Problem-Solving Skills: Definitions and Examples

By Indeed Editorial Team

Updated November 20, 2022 | Published May 17, 2021

Updated November 20, 2022

Published May 17, 2021

The Indeed Editorial Team comprises a diverse and talented team of writers, researchers and subject matter experts equipped with Indeed's data and insights to deliver useful tips to help guide your career journey.

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. Organizations rely on people who can assess 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. These skills will benefit you in every step of your career. From resume to application, interview to job duties, the ability to solve problems effectively as they arise will make you a valuable asset as a job candidate and employee.

Although problem-solving is often identified as its own separate skill, other related skills contribute to this ability. Some key problem-solving skills include:

Active listening

Active listening helps you gather valuable information for problem-solving. A good problem-solver can identify everyone involved and encourage them to get involved. You actively listen to different opinions to understand the problem, its root cause and workable solutions.

Related: Active Listening Skills: A Key To Effective Communication In The Workplace

Analysis

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

Research

Research abilities are an essential skill related to problem-solving. As a problem solver, you need to be able to identify and understand 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.

Related: Research Skills: Definition and Examples

Creativity

Problem-solving requires you to create a balance between logic and creativity. You need to use your creativity to find the cause of the issue. It also requires creativity to develop innovative solutions. Creative people bring unique perspectives and give a new direction to the company.

Related: 7 Steps to Improve Your Creative Thinking Skills

Communication

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

Related: Four Types of Communication (With Examples)

Dependability

Dependability is one of the most important skills for problem-solvers. Solving problems promptly is essential. Employers highly value individuals they can trust to both identify and then implement solutions as fast and effectively as possible.

If you think you have dependability skills and enjoy working with young adults, you might consider learning how to become a guidance counsellor.

Decision-making

Ultimately, you will need to decide 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. There may also be times when it is appropriate to take some time to craft a solution or escalate the issue to someone more capable of solving it.

Related: What are Decision-Making Skills and How to Improve Them

Team-building

Problem-solving involves teamwork. You ask people about their perspective on the problem, involve them in developing effective solutions, seek their feedback on the chosen solution and rely on team members to implement the process. It is essential to involve and motivate all members of the team for effective problem-solving.

Related: 9 Team-Building Skills and Why They're Important (With Tips)

Self-reliance

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.

Related: Why Critical Thinking Is Important At Work

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 stronger candidate and employee.

1. 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 technical knowledge through additional coursework, training or practice. Ask your supervisor about additional training opportunities or research online courses. Look for continuing education resources in your field.

2. Seek out opportunities to solve problems

By putting yourself into new situations, you are more likely to be exposed to opportunities to problem solve. You may find there are opportunities to volunteer for new projects in your current role, on another team or outside the workplace for another organization.

3. Practice problems

Practice and role-play can be useful tools when learning to develop your problem-solving skills. Seek out professional practice books for your industry and problem-solving scenarios online. Practice 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?” Practicing how you might handle these or other scenarios common in your industry can help you prepare for the real thing.

4. Observe how others problem solve

You may have colleagues who are skilled problem solvers. Observing how those colleagues 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 help apply them in your own career.

Related: What Is a Problem-Solving Game? (With Examples and Benefits)

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 valuable to their team, especially, if they are specifically relevant to the position, such as customer service, engineering or management. Here’s how to highlight problem-solving skills during the application process.

Problem-solving skills for resume

On your resume, you can highlight your problem-solving skills in several locations: in the “skills” section, the “achievements” section and/or 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 that would help you solve problems or soft skills associated with problem-solving, such as your research abilities or decision-making talents.

Make sure to keep specific examples in mind of times when you solved problems. This is useful on your resume but will also help you answer interview questions like, “Tell me about a time you overcame an obstacle.”

Related: Listing Problem-Solving Skills on a Resume (With Examples)

Problem-solving skills for cover letter

Your cover letter is also an excellent opportunity to highlight 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 seeking to solve and explain how you would address it.

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

Related: How to Write the Best Cover Letter (Template and Example)

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