It is poking and prying with a purpose .” – Zora Neale Hurston
Research skills are essential when resolving complex problems.
Only by gathering and analyzing data from multiple sources can we begin to assess the problem and determine the most appropriate solutions accurately.
How to use research in the workplace
- Identify new markets or customer segments to target.
- Gather information about competitors and their products/services.
- Stay up to date on industry news and developments.
- Evaluate potential partners, vendors, or products before purchasing.
- Analyze past performance in order to make projections for the future.
“ Good communication is just as stimulating as black coffee, and just as hard to sleep after .” -Anne Morrow Lindbergh
Once you’ve identified a potential solution to a problem, you need to be able to explain it clearly to others.
This involves both verbal and written communication , as well as the ability to listen carefully and understand the perspective of others.
How to communicate in the workplace
- Clarify goals and make sure that everyone is on the same page.
- Resolve conflicts quickly and efficiently.
- Promote collaboration among team members by fostering trust and respect.
- Allow employees to exchange feedback regularly.
- Provide recognition and appreciation to team members.
“ Alone we can do so little; together we can do so much .” – Helen Keller
Being able to work on a team is an important skill that contributes to effective problem-solving.
When team members work together to tackle complex issues, the best solutions are often found because each individual has a unique perspective and skill set that can contribute to solving the problem.
How to be a team player in the workplace
- Foster an environment of open communication, feedback, and growth.
- Utilize the strengths of individual team members to achieve a common goal.
- Develop trust, respect, and camaraderie among team members.
- Promote a culture of accountability and ownership for projects.
- Encourage creativity, risk-taking, and an atmosphere of experimentation.
5) Decision Making
“ You cannot make progress without making decisions. ” – Jim Rohn
It’s important to be able to identify problems and analyze possible solutions. Still, at some point, you need to make a decision .
Good decision-makers focus on solving the problem rather than wasting time analyzing all of the available data or endlessly debating which option is best.
How to make decisions in the workplace
- Use feedback constructively to make better decisions in the future.
- Take risks when necessary while being aware of the potential consequences.
- Learn from mistakes and use data to develop better solutions.
- Demonstrate confidence and decisiveness when making difficult choices.
- Analyze situations based on facts and data, not assumptions or emotions.
Problem-solving is considered a soft skill, or “people” skill.
Soft skills are personal attributes that can be transferred from one job to another and help employees interact more effectively with others in the workplace.
For example, in addition to problem-solving, soft skills include time management , empathy, teamwork, flexibility, and having a positive attitude.
In today’s rapidly changing world, soft skills have become more valuable than ever to employers.
“When we look at today’s workforce,” says Eric Frazer , the author of The Psychology of Top Talent , “there’s definitely been a shift away from just having what I would call ‘tacit knowledge’ and ‘tacit skills’…meaning, you’re just good at what you do.” Instead, “There is a deeper understanding that people have to come first, before performance.”
Problem-solving skills are crucial to the success of any business. Employees face problems every day. How they deal with them can mean the difference between success and failure.
If you can learn to identify and solve problems quickly and effectively, you’ll be an invaluable asset to your team.
It’s essential to highlight your problem-solving skills when writing your resume. Remember, employers are specifically looking for them!
Here are a few things you can do to make your problem-solving skills stand out more:
1. Use action verbs
When describing your skills on a resume, try to use catchy, memorable language that packs a punch.
In particular, try to use action verbs . These are words that describe “doing” – like “riding” a bike or “walking” to school.
The best action words to use on your resume are those that are descriptive and specific . These will paint a more vivid picture of your skills and experience.
For example, instead of writing “ helped solve problems,” you could write “ identified and solved critical issues.”
Other phrases that use strong action verbs are:
- Developed creative solutions to complex problems.
- Researched and implemented best practices for problem prevention.
- Streamlined processes to reduce errors and increase efficiency.
2. Quantify your accomplishments
It’s one thing to say you have strong problem-solving skills, but it’s even better to back it up with hard numbers .
Whenever possible on your resume, include metrics that show just how effective you are at solving problems. For example, “reduced customer complaints by 30%.”
Here are some other ways to show off numbers:
- Managed a budget of $200,000 and reduced expenses by 10%.
- Achieved a 95% success rate in meeting objectives.
- Resolved an average of 100 customer complaints per month.
3. Describe your research skills
Research skills play a key role in solving problems. If you’re good at conducting research and finding relevant information, make sure to include that on your resume.
For example, you can write “utilized extensive research skills to investigate new methods for streamlining inventory management.”
Here are some more examples:
- Compiled statistical data for reports and analysis.
- Analyzed research findings to develop creative solutions.
- Routinely updated databases with new information.
4. Highlight your creativity
There are many problems that cannot be solved with conventional methods.
If you’re the type of person who is good at thinking outside the box and coming up with creative solutions, make sure to mention that on your resume.
For example, you might say, “suggested new approaches to customer service that increased customer satisfaction.”
More examples include:
- Resolved a long-standing issue with our website’s design by implementing a new coding solution.
- Generated fresh ideas for product development and marketing campaigns.
- Turned a failing project around by coming up with a solution that no one else had thought of.
5. Emphasize your collaboration skills
In many cases, problems can’t be solved by one person working alone.
If you’re good at collaborating with others and working as part of a team, that’s something you should try to highlight on your resume.
For example, you could say that you “worked cross-functionally to launch an annual industry report.”
Other examples include:
- Brought together stakeholders with different objectives and helped them find common ground.
- Helped resolved misunderstandings between departments, resulting in a 30% increase in sales.
- Facilitated weekly team meetings to ensure consistent communication and successful completion of tasks.
When interviewers ask about your problem-solving skills, they are looking for specific examples of how you have identified and solved problems in the past.
These problem-solving examples could be from work, from your studies, or even taken from your personal life!
Here are some tips on how to highlight your problem-solving skills in a job interview:
1. Describe your process
When describing how you solved a problem, be sure to include all the steps you took in your explanation. This will show the interviewer that you are systematic and thorough in your approach.
For example, if you were tasked with increasing sales at your previous job, you might say:
“I began by analyzing our current sales figures and identifying where we were losing customers. I then looked at our marketing strategy and identified areas where we could improve. Finally, I implemented a new marketing strategy and monitored the results closely. This led to a significant increase in sales within six months.”
2. Use problem-solving skills in the interview itself
Some interviewers will ask you to solve a problem on the spot as part of the interview process. This is usually done to assess your analytical and critical thinking skills.
For example, you may be asked to analyze a company’s financial reports and identify areas of concern.
When solving problems in an interview, be sure to think out loud so the interviewer can understand your thought process.
If you’re not sure of the answer, don’t be afraid to say so. This shows that you’re willing to admit when you don’t know something and are willing to learn.
3. Make connections to responsibilities included in the new job
Be sure to highlight how your problem-solving skills will be relevant to the responsibilities of the position you’re applying for.
For example, if you’re applying for a job as a customer service representative, you might talk about a time when you had to diffuse a difficult customer situation.
If you make connections between your past experiences and the new job, it shows the interviewer that you’re qualified for the position and that you’re excited about the opportunity to use your skills in a new way.
4. Use specific examples and data
When describing how you used your problem-solving skills in the past, mention specific examples and support your claims with data.
This makes your story more convincing and shows that you’re not just making things up.
For example, if you’re claiming that you increased sales, be sure to back it up with sales reports, graphs, or even customer testimonials.
Improving your problem-solving skills can open up a variety of different career opportunities.
Here are some things you can do to strengthen your problem-solving abilities:
1. Be proactive
The first step to solving any problem is to recognize that it exists!
This might seem obvious, but many people choose to ignore problems instead of facing them head-on.
Pay attention to the things that are going wrong in your life and work, and don’t sweep them under the rug.
2. Break down big problems into smaller ones
When you’re faced with a big problem, it can be overwhelming. But if you break the problem down into smaller pieces, it will be much easier to solve.
For example, let’s say you’re trying to lose weight. This is a big goal, but it can be broken down into smaller goals, like eating healthy meals and exercising regularly.
Once you have a plan for each of these smaller goals, you’ll be one step closer to solving the bigger problem.
3. Be open-minded
Being open-minded means that you’re willing to consider all possible solutions, even if they’re not what you were originally thinking.
If you’re closed-minded, you might miss out on the best solution to the problem. So don’t be afraid to try something new.
4. Be persistent
Persistence is another important quality for problem-solvers. If you give up at the first sign of trouble, you’ll never find a solution.
When you’re facing a difficult problem, it’s important to keep trying different things until you find a solution that works.
Don’t give up, and eventually, you’ll find the answer you’re looking for!
5. Ask for help
If you’re having trouble solving a problem, don’t be afraid to ask for help. There’s no shame in admitting that you need assistance.
There are many people who are happy to help others solve their problems. So reach out to your friends, family, or even a professional if you need some guidance.
Developing better problem-solving skills can take some time and effort, but it’s worth it!
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What Are Problem-Solving Skills? (Definition, Examples, And How To List On A Resume)
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Types of Problem-Solving Skills
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Summary. Problem-solving skills include analysis, creativity, prioritization, organization, and troubleshooting. To solve a problem, you need to use a variety of skills based on the needs of the situation. Most jobs essentially boil down to identifying and solving problems consistently and effectively. That’s why employers value problem-solving skills in job candidates for just about every role. We’ll cover problem-solving methods, ways to improve your problem-solving skills, and examples of showcasing your problem-solving skills during your job search . Key Takeaways: If you can show off your problem-solving skills on your resume , in your cover letter , and during a job interview, you’ll be one step closer to landing a job. Companies rely on employees who can handle unexpected challenges, identify persistent issues, and offer workable solutions in a positive way. It is important to improve problem solving skill because this is a skill that can be cultivated and nurtured so you can become better at dealing with problems over time. What Are Problem Solving Skills?
Problem-solving skills are skills that help you identify and solve problems effectively and efficiently . Your ability to solve problems is one of the main ways that hiring managers and recruiters assess candidates, as those with excellent problem-solving skills are more likely to autonomously carry out their responsibilities.
A true problem solver can look at a situation, find the cause of the problem (or causes, because there are often many issues at play), and then come up with a reasonable solution that effectively fixes the problem or at least remedies most of it.
The ability to solve problems is considered a soft skill , meaning that it’s more of a personality trait than a skill you’ve learned at school, on the job, or through technical training.
That being said, your proficiency with various hard skills will have a direct bearing on your ability to solve problems. For example, it doesn’t matter if you’re a great problem-solver; if you have no experience with astrophysics, you probably won’t be hired as a space station technician .
Problem-solving is considered a skill on its own, but it’s supported by many other skills that can help you be a better problem solver. These skills fall into a few different categories of problem-solving skills.
Problem recognition and analysis. The first step is to recognize that there is a problem and discover what it is or what the root cause of it is.
You can’t begin to solve a problem unless you’re aware of it. Sometimes you’ll see the problem yourself and other times you’ll be told about the problem. Both methods of discovery are very important, but they can require some different skills. The following can be an important part of the process:
Create possible solutions. You know what the problem is, and you might even know the why of it, but then what? Your next step is the come up with some solutions.
Most of the time, the first solution you come up with won’t be the right one. Don’t fall victim to knee-jerk reactions; try some of the following methods to give you solution options.
Evaluation of solution options. Now that you have a lot of solution options, it’s time to weed through them and start casting some aside. There might be some ridiculous ones, bad ones, and ones you know could never be implemented. Throw them away and focus on the potentially winning ideas.
This step is probably the one where a true, natural problem solver will shine. They intuitively can put together mental scenarios and try out solutions to see their plusses and minuses. If you’re still working on your skill set — try listing the pros and cons on a sheet of paper.
Evaluating and weighing
Solution implementation. This is your “take action” step. Once you’ve decided which way to go, it’s time to head down that path and see if you were right. This step takes a lot of people and management skills to make it work for you.
Evaluation of the solution. Was it a good solution? Did your plan work or did it fail miserably? Sometimes the evaluation step takes a lot of work and review to accurately determine effectiveness. The following skills might be essential for a thorough evaluation.
You now have a ton of skills in front of you. Some of them you have naturally and some — not so much. If you want to solve a problem, and you want to be known for doing that well and consistently, then it’s time to sharpen those skills.
Develop industry knowledge. Whether it’s broad-based industry knowledge, on-the-job training , or very specific knowledge about a small sector — knowing all that you can and feeling very confident in your knowledge goes a long way to learning how to solve problems.
Be a part of a solution. Step up and become involved in the problem-solving process. Don’t lead — but follow. Watch an expert solve the problem and, if you pay attention, you’ll learn how to solve a problem, too. Pay attention to the steps and the skills that a person uses.
Practice solving problems. Do some role-playing with a mentor , a professor , co-workers, other students — just start throwing problems out there and coming up with solutions and then detail how those solutions may play out.
Go a step further, find some real-world problems and create your solutions, then find out what they did to solve the problem in actuality.
Identify your weaknesses. If you could easily point out a few of your weaknesses in the list of skills above, then those are the areas you need to focus on improving. How you do it is incredibly varied, so find a method that works for you.
Solve some problems — for real. If the opportunity arises, step in and use your problem-solving skills. You’ll never really know how good (or bad) you are at it until you fail.
That’s right, failing will teach you so much more than succeeding will. You’ll learn how to go back and readdress the problem, find out where you went wrong, learn more from listening even better. Failure will be your best teacher ; it might not make you feel good, but it’ll make you a better problem-solver in the long run.
Once you’ve impressed a hiring manager with top-notch problem-solving skills on your resume and cover letter , you’ll need to continue selling yourself as a problem-solver in the job interview.
There are three main ways that employers can assess your problem-solving skills during an interview:
By asking questions that relate to your past experiences solving problems
Posing hypothetical problems for you to solve
By administering problem-solving tests and exercises
The third method varies wildly depending on what job you’re applying for, so we won’t attempt to cover all the possible problem-solving tests and exercises that may be a part of your application process.
Luckily, interview questions focused on problem-solving are pretty well-known, and most can be answered using the STAR method . STAR stands for situation, task, action, result, and it’s a great way to organize your answers to behavioral interview questions .
Let’s take a look at how to answer some common interview questions built to assess your problem-solving capabilities:
At my current job as an operations analyst at XYZ Inc., my boss set a quarterly goal to cut contractor spending by 25% while maintaining the same level of production and moving more processes in-house. It turned out that achieving this goal required hiring an additional 6 full-time employees, which got stalled due to the pandemic. I suggested that we widen our net and hire remote employees after our initial applicant pool had no solid candidates. I ran the analysis on overhead costs and found that if even 4 of the 6 employees were remote, we’d save 16% annually compared to the contractors’ rates. In the end, all 6 employees we hired were fully remote, and we cut costs by 26% while production rose by a modest amount.
I try to step back and gather research as my first step. For instance, I had a client who needed a graphic designer to work with Crello, which I had never seen before, let alone used. After getting the project details straight, I began meticulously studying the program the YouTube tutorials, and the quick course Crello provides. I also reached out to coworkers who had worked on projects for this same client in the past. Once I felt comfortable with the software, I started work immediately. It was a slower process because I had to be more methodical in my approach, but by putting in some extra hours, I turned in the project ahead of schedule. The client was thrilled with my work and was shocked to hear me joke afterward that it was my first time using Crello.
As a digital marketer , website traffic and conversion rates are my ultimate metrics. However, I also track less visible metrics that can illuminate the story behind the results. For instance, using Google Analytics, I found that 78% of our referral traffic was coming from one affiliate, but that these referrals were only accounting for 5% of our conversions. Another affiliate, who only accounted for about 10% of our referral traffic, was responsible for upwards of 30% of our conversions. I investigated further and found that the second, more effective affiliate was essentially qualifying our leads for us before sending them our way, which made it easier for us to close. I figured out exactly how they were sending us better customers, and reached out to the first, more prolific but less effective affiliate with my understanding of the results. They were able to change their pages that were referring us traffic, and our conversions from that source tripled in just a month. It showed me the importance of digging below the “big picture” metrics to see the mechanics of how revenue was really being generated through digital marketing.
You can bring up your problem-solving skills in your resume summary statement , in your work experience , and under your education section , if you’re a recent graduate. The key is to include items on your resume that speak direclty to your ability to solve problems and generate results.
If you can, quantify your problem-solving accomplishments on your your resume . Hiring managers and recruiters are always more impressed with results that include numbers because they provide much-needed context.
This sample resume for a Customer Service Representative will give you an idea of how you can work problem solving into your resume.
Michelle Beattle 111 Millennial Parkway Chicago, IL 60007 (555) 987-6543 [email protected] Professional Summary Qualified Customer Services Representative with 3 years in a high-pressure customer service environment. Professional, personable, and a true problem solver. Work History ABC Store — Customer Service Representative 01/2015 — 12/2017 Managed in-person and phone relations with customers coming in to pick up purchases, return purchased products, helped find and order items not on store shelves, and explained details and care of merchandise. Became a key player in the customer service department and was promoted to team lead. XYZ Store — Customer Service Representative/Night Manager 01/2018 — 03/2020, released due to Covid-19 layoffs Worked as the night manager of the customer service department and filled in daytime hours when needed. Streamlined a process of moving customers to the right department through an app to ease the burden on the phone lines and reduce customer wait time by 50%. Was working on additional wait time problems when the Covid-19 pandemic caused our stores to close permanently. Education Chicago Tech 2014-2016 Earned an Associate’s Degree in Principles of Customer Care Skills Strong customer service skills Excellent customer complaint resolution Stock record management Order fulfillment New product information Cash register skills and proficiency Leader in problem solving initiatives
You can see how the resume gives you a chance to point out your problem-solving skills and to show where you used them a few times. Your cover letter is your chance to introduce yourself and list a few things that make you stand out from the crowd.
Michelle Beattle 111 Millennial Parkway Chicago, IL 60007 (555) 987-6543 [email protected] Dear Mary McDonald, I am writing in response to your ad on Zippia for a Customer Service Representative . Thank you for taking the time to consider me for this position. Many people believe that a job in customer service is simply listening to people complain all day. I see the job as much more than that. It’s an opportunity to help people solve problems, make their experience with your company more enjoyable, and turn them into life-long advocates of your brand. Through my years of experience and my educational background at Chicago Tech, where I earned an Associate’s Degree in the Principles of Customer Care, I have learned that the customers are the lifeline of the business and without good customer service representatives, a business will falter. I see it as my mission to make each and every customer I come in contact with a fan. I have more than five years of experience in the Customer Services industry and had advanced my role at my last job to Night Manager. I am eager to again prove myself as a hard worker, a dedicated people person, and a problem solver that can be relied upon. I have built a professional reputation as an employee that respects all other employees and customers, as a manager who gets the job done and finds solutions when necessary, and a worker who dives in to learn all she can about the business. Most of my customers have been very satisfied with my resolution ideas and have returned to do business with us again. I believe my expertise would make me a great match for LMNO Store. I have enclosed my resume for your review, and I would appreciate having the opportunity to meet with you to further discuss my qualifications. Thank you again for your time and consideration. Sincerely, Michelle Beattle
You’ve no doubt noticed that many of the skills listed in the problem-solving process are repeated. This is because having these abilities or talents is so important to the entire course of getting a problem solved.
In fact, they’re worthy of a little more attention. Many of them are similar, so we’ll pull them together and discuss how they’re important and how they work together.
Communication, active listening, and customer service skills. No matter where you are in the process of problem-solving, you need to be able to show that you’re listening and engaged and really hearing what the problem is or what a solution may be.
Obviously, the other part of this is being able to communicate effectively so people understand what you’re saying without confusion. Rolled into this are customer service skills , which really are all about listening and responding appropriately — it’s the ultimate in interpersonal communications.
Analysis (data and historical), research, and topic knowledge/understanding. This is how you intellectually grasp the issue and approach it. This can come from studying the topic and the process or it can come from knowledge you’ve gained after years in the business. But the best solutions come from people who thoroughly understand the problem.
Creativity, brainstorming, troubleshooting, and flexibility. All of you creative thinkers will like this area because it’s when your brain is at its best.
Coming up with ideas, collaborating with others, leaping over hurdles, and then being able to change courses immediately, if need be, are all essential. If you’re not creative by nature, then having a team of diverse thinkers can help you in this area.
Dependability, believability, trustworthiness, and follow-through. Think about it, these are all traits a person needs to have to make change happen and to make you comfortable taking that next step with them. Someone who is shifty and shady and never follows through, well, you’re simply not going to do what they ask, are you?
Leadership, teambuilding, decision-making, and project management. These are the skills that someone who is in charge is brimming with. These are the leaders you enjoy working for because you know they’re doing what they can to keep everything in working order. These skills can be learned but they’re often innate.
Prioritizing, prediction, forecasting, evaluating and weighing, and process flow. If you love flow charts, data analysis, prediction modeling, and all of that part of the equation, then you might have some great problem-solving abilities.
These are all great skills because they can help you weed out bad ideas, see flaws, and save massive amounts of time in trial and error.
What is a good example of problem-solving skills?
Good examples of porblem-solving skills include research, analysis, creativity, communciation, and decision-making. Each of these skills build off one another to contribute to the problem solving process. Research and analysis allow you to identify a problem.
Creativity and analysis help you consider different solutions. Meanwhile, communication and decision-making are key to working with others to solve a problem on a large scale.
What are 3 key attributes of a good problem solver?
3 key attributes of a good problem solver are persistence, intellegince, and empathy. Persistence is crucial to remain motivated to work through challenges. Inellegince is needed to make smart, informed choices. Empathy is crucial to maintain positive relationships with others as well as yourself.
What can I say instead of problem-solving skills?
Instead of saying problem-solving skills, you can say the following:
Using different words is helpful, especially when writing your resume and cover letter.
What is problem-solving in the workplace?
Problem-solving in the workplace is the ability to work through any sort of challenge, conflict, or unexpected situation and still achieve business goals. Though it varies by profession, roblem-solving in the workplace is very important for almost any job, because probelms are inevitable. You need to have the appropriate level of problem-solving skills if you want to succeed in your career, whatever it may be.
Department of Labor – Problem Solving and Critical Thinking
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Kristin Kizer is an award-winning writer, television and documentary producer, and content specialist who has worked on a wide variety of written, broadcast, and electronic publications. A former writer/producer for The Discovery Channel, she is now a freelance writer and delighted to be sharing her talents and time with the wonderful Zippia audience.
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7 Problem Solving Skills Marketing Managers Need & How to Improve Them
Updated: November 19, 2021
Published: November 03, 2021
Think back to a time you had to solve a problem but didn't have all of the right information. What did you do? Situations like this pop up all the time at work and put your problem solving skills to the test.
As a marketing manager, one may think your job doesn't revolve around problem solving. But it's an essential part of putting out fires at work — and making sure there's a process in place to prevent issues from happening again.
Whether you're making decisions that affect an entire team or simply creating solutions for yourself, strong problem solving skills can help you grow as a person and a professional.
In this post, we'll cover what it means to come up with creative solutions and how to hone the skills to approach problems like a pro.
What are problem solving skills?
Problem solving skills allow you to notice an issue, identify the root cause, design an effective solution, and successfully implement it. This includes the skills to evaluate whether or not your plan achieved the results you wanted.
The best problem solvers can anticipate problems before they arise and take action to prevent them or lessen the impact. They use logic to define what needs to change and creativity to propose innovative solutions.
Having strong problem solving skills can help you impress your manager, contribute unique ideas, and achieve your goals. It also means you can work through the core steps of solving a problem:
- Identify and define the problem.
- Come up with possible solutions.
- Evaluate the options.
- Choose the best solution.
- Implement the solution.
- Evaluate the outcome.
While there are many types of problem solving skills, many are considered soft skills that you develop over time. Think communication skills, people skills, social skills, and personality traits. For example, a marketing manager needs to be able to solve a conflict between team members or devise a plan to keep their campaigns going if the company marketing budget is cut.
While problem solving skills can require you to use your technical ability, you have to establish a number of specific soft skills to identify issues and implement solutions.
Problem Solving Skills Examples
No matter your career path, being an effective problem solver is beneficial for personal and career growth. Here's a look at the skills you may use when solving a problem:
Problem Solving Skills Marketing Managers Need
A marketing manager who notices issues and makes decisions to solve them is a valuable addition to any company. This type of person gets things done and motivates others to do the same.
The further you grow in your career, the more problem solving skills you need to have in your toolkit. The higher up you get in an organization, decisions become riskier, solutions are often more vague, and the potential impact can be monumental to the company.
Let's look at the top problem solving skills you need to be a successful marketing manager.
1. Analytical Skills
Solving any problem starts with analyzing the issue — you have to go beyond the symptoms of the problem to find the root cause.
Maybe your team is routinely going over budget on social campaign spend. Instead of micro-managing every detail, analytical skills help you dig into the problem to see what may be going wrong. You find that your social media coordinators can set up campaigns correctly, but they lack the basic budgeting skills to keep spending on track. So you devise a training program to teach them about profit, loss, and financial forecasting.
Being analytical can include a number of essential problem solving skills for marketers:
- Attention to detail
- Data collection
- Historical analysis
Once you discover the true problem, you can come up with the ideal solution. This is where you put your creative problem solving skills to the test. And for those who question whether creativity plays into solving problems, creativity is one of Indeed's top 20 in-demand skills for 2021 across all industries and fields.
Sometimes the solution to a problem is not always straight-forward, and can require creative thinking and other points of view to be resolved.
Creativity comes in many styles. Engineers can create innovative code, and writers can come up with new blog styles. For marketing managers, creativity plays out in a number of problem solving skills:
- Project design
- Project planning
- Editing the aesthetics of marketing materials
- Creating new promotional methods for products
- Planning and executing events
With dozens of solutions before you, how do you choose the best one? Through exercising sound judgment. Developing good judgment lets you consider the nature of a problem, possible setbacks, costs and resources, decision makers, and how to implement a solution. You can compare between options and select the solution that's right for each unique situation.
As a marketing manager, you can showcase your judgment skills through:
- Critical thinking
- Test development
Communication skills are the foundation of problem solving and one of the top leadership skills . As a manager, you need to be able to articulate your opinions, brainstorm with a colleague, and give feedback to a direct report. Being a good communicator also helps you relay your decision on a solution and align everyone to tackle it together.
Without specific problem solving communication skills, issues can't be resolved quickly and efficiently. That's why to be an effective leader and expert problem solver, it's important to make sure you have the following communication skills:
- Active listening
- Clarity of expression
- Public speaking
- Reading body language
- Verbal communication
- Written communication
- Building rapport
Once you've chosen a solution to a problem and communicated it to your team, you still have to create a process to carry out your plan. Organization skills help you implement the steps everyone needs to take, which can improve alignment and efficiency.
Setting up a strategy for your solution uses a number of problem solving skills including:
- Project management
- Time management
- Meeting facilitation
- Recording and filing information
- Creating strategic schedules
No marketing manager is an island. Teamwork is essential for working with others and contributing to a company's mission. It's necessary for exchanging ideas, delegating tasks, and working toward a solution.
Even if your role is largely independent work, you still need teamwork to collaborate with colleagues in different departments and keep your goals on track. But as a marketer, your role usually involves interacting with multiple people (if not dozens) per day. So you need to develop the skills that will make everyone want you on their team.
- Giving and receiving feedback
- Goal setting
- Resource allocation
- Prioritizing tasks
- Setting expectations
- Assessing employee strengths and weaknesses
- Performance evaluation
- Identifying outcomes
When problem solving, evaluation skills let you assess if a solution is working and help you make the necessary adjustments. These are similar to analytical skills, but often require more patience and flexibility in case your strategy didn't go as planned. It's important to know whether or not your plan is working as quickly as possible so you can pivot and try another solution.
- Data analysis
- Creating and evaluating surveys
- Customer feedback
- Identifying patterns
- Open mindedness
How to Improve Problem Solving Skills
Developing your problem solving skills isn't as straightforward as mastering Excel. But marketing managers can take several steps to improve their skills and advance their careers.
Question your decisions.
Relying on your gut instinct isn't the path to expert problem solving skills. Instead, try taking time to consciously question why you make decisions and what the outcomes may be if you choose one option over another. You can ask yourself:
- How important is this decision?
- How will this impact me a year from now?
- What’s the worst thing that could happen?
- What effect will this decision have on my team and the company?
- What can I do if I make the wrong decision here?
Look for opportunities to solve more problems.
Many experiences in your personal and professional life help you hone your problem solving skills, often without you even realizing it. You can gain or improve your skills by doing any of the following:
- Figuring out a technical problem with your phone or computer.
- Taking up a DIY project you've never tried before.
- Resolving a customer or employee complaint.
- Organizing a team bonding activity, overcoming obstacles along the way.
- Acting as a mentor for direct reports and helping them tackle their problems.
- Re-budgeting your finances to fund an out-of-the-blue trip.
- Finding out why there's been a dip in activity on your company's social media channels.
Find models and games to improve your problem solving skills.
A combination of proven models and fun mental games can help you develop problem solving skills. Some can hone your decision-making abilities, while others let you determine the cost of the possible solutions. Depending on which set of skills you want to improve, look to options like:
- 5 Whys (root cause analysis)
- Fishbone diagram (cause and effect analysis)
- Brainwriting (brainstorming technique)
- Starbursting (exploratory brainstorming)
- Hurson's Productive Thinking model (creative problem solving)
- Lego Master (decision-making and communication)
- Escape Room (group communication and collaboration)
- Line-Up (non-verbal communication)
- Hackathons (brainstorming and creativity)
Demonstrating Problem Solving Skills
Knowing how to solve problems at work is not only crucial for contributing to company goals — it's also a must-have for moving to management positions. That's why it's important to highlight the skills you already have. This includes adding problem solving skills to your resume and showcasing your abilities during job interviews.
Whether you're looking for a marketing manager role or wondering what to say next time an opportunity to advance at your current company opens up, start with the STAR method . It's designed to help you think through your experiences so you can articulate your specific problem solving skills. Make sure to give an overview of a challenge you had to overcome, how you approached it, what solution you found, and what outcome you achieved.
Honing your problem solving skills makes you more valuable as a manager and team member. So putting in time to develop the skills most relevant to your current (and future!) roles can make it easier to climb the ladder and come up with efficient, effective solutions.
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The 8 Problem-Solving Skills to Master in the Workplace
Build and maintain strong problem-solving skills to make a huge impact on your career. Problems arise daily at work. Learn how to face all workplace problems head-on.
What Are Common Problem Solving Skills?
Essential problem-solving skills, open-mindedness, active listening skills , analytic skills, research skills, communication skills.
- Is there negative feedback that can be reframed as a positive opportunity to change ?
- Are there hard-to-swallow items in your presentation that require a gentle presentation ?
- Have things gone so haywire that you need to communicate in a stern, unrelenting manner?
Teamwork skills, how to show your problem-solving skills .
- office life
- office culture
- soft skills
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Problem-solving skills are the ability to identify problems, brainstorm and analyze answers, and implement the best solutions. An employee with
analytical skills · innovative and creative thinking · a lateral mindset · adaptability and flexibility · level-headedness · initiative · resilience (in order to
Problem Solving · Creativity. Problems are usually solved either intuitively or systematically. · Researching Skills. Defining and solving problems often requires
What are problem-solving skills? · Active listening · Analysis · Research · Creativity · Communication · Decision-making · Team-building.
Problem-solving skills help you solve issues quickly and effectively. It's one of the key skills that employers seek in job applicants, as
Problem-solving is a complex skill. It involves critical thinking, decision-making, creativity, and information processing. Effective problem-
Summary. Problem-solving skills include analysis, creativity, prioritization, organization, and troubleshooting. To solve a problem, you need to
What are problem solving skills? · Identify and define the problem. · Come up with possible solutions. · Evaluate the options. · Choose the best
Essential Problem-Solving Skills · Open-Mindedness · Active Listening Skills · Analytic Skills · Creativity · Research Skills · Communication Skills · Dependability.
Problem-solving skills allow you to find candidates who are cognitively equipped to handle anything their jobs throw at them. Problem solvers can observe, judge