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What are problem solving skills? If you are asking yourself this question, it is likely that you are at the stage of a job search and are currently reviewing CV templates, writing your Curriculum Vitae (CV) or have already been invited to an interview. How do we know this? Problem solving skills are a constant companion in our daily lives, yet we rarely reflect on their meaning unless we start to think about skills to put on a CV. The simplest problem solving skills definition says that they are the skills that enable you to spot a problem and solve it efficiently. A slightly longer definition, based on the literature, assumes the IDEAL model, which consists of the problem-solving process and thus the skills needed to do so.
IDEAL: Problem solving model
Originally developed by Bransford and Stein, this model assumes that each problem solving process has the same stages and that specific skills are required to successfully complete each stage. Let’s look at the stages of problem solving according to the IDEAL model:
Identifying the problem
Defining its nature and parties
Examining the problem to find its cause and potential solutions
Acting to solve the problem effectively
Looking at the outcome to prevent the same problem from arising again
What are problem solving skills?
According to the definition given above, problem solving skills are all those skills that add up to spotting a problem, alleviating it and preventing a similar problem from occurring in the future. How does this relate to the definition of CV skills, which we usually divide into soft and hard?
Problem solving skills: hard or soft?
Many people wonder about the nature of problem solving skills. On the one hand, problem solving is a skill that is useful in everyday life, not just at work. For example, if you go swimming and forget your towel, you either buy a new towel on the spot or go home to get your towel. This is how you solve this particular problem. So solving a problem is a transferable skill, not job specific, right?
Wait, it’s not that simple. After all, the very Action of solving a problem may require the application of specific skills that are job specific. For example, if a waiter notices that a customer is unhappy with their order, they can offer them solutions using their customer service skills.
All this means that:
Problem solving skills examples
Problem solving is a process that requires a unique, tailored approach to the issue. Among the skills that come in handy in this process and facilitate problem solving are:
Active listening skills can be crucial in identifying a problem. It is not just about the act of listening, but about establishing a respectful and trusting relationship where information flows effectively.
Speaking of communication, it is a huge, invaluable part of solving a problem, from identifying it, through the solution process, to monitoring the effects. After all, communication is not only about the spoken word, but also about non-verbal communication, which includes observing signals, signs or behaviours.
This skill is essential for assessing situations. It involves analysing the problem and its causes and consequences. Considering these aspects allows understanding what you want to achieve by solving the problem, which in turn helps to determine potential ways of solving it.
Decision making is a skill that characterises independent, conscious employees and, perhaps even foremost, those in managerial positions. Making a decision involves taking responsibility for the outcome of that decision. Deciding between potential solutions and taking concrete steps are essential for effective problem solving.
Team working and maintaining good relationships with colleagues always has a good effect on sustaining an effective workflow. Joint efforts can often go a long way towards spotting and solving a problem. Team work consists of, among other things, good communication, work ethic and a common goal.
Each problem can be unique and have different origins. Some problems are technical in nature, such as a crashed computer, others arise from interpersonal conflicts or have a financial background. For both interpersonal and financial problems, negotiation can be an appropriate path to resolution.
More problem solving skills examples
- Public speaking
- A/B testing
- Technical, industry-specific knowledge
- Data analysis
- Effective time management
Problem solving skills: CV examples
As you may have noticed by now, problem-solving skills are a broad spectrum of skills. These skills are aimed at noticing and identifying a problem, analysing its causes, considering and selecting appropriate solutions and preventing problems from recurring. Every industry or profession faces its own specific problems, so when learning how to write a CV and browsing CV examples, you are bound to find more than one skill that would fit into the problem-solving category.
Example I: Interior designer CV
Depending on the nature of problems this designer comes across, each one of the skills mentioned in their CV can be crucial in the process of solving an issue.
- Flexible schedule
- Skilled problem solver
- Project management
- Time management
Example II: Healthcare assistant CV
Health care assistant may face a number of problems at work, including patient condition, availability or state of equipment, patient behaviour and many other aspects. All of the skills listed in this CV can be useful to some extent to address these problems, but we would consider professional expertise, attention to detail and surveillance to be the main problem solving skills here.
- Elderly care expertise
- Safeguarding policy compliance
- Patient transfer support
- Dementia care
- Health surveillance
- Meticulous eye for detail
- Data confidentiality
How to present problem solving skills in a cover letter
Take a look at the sample cover letter for a barista below. Admittedly, problem-solving skills are not essential, but they are certainly useful in this profession. See what skills Kiara has outlined in her cover letter. Now imagine the problems that baristas face at work. It could be a problem with a rude customer, staff shortages, a large volume of orders at once…. Potential solutions to these problems would require expertise, interpersonal skills and resilience – all of which are mentioned in the letter.
Manchester M60 3TT
8 September 2022
RE: Enthusiastic and Hardworking Barista
To the Management staff at Cuppa Cafe:
As an experienced Barista, the posting for Barista with Cuppa piqued my interest. While reviewing the job requirements and your website, I was excited to see that my qualifications and personal traits are aligned with your requirements.
I bring a set of talents that I believe will be valuable to Cuppa. In my Barista role, I honed my abilities in beverage preparation and cashiering, providing a solid foundation for the Barista position. My ability to learn and grow, my people-centric nature and eagerness to meet customers’ needs have afforded me excellent personal effectiveness skills. I am excited to contribute my strengths to your team’s efforts. As an extroverted and personable communicator with a proven track record in order taking, I take pride in remembering customers’ custom orders, and providing exceptional service even under pressure.
Please review my CV for an in-depth view of my work history and accomplishments. Thank you for your time and consideration.
- Beverage preparation
- Ability to learn and grow
- Interpersonal skills (people-centric nature, eagerness to meet customers needs, remembering custom orders)
- Order taking
- Customer service
Why are problem solving skills important?
Problem-solving skills, which include all five aspects of the IDEAL model (identifying, defining, examining, acting towards a solution and looking at the effects of the solution to prevent recurrence of the problem) are extremely important. Every workplace faces its own problems, it is the natural, inevitable order of things. In case of an issue, having an employee who can deal with it is a great asset. This is why employers value problem solving skills so much.
Problem solving is closely linked to being aware of one’s surroundings and to analytical thinking. It comes with a number of benefits that effectively confirm the importance of problem-solving skills.
Problem solving skills help prevent a problem
It is often found that preventing a problem from occurring can be much easier than solving it. People with well-developed problem-solving skills, through, for example, communication, active listening or observation, can spot a potential problem and prevent it before it escalates.
Additionally, if you have struggled with a problem in the past, it will now be easier for you to identify a similar problem or its signs and prevent it in time.
Problem solving skills improve performance
Problem solving is a skill that forces you to think outside the box and find new solutions. When faced with a challenge, you need to combine multiple skills to succeed. You exercise your creativity, risk assessment, analytical thinking, but probably also teamwork, time management or organisational skills. Such concrete training in a crisis situation makes you grow and evolve as a conscious professional, which ultimately leads to an improvement in your performance.
Problem solving skills help resolve a problem much faster
It is obvious in its simplicity, but problem solving skills help solve problems much more efficiently, faster and often with better results. Appropriately approaching a problem and choosing the best solution is a key step in the problem solving process.
Problem solving skills promote progress and growth
Problem solving skills are extremely important and highly valued because they actively contribute to growth. By consciously analysing the industry, observing customer behaviours, monitoring the environment, including the competition, we can quickly spot potential threats, problems competitors are facing, as well as trends or opportunities. And then, instead of waiting for a problem to occur or an opportunity to pass us by, we take action in the most profitable direction.
How to improve problem solving skills
Are problem solving skills important and desirable traits in the labour market? Undeniably. Not only are they useful in day-to-day, real-world situations, but they are an asset to any workplace. So how do you develop universal problem-solving skills such as active listening, communication, analytical thinking or decision-making? Here’s how:
Problem solving skills: active listening
Active listening can be particularly useful at the problem identification stage. More than anything else, active listening is based on mutual respect between interlocutors and leads to an open, honest exchange of information. It also helps to develop better team relationships, improve workflow and identify problems quickly.
To improve your active listening skills:
- Focus your attention on the person you are speaking with
- Maintain natural, moderate eye contact
- Maintain a friendly, open body position. Don’t cross your arms, look sideways or check your nails. Instead, face your interlocutor and let them talk
- Make sure you understand everything, e.g. by asking questions or summarising. Just remember to speak when it is your turn to speak rather than interrupting your conversation partner.
Problem solving skills: communication
Communication, which includes listening, is useful both for identifying the problem and can be an effective way of solving it. On top of that, it can prove crucial in monitoring the effects of the solution and preventing the problem from returning. Effective communication is, of course, based on the spoken message, but also on all correspondence, signals, and any non-verbal communication.
Talking can be an effective way to solve many problems.
To improve your communication skills:
- Always start a conversation with an open mind and with respect for the other person.
- Observe others and try to adapt your tone and level of expression to the person you are talking to.
- Use clear, precise messages. Avoid using overly convoluted sentences.
- Read industry content to expand your specialist vocabulary.
- Empathise with the person you are talking to. Even when you have bad news to share, you can do so in a thoughtful, considerate way.
Problem solving: analytical thinking
Analytical thinking is a skill that is useful throughout the entire problem-solving process, from considering causes to brainstorming solutions to preventing similar problems in the future. Analytical thinking is the ability to see connections between actions and their consequences, to consider potential scenarios and their impacts.
Here’s how to improve your analytical skills:
- Take up a manual hobby. Painting, crocheting, assembling models, and sewing, these all develop our brains, helping us to calm down and relax while at the same time helping us to exercise our focus and consequently develop our analytical skills.
- Exercise your brain by solving crosswords, sudoku, puzzles or Rubik’s cube. It is said that a brain is like a muscle, it also needs a workout to be in good shape.
- Read more. Reading exercises your memory, develops creativity, stimulates curiosity and helps you see cause-and-effect relationships faster.
- Observe your surroundings. Start paying more attention to details. You will quickly notice how many things have so far remained out of your sight. The more details you notice, the quicker you will pay attention to recurring patterns, behaviour or potential problems.
Problem solving skills: decision-making
Solving a problem means considering possible solutions, reaching a decision and implementing it. Decision-making involves not only choosing a solution but also taking responsibility for the consequences of that decision. Informed decision-making can effectively alleviate a problem, but it requires both a critical appraisal of the situation, an analytical approach to considering solutions, and the ability to communicate the decision as well as deal with its consequences.
Here’s how to improve your decision-making skills:
- Take your time. Effective time management is important but it doesn’t mean you have to rush, especially if you are not yet experienced in making important decisions. Take as much time as you find necessary to give good consideration to the causes of the problem, potential solutions and their impact on the work ahead. You will need all this to make an informed decision.
- Keep expanding your knowledge. The more expertise you have on a subject, the easier it will be to make informed decisions because your store of knowledge will allow you to consider the most favourable solutions.
- Benefit from experience. By this, we mean your own experience, but also the experience of others. There is nothing wrong with getting a second opinion, especially from someone you consider to be an authority.
- Always monitor the results of your decision. Learn and draw conclusions from the outcomes achieved.
Takeaways or a key to solving your problems
Problem solving is a process based on the IDEAL model, requiring a set of skills aimed at, among other things, identifying and solving a problem.
As you might have noticed from our CV examples, problem-solving skills are part of both soft skills, e.g. communication or creative thinking, but also hard skills, e.g. using the skills of a specialised program to solve a problem.
And if your problem is that your career is on hold, download one of our available CV templates, create your winning CV and conquer the job market!
SEO Content Writer, Translator
Jagoda Obszarska is a certified copywriter, Polish language translator and career advice expert. She never stops improving her skills and learning new things. Over the years, she has worked as a copywriter and translator with people from over 50 countries worldwide and completed nearly a thousand projects.