Most Important Problem-Solving Skills (With Examples)

By Chris Kolmar - Sep. 25, 2020
Skills Based Articles

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How do you think your problem-solving skills stack up? Are you good at solving problems or do you feel that that is not your strong suit? It may surprise you, but that’s a big plus when it comes to finding a new job or finding that first job. Employers want people with great problem-solving skills.

Even if you think you’re a whiz-bang problem solver, one of the best, how do you really know if you have problem solving skills and how do you show that to a prospective employer. Does it appear on a resume or a cover letter? We’ll walk you through it so you can prove that you’re the right job candidate.

What Are Problem Solving Skills?

It’s important to start at the beginning and get pretty specific. Being a problem solver doesn’t mean that you can walk into a situation and say, “Do it this way!” and expect that to be the resolution to the problem. 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. While your natural ability to tackle problems and solve them is something you were born with or began to hone early on, it doesn’t mean that you can’t work on it. This is a skill that can be cultivated and nurtured so you can become better at dealing with problems over time.

Types of Problem-Solving Skills

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 difference categories, or types of problem-solving skills.

  1. 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.

    • Active listening

    • Data Analysis

    • Research

    • Historical Analysis

    • Communication

  2. 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.

    Job type you want
    Full Time
    Part Time
    Internship
    Temporary
    • Brainstorming

    • Creativity

    • Prediction

    • Forecasting

    • Decision making

    • Topic knowledge/understanding

    • Process flow

  3. 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 one, 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.

    • Data Analysis

    • Creativity

    • Decision making

    • Prioritizing

    • Prediction

    • Forecasting

    • Evaluating and Weighing

  4. 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.

    • Communication

    • Dependability

    • Teambuilding

    • Troubleshooting

    • Follow-Through

    • Leadership

    • Believability

    • Trustworthiness

    • Project Management

  5. Evaluation 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.

    • Active listening

    • Data Analysis

    • Research

    • Communication

    • Decision making

    • Customer Service

    • Feedback Responses

    • Troubleshooting

    • Flexibility

More About Problem Solving Skills

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 arecustomer 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. If you’re not creative by nature, then having a team of fluid 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.

How to improve Problem Solving skills

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 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.

How to Show Off Problem Solving Skills on a Resume

It’s time to get a job and you know your future employer is going to be impressed by all of the problem-solving work you’ve been doing. Hey, you’re a champ at it now and have several successes (and failures) under your belt. It’s time to highlight those successes on your resume to prove that you can walk the walk. 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
MBeattle@email.com

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

How to Include Problem Solving on Your Cover Letter

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
MBeattle@email.com

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, to make their experience with your company more enjoyable, and to 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

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Chris Kolmar

Author

Chris Kolmar

Chris Kolmar is a co-founder of Zippia and the editor-in-chief of the Zippia career advice blog. He has hired over 50 people in his career, been hired five times, and wants to help you land your next job. His research has been featured on the New York Times, Thrillist, VOX, The Atlantic, and a host of local news. More recently, he's been quoted on USA Today, BusinessInsider, and CNBC.

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