Nail any arising problems that you face in the workplace for immediate results and accolades

Without really thinking about it, we're solving problems every day, to a greater or lesser extent. From working out how to fix the TV (turning it off and then turning it back on again usually does the trick!) to figuring out the best way to increase revenue across the company, resolving issues is an everyday part of life and work. There are lots of aspects to problem solving - making decisions, assessing the impact of something, planning ahead, diagnosing causes, analysing, thinking of alternatives, and investigation.

It's worth noting and realising that different people will have different solutions to the same problem. A simple example is this - you want to walk to the shops but it's raining. There are a few ways to approach this dilemma. Instead of walking, you could take the car or the bus, and avoid getting drenched, but that might take time, effort, and stress when it comes to parking or you'd still get wet walking from the bus stop. Or you could decide an umbrella is the best way forward to keep you partly protected. A third option is coming to the decision to walk to the shops another day, when it's dry. These are three possible solutions to a problem - you'll decide which one suits you the best at the time and three different people might each choose a different option. 

At the end of the day, if a problem is resolved, it doesn't really matter how it's done - it's just satisfying to know that it's been sorted.

What actually is a problem?

Problems are part of life, cropping up when you least expect them. That's their job. They get you thinking, get your brain working - you're alert for what's to come. Described as “anything that is difficult to deal with, solve, or overcome,” a problem in the workplace normally requires a solution and is not something that can be brushed under the carpet. If solutions aren't forthcoming, the problem can grow exponentially until it becomes too complex or overwhelming for you to tackle. Then, you've got the dilemma of escalating that problem to a higher level, your boss, say, or even to executive level. You don't want it to get this far, so it's best to confront problems as and when you come across them. 

Problem resolution, known as one of the conceptual skills, is a highly sought-after quality that many companies and businesses look for in a potential employee. If you're planning on applying for a new job, then describing yourself as possessing problem solving skills is a must during an interview. We'll explore ways of showing problem solving skills on your CV below. 

Different types of problems

There are various types of problems, ranging from everyday ones, that can be solved instantly, to complicated ones that require a long-term view involving in-depth, critical thinking. The Cynefin Framework, created in 1999 by Dave Snowden, is designed to help with decision-making and is Welsh for “habitat.”

It lists four main types of problems:


As the name suggests, this is a problem that's easy to solve and has been solved time and time again already. Once you've identified that a problem is simple, you just need to delve into your experiences from before to resolve it, just like the turning off and turning on again of electrical items when they don't behave.


This is where you have a known unknown problem - you know it's a problem but don't immediately know how to fix it. For example, your company wants to build a software product (known) but you're not sure how to go about it (unknown). Calling in the experts will help, as they'll have the knowledge and experience of where and how to start, as well as working out the cause and effect. When you realise the problem is solvable, you, or the experts, can work out potential solutions.


This is more of an unknown unknown, where you figure out afterwards how and why what actually happened, happened. Action is required even if there's no clue as to how to approach a solution. Doing something is better than nothing, because you can then see what happens. If it doesn't work, you try again with something different, until, hopefully, the solution emerges.


A scary word, eh? No one wants to see that when addressing a problem, as it's essentially a crisis point, and is a problem so major that it requires calmness, forethought, and quick action. A bit like when a tsunami hits, or a battle ensues. But less scarily, it could describe when new products are launched into the market, as nobody can truly predict how customers are going to react.

The aim is to encapsulate the problem, define its limits, and turn the chaos into a comparatively more reasonable complex problem as quickly as possible. Delaying decisions would only make the problem worse. By repeating a process of trying something, monitoring the response, then trying again, you can bring the crisis under control. This trial-and-error approach is an opportunity to find out new ways of doing things where a team is working out an issue of something that hasn't existed before. 

The stages of problem solving

Many organisations and businesses use Lean techniques and Six Sigma methods to assess problem solving. These are processes that capitalise on a team effort in order to improve performance by removing waste and reducing variation. It combines Lean manufacturing and Lean enterprise with Six Sigma, to eliminate waste within a company or process.

There are certain stages to sorting out problems that are worth spelling out. If you're adept at making things happen, you won't be particularly conscious of all the different elements - you'll just do them naturally. But if you come across an issue that is more complex than you're used to dealing with, it's worth working through these phases as there's more chance of success at the end of the process.

Defining the problem

Identifying the situation you find yourself in is key. Focus on the actual problem, not the symptoms or any distracting areas that might steer you off course. Invest in using flow charts to identify how you expect to progress throughout the process, as well as cause and effect diagrams that can help with root cause analysis.

Review and document how the current processes work, taking into account who does what, what information and tools they have, which individuals and bodies they have dealings with,  the time frame, and which format is being used. Then evaluate the impact that any changes to new tools or ways of working would have, while developing a “how it should be” model.

Coming up with alternative solutions

It's ideal, if you can, to generate various solutions to the problem, as this will give more scope and a higher probability of the problem being resolved at the end. When you've decided on the “how it should be” model, start developing a road map to investigate the alternatives. This can come about by brainstorming with your team or conducting detailed research.

Don't fall into the trap of evaluating each solution as it comes along, as it could lead to the first acceptable solution being selected when it really isn't the best fit for the problem.

Evaluating and selecting

Now is the time to drill down into the details and choose the right solution. Take time to consider various outcomes before the final selection. Will this particular process solve the issue without throwing up subsequent or unanticipated problems? Will everyone involved be willing to accept the solution? Does it fit with the ethics and vision of the organisation?

Implementing the solution with ongoing assessment

Collaborating with others during the implementation of the solution is effective, as it secures ownership for all involved and minimises the risk of further changes while also ensuring engagement with the process.

Following on from the implementation, there should be thorough assessments to find out if the solution is living up to the hype. This can be achieved through the monitoring and testing of actual events versus expectations. Remember, the most effective solutions are those which remain in place but can be tweaked over time to meet future challenges.

What are the three key attributes of a good problem solver?

  1. It might be a bit of a cliché when written on a CV but being a team player, with an abundance of soft skills, such as effective communication, reliability, and collaboration, is a must if you want to show strong problem resolution attributes.

  2. Applying critical thinking to any given situation involves analysing the evidence you have, which will place you in the best possible position to make decisions while taking both short and long-term perspectives into account. For example, two members of your team have a clash of personalities and it's created an ominous atmosphere, which isn't helping with moving a project forward. You're in the position to coach them on how to strategically deal with this, but having given them the tools, you leave them to work it out between themselves. This empowers them to resolve their issues while strengthening their conflict resolution capabilities.

  3. Remaining focused and resolute while working through a process will yield the best results. It means capturing all the relevant angles to the problem and navigating through the stages.

How to improve your problem solving skills

Improving this vital asset could land you a better position with a higher wage and continually improved job prospects, so it's worth working on your problem solving skills on a regular basis.

Analyse the problem and surrounding situation before making any moves. This delaying tactic will work in your favour because it gives you time to think, rather than rushing in, all guns blazing, and running around like a headless chicken. First off, it won't do your mindset any good, and secondly it will look like you lose control when any obstacle arises, which won't convey a good impression to colleagues or the team you lead or work with.

Discussing the problem and possible solutions with workmates shows a collaborative approach; after all, two (or more) heads are better than one. You can offer fact-based decisions that back up your ideas.

Look back at, and analyse, past solutions that either you came up with or were from another source. These will form the backdrop for how you can move forward. By identifying why and how previous solutions worked, you'll be able to recognise what will work and what won't in future.

Deciding who are the best people to engage with is paramount to the success of the solution. Getting the right colleagues to impart their expertise, past experience, or fuller understanding of a certain situation should speed up the process.

Last, but by no means least, stay calm, especially in pressurised circumstances. When a problem rears its head, take a breather - go for a walk around the block to clear your head, or at the very least, step away from your desk. Apart from potential safety issues, there's hardly ever going to be a time when you can't take a few minutes to think about a problem. You'll certainly achieve better outcomes when you apply your problem solving skills logically instead of panicking.

How to demonstrate problem solving skills in your CV

Like all transferable skills, you want to incorporate your problem solving skills into your CV as this shows an aptitude for getting things done, overcoming obstacles, and facing up to, and resolving, challenges. Even if you're not actively looking for a new role at the moment, it's worth noting down when you've identified and resolved obstacles that come your way by applying your problem solving skills expertly.

But instead of just writing, “Excellent at problem resolution,” or “Skilled when it comes to solving problems,” you want to quantify your assets to show results.

Options open to you, that can be customised to suit your own achievements, include:

“Often sought after to turn around failing brands and businesses, transforming them into cohesive and smoothly run operations.”

“Adept at completing tasks to their logical conclusion and identifying the optimum way to solve complex problems.”

“Played an integral role in resolving a problem by successfully delivering a new mapping system which brought together all map data about the company's sites, network, and land.”

“Reviewing and improving on a process by listening to customer requirements and ironing out past discrepancies and problems.”

“Identified a £20 million revenue threat from customer DIY electronics in data centres with Ethernet access and generated techno-economic data analysis to recommend a solution.”

“Created demand for company products by understanding the need to adapt to changing circumstances and market dynamics in order to develop and apply flexible solutions.”

“An innovative Programme Manager experienced in pre-empting complex problems and seeking out definitive and innovative solutions.”

“Applied robust problem solving and troubleshooting skills when carrying out aircraft checks, including refurbishment of cabin interiors and seats, mechanical work, removal and installation of aircraft components, and structural repairs.”

“Solved a recruitment shortfall by designing a rigorous selection process that secured high calibre staff with the right balance of skills to guarantee project success.”

“Combatted problematic resistance from staff by cultivating productive working relationships and creating a programme that was clear, well communicated, easy to access, and scalable within a short period of time.”

The takeaway

To ensure your CV passes the seven-second test, which is how long, on average, a recruiter or prospective employer initially glances at your CV, you need certain qualities to pop off the page. Citing problem solving skills, with tangible examples that demonstrate when and how you resolved problems, is really important as it highlights that you're a force to be reckoned with and the type of employee who gets things done.

Are you demonstrating your excellent problem solving skills within your CV so that they stand out and get you noticed by a potential employer? Here's the right solution - indulge yourself with a free CV review to set you up and start you on the road to job success.

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