What Are Conceptual Skills? (Example List Included)

By Jeff Gillis

When people think about the skills they need to excel at work, they usually focus on problem-solving, collaboration, and other classics. But conceptual skills are also crucial.

Conceptual thinking helps you understand the big picture, examine abstract ideas, and so much more. If you’re wondering, “What are conceptual skills, and why do they matter?” here’s what you need to know.

What Are Conceptual Skills?

Before we take a deep dive into the various conceptual skills, it’s important to answer one question: what are conceptual skills? Well, to understand what they are, it’s helpful to break everything down a bit.

First, according to the Cambridge Dictionary, “concept” means “a principle or idea.” In some cases, concepts are considered thoughts or notions.

Conceptualizing is the act of coming up with these principles, ideas, thoughts, or notions. Usually, in the business world, conceptualizing is identifying potential solutions to a problem or creative strategies by thinking in an abstract way. It involves understanding and visualizing complex situations to get to an innovative answer.

So, knowing that, conceptual skills are capabilities that help you come up with those solutions or strategies, usually through abstract thinking.

More often than not, conceptual skills are soft skills. Things like creativity, strategic thinking, and adaptability play a big part in the conceptual thinking equation. However, that doesn’t mean specific hard skills aren’t valuable.

Usually, you also need the proper technical knowledge to get a complete understanding of the complex workplace scenario you want to navigate. Which hard skills matter depends on the nature of the job and the problem you’re trying to solve.

In the end, any ability, trait, or area of expertise that allows you to conceptualize effectively and come up with critical answers can qualify as a conceptual skill.

How Are Conceptual Skills Relevant to a Job Search?

At this point, you should have a reasonable understanding of what conceptual skills are, so it’s time to talk about why they matter during a job search. Let’s begin with the actual job search itself.

Conceptual skills are relevant to a job search in a few ways. First, if you think about it, finding a new job isn’t unlike problems in the workplace. Your goal is to secure a new position. To make that happen, you have to analyze the situation, identify potential paths toward success, and take strategic action.

With conceptual thinking, your approach can be more effective. You can envision the various pathways you can take and estimate how each method may (or may not) get you the desired result. You’ll be able to see the forest for the trees, ensuring you take the big picture into account.

Conceptual skills may also help you identify the right opportunities. While you might not know exactly what a position involves simply by reading a job ad, conceptual thinking allows you to come up with a solid guess.

Plus, they can help you create a better resume and higher-quality interview answers. Again, conceptual thinking involves the ability to assess scenarios and visualize solutions. In this case, the situation is finding a job, and the solutions are creating standout applications and responses to the hiring manager’s questions.

By taking in data about the situation – in this case, details from the job description and information about the company from its website, social media pages, and other resources – you can visualize what the hiring manager wants to find in a candidate. As you do that, you can determine how to position yourself as the ideal fit, making it easier to stay ahead of the competition.

After all, 80 percent of companies believe that soft skills are increasingly important to business success. So, by showing off your conceptual skills the right way, you can look like a stronger candidate for nearly any job type.

Okay, now it’s time to move onto the second part. Ultimately, conceptual skills are valuable in a wide range of jobs. But if you have your sights set on a management or leadership position, they are outright critical.

With management positions, conceptual thinking is typically part of the role. Upper-level roles commonly have to solve higher-level problems for the organization. Strategy development and innovation can be core responsibilities.

In those cases, having conceptual thinking capabilities is essential if you want to land the job and perform well in the position. They’ll make you a more effective problem-solver for issues at that level.

So, what are the conceptual skills hiring managers are looking for in 2021? Well, two of the biggest are analytical skills and problem-solving skills. Creativity and innovative thinking are also in demand.

But that really only scratches the surface. Remember, any skill that makes you effective at conceptual thinking can be valuable, especially if it helps you separate yourself from the pack.

How to Highlight Conceptual Skills for a Job Search

At this point, you probably have a solid idea about why conceptual skills are important to your job search. That means it’s time to move on and talk about how to showcase those capabilities when you’re looking for a new position.

In most cases, squaring away your resume and cover letter is what you’ll need to tackle first. Those are both parts of a typical application, so getting them right is essential.

When you’re creating your resume and cover letter, being achievement-focused is the better approach. By focusing on accomplishments, you can show the hiring manager how you put your skills to work, as well as highlight the results of your efforts.

If your goal is to highlight conceptual skills, you need to choose achievements where conceptual thinking played a big role in your success.

JEFF'S TIP: How do you know if an accomplishment relates to your conceptual skills? In most cases, if you can honestly say that you “developed,” “devised,” “identified,” “spearheaded,” “or “constructed” an innovative solution for a particular problem, that achievement likely involved some conceptual thinking. If you created something new to address the situation, so there’s a good chance it qualifies.

Okay, but what if you have several accomplishments that fit that bill? How do you pick the right ones to include? Well, by using the Tailoring Method.

The Tailoring Method is all about relevancy. It helps you choose achievements that will mean the most to that specific hiring manager. You take the employer’s needs and preferences into account, ensuring you’re sharing details that matter to them.

Once you’d done with your resume and cover letter, it’s time to start practicing job interview answers. You can use the Tailoring Method to help create responses for both traditional job interview questions and tricky behavioral interview questions.

For behavioral interview questions, adding a healthy dash of the STAR Method is a good move. You’ll turn your answers into engaging stories, making your responses informative and interesting in the eyes of the hiring manager.

How to Develop Conceptual Skills If You Don’t Have Them

If you don’t have conceptual skills, developing them is a good idea. It can help you stand out from other candidates and prepare you for the kinds of problem-solving you’ll likely need to do as you advance in your career.

The thing is, most people have some experience with conceptual thinking. For example, if you had to do science projects while you were in school, you’ve probably used some conceptual skills.

But whether you think you’re starting from scratch or that you have a bit of a foundation, that doesn’t mean you can’t acquire and hone these capabilities. If you aren’t sure how to go about it, here are some tips for building your conceptual skills.

1. Observe Conceptual Thinkers You Admire

Observation can be an incredibly powerful tool. By watching conceptual thinkers that you admire analyze problems and devise solutions, you can get amazing insights into the process.

While it may seem like observing conceptual thinkers in action would be difficult to do, that isn’t always the case. If there is a manager you admire at work, you may get to see them in action during staff meetings or planning sessions.

However, if you don’t have access to a suitable person in the workplace, then go online. For example, you could look up YouTube videos featuring people creating solutions to unique problems.

Mark Rober is an excellent example of a conceptual thinker in action. While his focus is on engineering, he presents information in a straightforward fashion and openly discusses his thought process. Plus, the results of his work are often quite entertaining.

2. Identify a Workplace Problem and Use It as a Case Study

If you want to put your conceptual skills to work, here’s one way to go about it. Identify a problem in your workplace – big or small – and treat it like a case study. Examine the issue from several angles. Talk with colleagues about it. See if you can create potential solutions that align with the company’s broader mission and goals.

You don’t necessarily have to succeed in finding an answer to make this approach worthwhile. It’s all about teaching yourself to think conceptually.

But if you do find a solution, that’s a great bonus. You can present your idea to the appropriate leaders and might be able to create meaningful, beneficial change, giving you a new achievement to add to your resume.

3. Volunteer for Cross-Departmental Projects

When a project involves several departments, it’s an opportunity to learn more about how different organizational areas view problems and devise solutions. It’s a chance to broaden your horizons and learn new ways to find answers by engaging with people who have different skillsets and perspectives.

List of Conceptual Skills

Alright, now is the moment you’ve been waiting for: the list of conceptual skills. Ultimately, there are a lot of capabilities that can fall into this category. By knowing which ones potentially land in this group, you can pick ones to highlight on your resume or cover letter – or in your answers to interview questions – to showcase your conceptual thinking abilities.

Here is a list of conceptual skills examples:

    • Analysis
    • Problem-Solving
    • Creativity
    • Innovative-Thinking
    • Abstract-Thinking
    • Critical-Thinking
    • Idea Formulation
    • Resourcefulness
    • Adaptability
    • Strategic-Thinking
    • Negotiation
    • Delegation
    • Flexibility
    • Prioritization
    • Planning
    • Organization
    • Active Listening
    • Research
    • Open-Mindedness
    • Vision
    • Logical-Thinking

All of the capabilities and traits above could qualify as conceptual skills. However, that doesn’t mean they are the only ones. Any ability to lets you assess big-picture problems and develop unique solutions could also be a part of that list, so don’t limit yourself to just those included above.

It’s also critical to understand that you don’t have to get all of the skills above squeezed into your resume, cover letter, or interview answers. If you did, you probably went a bit overboard.

Instead, review the job description and company information. Then, use the Tailoring Method to pick the skills and traits that align with the hiring manager’s priorities. That way, you can discuss achievements that matter in their eyes, increasing the odds that you’ll look like an exceptional fit for the position.

Plus, it ensures you have room to discuss other essential capabilities. If you’d like to find out more about the different skills to put on a resume, check out our in-depth piece on the topic. It’ll give you valuable insights into what to highlight, allowing you to take your job search to the next level.

Putting It All Together

In the end, conceptual skills are incredibly valuable, especially if you want to work your way up into a management or leadership role. By honing yours now, you’ll be ready to tackle all of that big-picture, innovative thinking, ensuring you can come up with solutions to a range of challenging problems.

Plus, by reviewing the information above, you know how to showcase your conceptual thinking abilities effectively. Use that to your advantage. That way, when a new job opportunity comes around, you can position yourself as the ideal candidate for the role.

About The Author

Jeff Gillis

Co-founder and CTO of TheInterviewGuys.com. Jeff is a featured contributor delivering advice on job search, job interviews and career advancement, having published more than 50 pieces of unique content on the site, with his work being featured in top publications such as INC, ZDnet, MSN and more. Learn more about The Interview Guys on our About Us page.