Career Key

Author: Career Key's President and CEO, Juliet Wehr Jones, GCDF, J.D.

Monday, July 9, 2012

Improving Job Skills Part 3: Thinking Skills

Example: Solving a workplace safety problem...
Thinking Job Skills include creative thinking, problem-solving skills, decision making skills, and visualization. In this part 3 of 6 blog series, we'll explore ways to improve these skills, the second group of Foundation Job Skills found at the Career Key website.

Avoid any occupation or job that simply requires following instructions and little training; employees in those kinds of jobs can be easily replaced.  To see examples of these types of jobs, see O*NET's Job Zone 1 (little to no preparation needed) and some listed in Job Zone 2 (some preparation needed).

When you use thinking skills, you are more valuable as an employee. When you recognize and define problems, invent solutions, and think of better ways to do something, you are marketable.  You'll be a more powerful "free agent"; learn more about how to adopt a "Free Agent Outlook on Work."

Thinking Skills are the second group of Foundation Skills, skills all jobs require in the 21st Century. They are:

Creative Thinking

  • Use imagination freely;
  • Combining information in new ways;
  • Make connections between ideas that seem unrelated.


  • Recognize problem and identify why it is a problem;
  • Create and implement a solution;
  • See how well the solution works and revise if needed.

Decision Making Skills

  • Identify goals;
  • Generate alternatives and gather information about them;
  • Choose the best alternative;
  • Plan how to carry out your choice.
    See this skill applied to how to make a career decision.


  • See a building or object by looking at a blueprint, drawing or sketch;
  • Imagine how a system works by looking at a schematic drawing.
Activities to Strengthen Thinking Skills

These will help you get started; if you are working on choosing a career or changing careers, think about how these skills are used in the career options that interest you.

Creative Thinking

  • Keep a weekly journal of creative ideas. Record each week any problems you notice in an environment like school,  church, an organization you volunteer for, or at work. Are there any processes that don't work very well? Create a solution to the problem.  At the end of a couple of months, go back and read your journal, identifying problems you would like to work on.  Create solutions and present them to a class or to people you work with.  What are the strengths and weaknesses of your solutions?
  • Create a new business idea based on your interests and knowledge. How would you market it? What are the strengths and weaknesses of your business idea? (product, service, etc.)  Present your ideas to friends or a class for their feedback. Create a marketing hook, ad or catch phrase for your idea.  Maybe being self-employed is for you?


  • Identify a problem using the activity in bullet #1 above under Creating Thinking. Research the problem, gathering as much information as you can. Do you know what the problem really is? List everything you know about it - maybe you know more than you think. Contact people who know something about the problem.  Gather and organize all your information before taking action.
  • Choose a complex problem and make a problem-solving action plan. Breaking down a complex problem into smaller chunks can help solve it.  Write down all the steps needed to solve a problem can make a larger problem more manageable.  

Decision Making Skills

  • Narrow down your career choices using the four steps in Career Key's High-Quality Decision Making article.
  • Identify several decisions you made this week.  For example, what you ate, where you went for entertainment, whether you purchased something, or who you invited to a social event. Record what you thought about these decisions: what were the consequences? Did you make the best choice? Could using a decision-making process help you make a better decision the next time?  Is there a major life event choice you face right now where that process could help? (changing jobs, choosing a college, having a baby, etc.)


  • Draw a road map from your house to your school or workplace without looking at a map.  Add street names and important landmarks.
  • Put together a model, item, or toy using instructions (you may do this already!) Legos, model kits, and DIY craft kits are a few ideas.
  • Design the floor of a dream house or apartment, creating a blueprint using grid paper. Each quarter or eighth inch block can be 1 foot. Visualize walking through the house. What are your plans' advantages and disadvantages? Are the bedrooms properly placed away from noise? How is the traffic flow?

Make sure to learn how the careers that interest you require these skills by conducting informational interviews. That will help you focus your energies on building skills around the problems and ideas related to that career. These articles will also help you gather career information:
Learn About Occupations
Learn More about the Jobs that Interest Me
Identify Your Skills

Previous posts in this series:
Part 1: Getting Started with Job Skills: 3 Reasons to be Optimistic
Part 2: Improving (Not So) Basic Skills
Next week: Part 3: Improving Your People Skills

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