Are You a Problem Solver?

See Why You Need This Essential Skill

Colleagues trying to solve a problem
••• Gary Burchell / Taxi / Getty Images

What is Problem Solving?

Problem solving is the process of recognizing a difficulty or complication, identifying possible solutions, and then implementing one. Problems come up regularly at work, just as they do in other parts of our lives. Employers value individuals who can solve them. People who work in some careers are required to be particularly strong problem solvers, but having this soft skill will make you a valuable employee regardless of your occupation.

Recognizing When a Problem Exists

Before you can figure out how to resolve a problem, you must determine that one exists. If you are aware of what is going on around you, it will allow you to notice when something is amiss. For example, a sudden drop in sales, a shortage of supplies, or an increase in absenteeism among your staff will be apparent before it gets out of hand.

Once you sense something is wrong, you will have to begin to analyze the issue. It's important to note, at this point, that not every problem needs to be fixed. After careful analysis during which you will evaluate problems' significance and potential threats, you will have to decide which ones to let go of in order to deal with more severe ones. You will also need to recognize when a problem can't be fixed.

Coming Up With, Evaluating, and Implementing Solutions

After you decide that you, in fact, have an actual problem that can, and should, be solved, your task is to come up with possible solutions. Draw upon your past to recall how you dealt with similar situations. As they say, there's no need to reinvent the wheel. If something was successful before, it might be now as well. You may also have to come up with new alternative solutions you think would work.

Once you have a list of possible fixes, you will use your critical thinking skills to evaluate each of your options in order to decide which one will have the best results. Next, you will implement your chosen solution. There's still one more step. You will have to follow up to see if your plan worked. If it didn't, you would need to figure out why and then try an alternative method.

Careers That Require Problem Solving Skills

If you excel at problem solving, these are some careers that will take full advantage of your expertise:

  • Chief ExecutiveChief executives direct all the activities of the companies and organizations that employ them. They devise strategies and create policies to help them meet these entities' goals.
  • JudgeJudges preside over trials and hearings, making sure they are handled fairly under the law.
  • PsychologistPsychologists diagnose mental, behavioral and emotional disorders in their patients and then decide how to best treat them.
  • MathematicianMathematicians use their knowledge of advanced mathematical principles to solve real world problems.
  • Actuary: Actuaries evaluate the probability of certain events occurring to help their employers minimize the associated costs.
  • Operations Research AnalystOperation research analysts use their knowledge of mathematical and analytical methods to solve problems for companies and organizations.
  • Agricultural EngineerAgricultural engineers use mathematical and scientific principles to solve problems related to farming.
  • Biomedical EngineerBiomedical engineers analyze and then decide how to solve problems having to do with biology and medicine.
  • Environmental EngineerEnvironmental engineers use their knowledge of soil science, chemistry, and biology to fix environmental problems.
  • Biochemist or BiophysicistBiochemists and biophysicists study living organisms and their relationship to the environment, applying what they learn to solve complex scientific problems.
  • Special AgentsSpecial agents, also known as detectives, collect facts and evidence to help them solve crimes.
  • AnthropologistsAnthropologists gather information about human beings' origin, development and behavior.
  • Management AnalystManagement analysts help companies solve problems that may cause them to operate less effectively and efficiently than they should.
  • ArchitectArchitects design buildings that meet the needs of the people who use them. They also make sure these structures are safe and aesthetically pleasing.
  • AttorneyAttorneys, also known as lawyers, represent clients who are involved in criminal and civil legal cases.
  • DoctorsDoctors first diagnose illnesses and diseases, and then decide how to treat them.
  • School PrincipalPrincipals manage elementary, middle, and high schools, making sure students and faculty reach educational goals.
  • DentistDentists diagnose and then treat diseases and other problems with their patients' teeth and mouth.
  • Athletic CoachAthletic coaches train athletes to compete in sports as a team or individually.
  • Marriage and Family TherapistMarriage and family therapists provide therapy to couples, families, and individuals who have problems in their relationships.
  • Medical ScientistMedical scientists conduct research to determine the causes of diseases and develop ways to prevent and treat them.
  • Software DeveloperSoftware developers create applications that make computers, smart phones, video game systems, and other electronic devices useful.
  • Computer and Information Systems ManagerComputer and information systems managers direct companies' and organizations' computer-related activities.
  • NannyNannies care for children, usually in families' homes. They are often responsible for solving problems that occur while these children's parents aren't home.