How To Put Problem-Solving Skills To Work in 6 Steps

Updated March 16, 2023

Faces arranged on puzzle pieces.

Problem-solving is a part of everyone’s work, whether you’re a manager or an entry-level employee. A project manager may solve problems for their clients and team members, while individual contributors may solve problems for themselves or their coworkers. Every employee needs to understand the problem-solving process and develop problem-solving skills.

In this article, we offer ways to increase your problem-solving skills and opportunities for career advancement.

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What is problem-solving?

Problem-solving is the process of understanding a challenge and working toward finding an effective solution to it. Depending upon the problem's type and complexity, it may involve using mathematical operations and it may test your critical-thinking skills.

When prospective employers talk about problem-solving, they are usually trying to gauge your ability and skills to deal with difficult situations and complicated business problems. Almost all employers value problem-solving skills and seek to have employees with these traits to aid the decision-making process in the day-to-day functioning of the company.

Read more: Problem-Solving Skills: Definitions and Examples

Problem-solving steps

Here are the basic steps involved in problem-solving:

1. Define the problem

The first step is to analyze the situation carefully to learn more about the problem. A single situation may solve multiple problems. Identify each problem and determine its cause. Try to anticipate the behavior and response of those affected by the problem.

Then, based upon your preliminary observation, use the following tips to pinpoint the problem more accurately:

  • Separate facts from opinions

  • Determine the process where the problem exists

  • Analyze company policies and procedures

  • Discuss with team members involved in order to gather more information

  • Define the problem in specific terms

  • Gather all the necessary information required to solve the problem

While defining a problem at this stage, make sure you stay focused on the problem rather than trying to define it in terms of a solution. For example, “We need to rewrite the training documents” focuses on the solution rather than the problem. Instead, saying, “Training documents are inconsistent” is a better way to define a problem.

Depending upon the complexity of the problem, you may want to use tools, like flowcharts and cause-and-effect diagrams, to help define the problem and its root causes.

2. Identify alternative solutions

Brainstorm all possible ways to solve the existing problem. Invite suggestions from everyone affected by it and consult those who may have more experience with the type of challenge you’re experiencing. You can also use surveys and discussion groups to generate ideas. 

Keep the following points in mind while exploring alternatives:

  • Consider every aspect that could slow down the process of solving the existing problem

  • Make sure the ideas generated are consistent with relevant goals and objectives

  • Check that everyone participates in the process of idea generation

  • Distinguish between short- and long-term alternatives

Write down all the proposed solutions. You should have at least five to eight possible solutions for each problem.

3. Evaluate solutions

Now it's time to evaluate your list of alternatives. Assess the positive and negative consequences of each alternative defined in the previous step. Analyze and compare all the alternatives in terms of the resources required for their implementation, including time, data, personnel and budget.

4. Select a solution

After the evaluation process, select a solution most likely to solve the problem. Consider to what extent a solution meets the following objectives:

  • It solves the problem smoothly without creating another problem

  • It is acceptable to everyone involved

  • It is practical and easy to implement

  • It fits within the company’s policies and procedures

It is important to consider implementation when choosing a solution. Decide the following:

  • The employees responsible for executing the solution

  • How the employees will implement the solution

  • The amount of time and resources needed

5. Implement the chosen solution

The next step involves implementing the chosen solution, which usually requires you to take the following actions:

  • Develop an action plan to implement the chosen solution

  • Define objectives and separate them into measurable targets to monitor the implementation

  • Define timelines for implementation

  • Communicate the plan to everyone involved

  • Develop feedback channels to use during the process

6. Monitor progress and make adjustments

Make sure to continuously measure progress to ensure your solution works. Gather data and feedback to determine if the solution meets the needs of all those involved. You may need to make adjustments if anything unexpected arises. If you feel the solution doesn’t work as planned, you may need to return to your alternative solutions and implement a new plan.

What are important problem-solving skills employers look for?

Many employers seek candidates with strong problem-solving skills. Here are some of the most sought-after skills:

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

  • Analytical thinking: Analytical thinking helps you research and understand a problem and its causes. The ability to establish a cause-and-effect relationship is also essential in anticipating the long-term effects of a course of action. Those with strong analytical skills can evaluate the effectiveness of different solutions and choose the best one.

  • 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.

  • Communication: Whether you are seeking solutions to an existing problem or want others to follow a certain course, you should communicate effectively. You may need to talk with others in person, over the phone, via text or through email. You may also need to correspond with many different people, including team members, customers and managers. Effective communication across a variety of channels allows you to be a good problem solver

  • Decision-making: You should be able to decide what methods you should use to research the problem, which solutions you should use and how you should implement the solution. Almost every stage of problem-solving requires you to make a decision.

  • Teamwork: 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 them to implement the process. It is essential to involve and motivate all members of the team for effective problem-solving. 

Related: Hard Skills vs. Soft Skills

Are you looking for a job now?

Highlighting problem-solving skills on your resume

Showcasing your problem-solving skills on your resume can help you stand out from other candidates. You can mention them under either the skills or achievements section of your resume.

Instead of simply writing that you possess problem-solving skills, try to illustrate how you have used them to solve specific problems in your previous positions. Consider the following examples:

  • “Reduced the instances of safety violations by 40% through strategic installation of railings on the production floor”

  • “Reduced inventory handling costs by 15% by using specialized software solutions”

  • “Increased customer satisfaction ratings by 25% by documenting a standard process and scripts to address general questions”

Try to tailor your resume so your problem-solving skills match the job that you're seeking. Creating a tailored resume can help you gain and maintain the attention of the recruiter or hiring manager as they review your resume.

Read more: Resume Samples and Examples To Inspire Your Next Application

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