Problem-Solving Skills: Definitions and Examples

By Indeed Editorial Team

27 February 2020

When employers talk about problem-solving skills, they are often referring to the ability to handle difficult or unexpected situations in the workplace as well as complex business challenges. Organisations rely on people who can assess both kinds of situations and calmly identify solutions. Problem-solving skills are traits that enable you to do that. While problem-solving skills are valued by employers, they are also highly useful in other areas of life like relationship building and day-to-day decision making.

What are problem-solving skills?

Problem-solving skills help you determine the source of a problem and find an effective solution. Although problem-solving is often identified as its own separate skill, there are other related skills that contribute to this ability.

Some key problem-solving skills include:

  • Active listening

  • Analysis

  • Research

  • Creativity

  • Communication

  • Dependability

  • Decision making

  • Team-building

Problem-solving skills are important in every career at every level. As a result, effective problem solving may also require industry or job-specific technical skills. For example, a registered nurse will need active listening and communication skills when interacting with patients but will also need effective technical knowledge related to diseases and medications. In many cases, a nurse will need to know when to consult a doctor regarding a patient’s medical needs as part of the solution.

Problem-solving skills examples

To solve a problem effectively, you will likely need to use a variety of different skills. Here are a few examples of skills you may use when problem-solving:

Research

Researching is an essential skill related to problem solving. As a problem solver, you need to be able to identify the cause of the issue and understand it fully. You can begin to gather more information about a problem by brainstorming with other team members, consulting more experienced colleagues or acquiring knowledge through online research or courses.

Analysis

The first step to solving any problem is to analyse the situation. Your analytical skills will help you understand problems and effectively develop solutions. You will also need analytical skills when conducting your research to help distinguish between effective and ineffective solutions.

Decision-making

Ultimately, you will need to make a decision about how to solve problems that arise. At times (and with industry experience), you may be able to make a decision quickly. Solid research and analytical skills can help those who have less experience in their field come to a decision. There may also be times when it is appropriate to take some time to craft a solution or escalate the issue to someone with more experience.

Communication

When trying to identify possible solutions, you will need to know how to effectively communicate the problem to others. You will also need to know what communication channels are the most appropriate when asking for help. Once you find a solution, communicating it clearly will help reduce any confusion and make implementing it easier.

Dependability

Dependability is one of the most important skills for problem-solvers, and one of the ways to show that you can be depended on is by solving problems in a timely manner. Employers highly value individuals they can trust to both identify and then implement solutions as fast and effectively as possible.

How to improve your problem-solving skills

There are several methods you can use to improve your problem-solving skills. Whether you are searching for a job or currently working, improving your problem-solving skills and associated abilities will help make you a strong candidate and employee.

  • Acquire more technical knowledge in your field. Depending on your industry, it may be easier to solve problems if you have strong working technical knowledge. You can gain more technical knowledge through additional coursework, training or practise.

  • Look for opportunities to solve problems. By putting yourself into new situations, you are more likely to be exposed to problems that need to be solved. You may find there are opportunities to volunteer for new projects in your current role, on another team or outside the workplace for another organisation.

  • Do practice problems. Practice and role-play can be useful tools when learning to develop your problem-solving skills. You can find professional practice books for your industry and problem-solving scenarios online. Practise how you might solve those problems and determine if your potential solutions are viable.

For example, in customer service you might find a scenario like, “How would you handle an angry customer?” or “How do you respond when a customer asks for a refund?” Practising how you might handle these or other scenarios common in your industry can help you find solutions quickly when they arise on the job.

  • Observe how others solve problems. You may have colleagues who are skilled problem solvers. Observing how they solve problems can help you improve your own skills. If possible, ask one of your more experienced colleagues if you can observe their techniques. Asking relevant questions can also be helpful in applying other people’s techniques.

How to highlight problem-solving skills

Showcasing your problem-solving skills on your resume and cover letter can help employers quickly understand how you might be of value to their team. You might consider only showcasing problem-solving skills on your resume if it is particularly relevant in the position you’re applying for. For example, customer service, engineering and management positions are jobs that would likely require problem-solving skills, so it would be a good idea to highlight them in your resume or cover letter when applying.

Problem-solving skills for resume

On your resume, you can highlight your problem-solving skills in several locations: The “skills” section, the “achievements” section, and by giving specific examples of problem-solving in your “experience” section.

In the skills section, you may want to list key problem-solving skills that you possess, instead of simply writing down the more generic term “problem-solving.” For example, you could list specific technical skills you possess that would help you solve problems or soft skills associated with problem-solving, such as your research abilities or decision-making talents.

Remember, stories are powerful. Keep specific examples in mind of times you solved a problem. This is useful on your resume, but will also help you answer interview questions like, “Tell me about a time you overcame an obstacle.”

Problem-solving skills for cover letter

Your cover letter is also an excellent opportunity to elaborate on your problem-solving skills. Here, you can give a brief example of a time you solved a problem successfully. Alternatively, you might identify a challenge that this potential employer is looking to solve and explain how you would address it.

Related: 7 Powerful Ways to Start a Cover Letter

For example, if a job posting mentions that the company is looking for someone to help improve their social media presence, you can identify key ways you might help increase awareness of the brand through various social media platforms.

Your problem-solving skills will be a benefit to you in every step of your career. From writing your resume to interviewing to your every-day duties, the ability to solve problems effectively as they arise will make you a valuable asset on the job and a highly sought out candidate.

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