You start to apply for a job, and suddenly you find yourself being asked, what are your conceptual skills? You would be forgiven for being a bit stumped by this, as it’s not something we often see on job adverts. The irony is that mastering an understanding of conceptual skills could be seen as a conceptual skill in itself.
Gaining a deeper insight of what conceptual skills refer to will come in handy in every level of the job search journey. Not to mention that they will make you a more attentive and skilled worker when you are executing a role. Let’s take a look at the true meaning of conceptual skills and how we can use them to our advantage in the job search and in the workplace.
Here’s what we’ll explore in this blog:
- What are conceptual skills?
- Who needs conceptual skills?
- How to improve conceptual skills
- Conceptual skills examples
What are conceptual skills?
The definition of conceptual skills is the capacity to see the big picture in an organization. For example, instead of jumping headfirst to a project, you can understand why you are doing the project. How does it relate to the organization as a whole and how does it affects the external environment? In very basic terms, someone with conceptual skills can understand why something is being done.
These skills are most relevant to management roles, as you are focused on achieving the wider goals of the organization. However, they can be useful in any other role too. It might not be obvious that you are being asked about your conceptual skills in an application or interview, it may be a question like this:
Can you tell us about a time when you were in a complex situation, and you had to identify possible issues to deliver a positive result?
An example of an answer to this question, which would portray your conceptual skills could be a situation where you are working as a manager in a local coffee shop, and a Starbucks opens on the same street. The potential issues with this would be competing with the pricing, quality, the popularity of the brand etc. These might affect the profitability of the business.
A person with conceptual skills would be able to look at this situation and devise a plan to ensure there is minimum impact on the business. For instance, lowering prices, improving the brand, offering extras that a Starbucks wouldn’t be able to due to their branding, such as an instore bookstore, and perhaps even partnering up in some way with the brand. Without conceptual skills, you can only see the day-to-day and not the bigger picture.
What is the main difference between someone with conceptual skills, and someone without these skills?
Someone without conceptual skills will tend to just dive straight into a project or task, whereas someone with conceptual skills will take time to analyze all aspects that might affect the project or task. They see the big picture and the risks.
Examples of conceptual skills
Part of the trick to understanding conceptual skills is being able to identify them in the first place. They can cover many skills that can be difficult to teach. Understanding what they are now will be useful for you to give a great response in an interview, as you will be more likely to pinpoint what the hiring manager is really asking you. Plus, you may spot language that could refer to some of these conceptual skills in the job ad. Understanding the intent behind these words will make you better prepared to include examples and experience that illustrate the relevant conceptual skills.
Here are some conceptual skills examples that you may find useful in either of these scenarios and others:
The ability to analyze
Analysis skills are important conceptual skills in management. You need to be able to analyze various aspects of the business operations to ensure that every department is working towards the overall goals of the organization. The analysis would include being able to forecast, diagnose and understand any issues the business may face, and understand how to improve the business. Some skills that fall under analysis include research skills, data analysis, creativity, and critical thinking.
Conceptual skills consist of the ability to communicate your solutions to others in an organization. For instance, if we use the practical example mentioned previously regarding the coffee shop competitor, the manager will not just find potential solutions but also feedback to other managers/colleagues. People with conceptual skills would need to be strong communicators, both verbal and listening. They would need to consider the needs of employees before devising a suitable plan of action. Some examples of strong communication skills would include, active listening, verbal and non-verbal, written, presentation, and ability to ask the right questions.
Ability to solve problems
The ability to identify and solve problems is also an example of conceptual skills. Conceptual management skills require the ability to make quick decisions, where required. Some types of problem-solving skills include decision-making, critical thinking, logical thinking, multitasking, and troubleshooting.
What are the conceptual skills of a manager?
While employees at every level can benefit from improving their conceptual skills, managers are the most likely to face conceptual challenges on a day-to-day basis. Conceptual skills for managers include:
- Delegation: who is the best person for this task and why?
- Team building: how does interconnectedness help us reach our goals?
- Resource management: what can be accomplished with our time and budget?
It is not enough for a manager just to identify and find solutions, they also need to be able to get others to follow their vision. Therefore, strong leadership skills are paramount, including the ability to develop a team, motivate and persuade others. Some typical skills associated with being a leader include management, delegation, team building, empathy, persuasion and flexibility.
The ability to ‘think outside the box’ and bring ideas to the table is important. In other words, to be creative. Some examples of creativity skills include strategic planning, open-mindedness, ability to formulate ideas, and collaboration.
How to improve conceptual skills
While some people may be naturally inclined to look at the bigger picture and evaluate problems before starting a task, all of us can improve our conceptual skills with practice. Here are some steps you can take:
- Observe leaders in an organization to understand their methods
- Set a certain period of time for reflection and evaluation of the issue at hand before diving into the tasks
- Map out different scenarios based on actions you could take and choose the most promising path
- Evaluate the results of your strategy to maximize future development
How to improve your conceptual skills
As you can see, conceptual skills often refer to things that can be difficult to study. That's not to say that you can't acquire or improve conceptual skills that you are lacking. In fact, a big part of your professional journey will involve using some of the following tips to keep on top of yours. As with anything, a lot of these skills will best be perfected through practice and experience.
That's why practice in managing projects can go a long way in developing your conceptual skills. Managing a project of any size can give you a broader perspective of an entire work process. That's something you can bring to multiple roles and industries in the future. For the same reason, advocating for yourself in order to gain experience in a leadership can help you to gain experience and new ways of thinking.
However, if opportunities to take on more responsibility are thin in your job, all hope is not lost. There are plenty of other actions that you can work into your day to day that will improve your conceptual skills. You can start by being intentional about the way that you communicate with your colleagues. Consider how you can make yourself better understood and better understand the people you interact with in your job for smoother work processes. Think about your other regular tasks and where you can be more intentional. Taking the time to analyze and problem solve things that have become second nature could go a long way to developing better conceptual skills while you're at it.
Conceptual skills when applying for jobs
It might not be obvious when you are being asked about your conceptual skills. However, if you are asked about your ability to identify and find a solution to a problem, the answer is related to your conceptual skills. Both your resume and your cover letter can be excellent spots to state some of the conceptual skills you possess. Conceptual skills examples may include:
- Your ability to make decisions
- Communication and ability to work well with others
- Technical abilities
- Leadership skills
- Project management skills
Try to think of anecdotes or examples that effectively demonstrate times when you have exhibited those conceptual skills. In your resume, this could look like choosing to include a bullet point about a relevant project. On your cover letter, on the other hand, you'll have a little more freedom to dive into the details of a time when you have shown relevant conceptual skills. Explaining how you demonstrated the conceptual skill is a stronger way of illustrating your value than simply claiming that you possess that particular skill. Just remember to keep the conceptual skills you illustrate relevant to the job that you are applying to!
- As a job seeker, you might not be asked directly about conceptual skills, but these are important to include on your CV, particularly if you are applying for a management role.
- Conceptual management skills are related to an ability to see the bigger picture for the benefit of the organization.
- Someone with conceptual skills is an asset to an organization as they are not just looking at projects with tunnel vision and can constantly ensure they are meeting the goals of the team and the entire organization.
- Conceptual skills in management are vital additions to your resume - particularly if you are applying to a management role, of course. However, they are useful for any role.