What Are Problem-Solving Skills? How to Use Them at Work

What Are Problem-Solving Skills? How to Use Them At Work

Are you in the process of writing or updating your resume? Have you looked up “in-demand skills” and found problem-solving skills listed near the top?

At first glance, defining problem-solving skills can be daunting. Even if you’re the team member voted most likely to have a creative solution at your current job, figuring out how to quantify that can be challenging. But with some practice and brainstorming past experiences, you can put those skills in writing and grab a recruiter’s attention.

What Skills Are Needed for the Problem-Solving Process?

Before you begin trying to communicate your problem-solving skills, ensure that you’ve cataloged all of the different ways you use them in your professional environment. Practical problem-solving generally occurs through three distinct steps. There’s usually a pattern where you’ve defined the root cause of the issue, researched possible outcomes, and then determined the best solution.

The First Step in Problem-Solving

The first step is generally to stop and observe, rather than jumping in with assumptions. Take time to use your observation and analytical skills to assess the issue and hear feedback from others. When communicating these skills, you’ll focus on how you analyzed a workflow, resolving pain points that led to a better outcome.

The Second Step in Problem-Solving

Skills you’d need for the second part of the process include research and creativity. When considering how to highlight these, consider examples of where and how you got your information. How did you put that information to work? Thinking outside the box to creatively resolve something will portray you as an innovative thinker.

The Final Step in Problem-Solving

The final step in problem-solving is decision-making. Often, you’ll hear managers state they are seeking applicants who show initiative. Without a doubt, it can feel intimidating to throw out suggestions or try something new.

However, having the confidence to decide on a solution and then give it a try is very attractive to prospective employers. You’ll set yourself apart from the other job seekers who play it safe, rather than take calculated risks.

How Can You Improve Problem-Solving Skills?

Problem-solving skills are part of the skills that you need to grow organically. There’s no specific certificate you can achieve to display that you’ve progressively increased your problem-solving acumen. Instead, you should seek out real-world challenges to improve your abilities. Consider some of the following ways to grow your skill set.

  • Listen to any complaints or look for areas where a workflow tends to hit a speed bump.
  • Ask for a stretch assignment. Are there any cross-departmental projects on the horizon?
  • Create a portfolio of faux project samples. Consider different challenges that you observe businesses experiencing and create sample solutions. Bonus points if it’s for one of your dream companies, because you might get a foot in the door.
  • Take some organizational and time management classes to develop those skills officially.

How to Show Problem-Solving Skills

You probably already know that you’ll need to do more than simply state that you have “exceptional problem-solving skills” on your resume and cover letter. Use action verbs, like “developed” or “refined,” to demonstrate how you’ve used your problem-solving skills.

Including Skills on Your Resume

You most likely already know that resume skills should be listed in a less conversational tone than those on your cover letter. You can use bullet points or include them in your skills section if you’re utilizing a hybrid format for your resume. Consider the following examples for ideas.

  • Developed content workflow solution in collaboration with engineers to streamline creation and SEO process, resulting in a 25% quicker turnaround for customer content requests.
  • Refined scheduling process to align more closely with business paterns, resulting in a 17% increase in labor costs YOY.

Including Skills in Your Cover Letter

Cover letters offer you the chance to expand on your skills with a slightly more relaxed tone. Consider some of the key duties of the role that you applied for and brainstorm challenges that might occur.

For instance, a manager might have challenges relating to leadership, a marketer could have problems relating to underperforming numbers, and an engineer might need to refine a user experience.

With that in mind, you can tailor your cover letter to include examples of how you resolved a similar situation. In practice, that might look like this:

This role is particularly appealing to me as I am motivated by the challenges that a project manager would face in this position. My experience has ensured my skills are an excellent fit for this post. For example, on my last project, our national supplier was having sourcing issues. Rather than allow the project to fall behind schedule and go over budget, I explored local businesses to source our materials. As a result, we completed the project ahead of the deadline.

Anticipating Interview Questions

The third place you should be prepared to showcase your problem-solving skills is during direct questions in an interview. Like your cover letter approach, you’ll want to phrase your answers as situational. Explain the challenge and how you analyzed it, then resolved the issue. Some example questions might be:

  • Tell me about a time when you had to find a solution and didn’t have the knowledge you needed.
  • Can you share a time that you took the initiative to improve a process?
  • Give me an example of a time you saw a problem. How did you solve it, and what was the outcome?

Continuously Develop Your Problem-Solving Skills

Regardless of whether it’s a stated job requirement, managers always seek team members who can assess a situation and find creative ways to resolve it. Furthermore, if your solution wasn’t successful the first time, it’s alright to share how you used that information to approach the issue from a different angle. Using setbacks to learn and redirect a process for a better outcome is a sign of professional maturity that leaders value highly in every field.

One of the best ways you can set yourself apart from the competition is by creating a development goal that hones your problem-solving skills in tangible ways you can use to market your personal brand.

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