How to Improve Your Problem-Solving Skills (and Show Them Off in Your Job Hunt)

By Deanna deBara | The Muse

Problem-solving skills are critical for any career path—no matter where you work or what job you have, you’ll face problems big and small all the time. If you want to succeed in your career, being able to effectively navigate (and solve!) those problems is a must. And if you’re on the job hunt, showcasing your problem-solving skills can help you land your dream gig.

But what, exactly, are problem-solving skills? What can you do to improve them? And if you’re looking for a new position, how can you show off your problem-solving skills during your job search to help you land an awesome job?

Consider this your guide to all things problem-solving. Let’s get started.

What Are Problem-Solving Skills and Why Are They Important?
“Problem-solving skills are skills that allow you to identify and define a situation that needs changing,” says Doug Noll, an attorney and adjunct faculty member at the Straus Institute of Dispute Resolution at Pepperdine University’s Caruso School of Law, where he teaches graduate-level classes in decision-making and problem-solving. Once you identify what needs changing, problem-solving skills also enable you to “identify the best outcomes, define potential processes for achieving the best outcomes, and evaluate how the process achieved (or failed to achieve) the desired outcome,” he says. “Every job imaginable involves problem-solving.”

Being able to effectively solve problems can help you succeed and impress, regardless of what kind of job you have or career you plan to pursue. “A person who sorts out problems and makes decisions—or at least brings potential solutions to the table—is seen as someone who can get things done,” says organizational consultant Irial O’Farrell, author of the upcoming book The Manager’s Dilemma: How to Empower Your Team’s Problem Solving. “This makes managers’ lives easier—and managers notice people who make their lives easier, who get things done, and who don’t have to be told [what to do] the whole time. In turn, opportunities are put their way, enhancing their career.”

And the further you progress in your career, the more important those skills become, Noll says. “As you rise in an organization, the problems become more complex, ambiguous, uncertain, and risky. Only people able to solve these types of problems are promoted.” So as you hone your problem-solving skills, you become more valuable to any organization—and will be able to climb the ladder more easily as a result.

The 6 Steps of Problem-Solving—and the Skills You Need for Each One
Problem-solving is a process. And, like any process, there are certain steps you need to take in order to get to the finish line:

Step #1: Identify and Assess the Problem
You can’t solve a problem if you don’t know what the problem is. So “the first step is to recognize that an issue—or potential issue—exists,” O’Farrell says. In order to do that, you’ll need “a certain amount of knowledge or awareness of what should be happening as compared to what is actually happening.”

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