Have you ever been in a job interview and were asked a question like,
“Tell me about a problem you encountered and how you overcame it”?
Did you ever wonder why these types of questions are even asked? It’s because the employer is evaluating your analytical skills.
Employers value employees with good analytical skills because they are seen as problem solvers. So, let’s look at what analytical skills are, why they’re important and the 13 most important analytical skills that will help you succeed at work.
What Are Analytical Skills?
Notice that hey are called analytical skills, not analytical talents. This is a very important distinction, as talent refers to a natural ability. A skill is something that can be learned or acquired.
And just like any skill, analytical skills get better with time, repetition and practice. But what exactly are analytical skill?
For our purposes analytical skills include the ability to:
Recognize and Pinpoint Problems
It’s not enough just to recognize that a 20% return rate for a product is a problem. You need to pinpoint a reason for the problem by….
Researching and Collecting Data
This is not always as easy as it seems. There can be a lot of data out there. You need to be able to separate what’s relevant from what’s noise.
Analyze the Data Collected
This is part of separating what data is relevant and what’s not. But it also involves being able to weight all of the relevant factors. For example, that 20% return rate could be due to a combination of manufacturing defects, poor customer education and shipping delays. But how much weight do each of these things carry?
Problem Solving/Critical Thinking
Once you have gone through the first three steps, you can now identify the steps needed to solve the problem. You should be able to propose solutions that have a high probability of a positive outcome.
Now, in addition to these analytical skills, there are secondary skills that are just as important to your success. These include:
You could have the best analysis and recommendations in the world. But in order for it to be useful, you need to be able to communicate it effectively to a team, management or shareholders.
It’s important to have a plan to implement the solutions you are proposing. Just saying that the solution to a 20% return rate is to lower the number of manufacturing defects isn’t really helpful.
But saying that one hinge is causing the majority of the returns and here’s a replacement. Now that’s helpful.
Sometimes pinpointing the problem is easy, but it’s coming up with the solution that’s difficult. Being able to look at the data and think “outside the box” is a skill that will really make you stand out.
As an example, I once had a company that sold small fryers to bowling alleys, movie theaters and the like. They could make small batches of fries, chicken wings or mozzarella sticks for their customers. The problem was that the price tag was more than a lot of them could afford.
Our solution was to partner up with a food distributor. We would give the fryers away for free, but they had to buy all of the food from our distributor. We then received a commission from the distributor for every chicken wing and mozzarella stick they sold. It was a win, win, win for everyone.
All the analytical skills mentioned above are important and sought after by employers. They are part of a well-rounded workforce. So, how can you take these skills and make them work for you, your company and your career?
13 Ways Analytical Skills Help You Succeed at Work
Owners, managers and department heads all need to be able to create budgets for their departments, teams and projects.
A good manager will use analytical skills to gather, analyze and interpret prior data in order to accurately forecast future budgetary requirements.
2. Making Your Ideas and Suggestions Stand Out
So, let’s say that your boss has tasked you and three other department heads to come up with ways to increase efficiency. It’s tempting to rely on your knowledge and experience to come up 3-4 ways to achieve the goal.
Someone might suggest a bonus for completing assignments on time. Someone else may suggest a way to reschedule how a project gets assigned. But if you can be the one that comes in with concrete solutions backed up by verifiable research and data. You’ve immediately set yourself and our ideas apart for the rest.
3. Estimating and Bidding Projects
Whether you’re a contractor going out and bidding million-dollar construction projects, or a web developer building websites, being able to accurately estimate and bid jobs is crucial. And it’s only through analytical skills and experience that will keep you from losing money.
When working within groups or team, it’s important that everyone has a clear understanding of four things:
- What the problem is
- What part of the solution they are responsible for
- The time frame they have to solve it
- What an acceptable outcome looks like.
This is the analytical approach to project management.
There is no such thing as the “perfect” solution. And many times, a problem has more than one solution. Analytical skills allow you to evaluate the pros and cons of various scenarios in order to maximize the pros and minimize the cons.
6. Recognizing Correlations and Causations
We’ve all heard the phrase “correlation doesn’t necessarily mean causation.” And it’s true.
Did you know that an increase in ice cream consumption correlates to an increase in violent street crime? It’s absolutely true, but ice cream consumption does not cause street crime. They are correlated because both increase in the summer, when it’s hot and more people are outside.
But you wouldn’t want to address the problem of street crime by banning ice cream.
7. Proper Diagnosis
Having a good analytical skill set allows you to properly diagnosis problem or inefficiencies within the organization. The data may show that there is a problem in the manufacturing process, but it’s the analysis of the data that points to the problem. Is the cause of the problem a design flaw, supplier issue, human error or quality control?
8. Human Resource Management
By using analytical skills, a manager or team leader can assess each individuals’ strengths and weaknesses, thereby assigning tasks according to skill sets. It is also helpful in pointing out areas where additional or remedial training is needed.
9. Project Planning
Analytical skills allow us to break down a large project into its individual parts. Then, coordinate a synergistic corresponding timeline for the completion of the project. This, is the very definition of an analytical skill that can help you succeed at work.
Whether it’s taking on a new project or identifying problems or inefficiencies in a system, there is rarely a single issue involved.
Most of the time, there are several steps in the process that need to be addressed. It’s through analytical thinking that you can prioritize the problems you have identified.
For example, you determine that your 20% return rate breaks down this way. 50% manufacturing defects, 25% from damage during shipping, 15% from poor customer education and 10% from from the design. We now can address these issues accordingly.
11. Recognizing Biases
Everyone has biases, and there is no way to eliminate them in discussions and decision making. The best you can do is to be aware of them in both yourself others and others. This is a skill that takes both self-discipline and self-awareness to master.
There is a funny scene in the television show “The Office” where the boss Michael Scott has a surplus in his budget at the end of the year. Half of his staff want him to spend it on a new copier, and the other half wants him to buy new chairs for the office. Michael is torn, until he discovers that if he returns the surplus to corporate, he’ll get a bonus of 25% of the surplus. Suddenly his self-interest has created a bias.
12. Process Analysis
This is especially helpful when there are systemic issues that are causing a problem. All too often we only see and address a problem by the result.
The customer didn’t like the way the website was built so we assume that it’s a communication issue between our programmer and the customer. That’s easy, but through process analysis, we may find that we assigned a retail website to a programmer who specializes in B2B websites. So, the real answer is to fix the process of assigning projects.
13. Reporting, Both Verbal and Written
Everyone in business has a boss, from the janitor all the way up to the chairman of the board. And reporting to those bosses is an ongoing process.
From written status reports to individual and group meetings, supplying information to your superiors is a never-ending cycle. So, unless you are asked for a personal opinion, it’s always best to have your thoughts and suggestions backed up by empirical evidence.
Your opinions, suggestions and recommendations are going to be taken more seriously if you have the data to back them up.
How to Develop, Improve and Sharpen Your Analytical Skills
So, we’ve talked a lot about analytical skills, what they are and why they are valued by employers. But how do you learn these skills, how do you discern the pertinent data from the irrelevant?
The answer is through a combination of education and experience. We’ll start with education as a foundation, and then talk about how to get real life experience.
Community colleges are a great place to start. Almost all community colleges. have courses in business, business administration and statics. But in reality, you don’t even need to go that far. With the advent of the internet, there are low cost accredited online courses that you can take in your spare time.
YouTube is another great place for free educational videos on analytical skills and thinking. There are a wealth of videos on what analytical skills are, as well as practical ways to develop them.
Finally, take advantage of professional training and courses offered through your place of work or trade organizations. These can be especially helpful as these programs are normally designed to be industry specific.
We’ve all heard the old saying that experience is the best teacher, and that’s certainly true with learning analytical skills. There really is no substitute to putting in the 10,000 hours of repetition and practice to become an expert. But there are some things that you can do to start sharpening your skill immediately.
Start playing brain games. There are a lot of them out there and you can start to train you mind to think analytically just by playing them just 15 minutes a day. A few of the more popular ones include, Wizard, Elevate and Brain Trainer Special, but there are many more. But, if you’re not into apps or computer games, then chess and Sudoku are excellent choices too.
Take notice and start questioning everything. When you get your morning coffee, notice how the place is set up. Where the customer places their order, where the workstations are, how the order moves through the system.
Can you understand why the store is set up that way? Is it an efficient setup or can you see bottlenecks that reduce efficiency? What kind of solutions can you come up with to fix any problems? After a while, thinking like this will become second nature.
Find a mentor. We said upfront that experience is the best teacher, but experience takes time. Finding a mentor who has the experience is the next best thing. In fact, having a mentor for your professional life can literally mean the difference between mediocrity and greatness. Having great mentors means that you are standing on the shoulders of giants.
Analytical skills can help you with every phase of your career, from helping you stand out from the crowd in the hiring process to advancing your career within an industry. And just like a good salesperson, having good analytical skills means that you’ll always be in demand.
But the key to improving your analytical skills lies in your desire to succeed. Developing and honing your skills can be done a variety of way as we discussed earlier. But it’s up to you to make the decision and commitment to put the time and effort into developing analytical skills.
You can start by giving yourself a basic foundation through courses, videos and industry training. Then practice, practice, practice. Soon, the whole process will become second nature to you and your value within the industry will skyrocket.
More Essential Skills to Develop
Featured photo credit: Kelly Sikkema via unsplash.com