What are the skills of good thinkers

Conceptual skills: In-demand soft skills that every company needs

What skills does a manager need to have in order to be successful? According to the American organizational psychologist Robert L. Katz, three key competencies are required: technical competence (or expertise), social competence and conceptual skills. And the higher a manager climbs in the corporate hierarchy, the more important conceptual thinking becomes.

If you are new to the term “conceptual skills” then this article is for you. Here you can find out what it means, why you need a workforce with these skills and how to find them.

What are conceptual skills?

The origin of the word “concept” gives a first indication of this. Coming from Latin, it means to summarize something, to absorb something, to understand. In the Duden dictionary “conceiving” is described as “gaining and designing a basic idea of ​​something”.

Conceptual competence is therefore the ability to identify problems and opportunities, to analyze them and to develop an approach. This requires a basic understanding of the company, the processes, the environment and the forces involved in it.

Conceptual skills are among the soft skills. They are especially needed when no procedure is specified for accomplishing a task. Facts and situations arise again and again in companies for which there are no predefined solutions. Conceptual thinkers are needed for these cases.

What distinguishes conceptual thinkers?

Employees who work conceptually usually stand out for the following behavior:

  • Understand complex relationships quickly.
  • Consider issues from various perspectives.
  • Find new approaches to old problems.
  • Question assumptions and entrenched ideas.
  • Are mostly attentive listeners.
  • Are creative.
  • Handle the unforeseen well.
  • Thinking outside the box.
  • Work well in a team.
  • Include other departments and areas.
  • Coordinate the cooperation of different departments.

In addition, people with these skills usually have an intrinsic motivation to want to get involved in the company. They appreciate it when their ideas are heard and when they are allowed to work on tricky problems. However, if they are not used or demanded accordingly, a certain amount of frustration with the daily work or the employer can spread. There is a risk that they will leave the company prematurely.

Why do you need a workforce with conceptual skills?

Conceptual thinking is especially important for executives. In managerial positions, you have to be able to deal with unpredictable problems and work out appropriate solutions. To do this, it is often necessary to obtain opinions from various departments. Even in spite of different perspectives, coordinated action must then be ensured.

In addition, conceptual work is required in order to develop and promote innovations within the company. With creativity and design strength, new products and services can be developed. Sometimes even a whole new vision is created for the company that inspires and motivates the workforce.

In principle, conceptually thinking colleagues ensure the further development and thus the economic success of the company. The ability to react quickly and creatively to challenges is becoming a competitive advantage in today's world. Companies that are characterized by innovation and agility also have an easier time establishing strong employer branding and attracting qualified talent.

How do you find candidates with conceptual skills?

Hard skills such as technical skills and specialist knowledge can be identified and checked relatively easily. In the résumé you can usually see immediately whether an applicant has the necessary degrees and qualifications. If you still have doubts, you can convince yourself of the know-how with a work sample. Unfortunately, this is not so easy with soft skills such as conceptual skills.

One challenge is that there isn't just one conceptual skill that can be measured. Rather, conceptual thinking is made up of many small features. Here you can find out which they are and which personnel selection process you can use to check them.

5 skills that characterize conceptual thinking

Conceptual competencies are diverse. These are the five main traits along with specific behaviors that make them stand out.

1. Analysis

When working conceptually, it is important to analyze and evaluate whether a company is achieving its goals and sticking to its business plan. Managers in particular need to be able to identify problems and decide what steps to take.

  • Analyze complex situations.
  • Strong cognitive skills.
  • Logical reasoning.
  • Develop strategies to achieve goals.
  • Diagnosing problems in the company.
  • Make forecasts.
  • Identify opportunities for improvement.
  • Recognize key elements in a situation.
  • Select important information from large amounts of data.
  • Understand relationships between departments.
  • Understand relationships between ideas, concepts, and patterns.
  • Understand the company's business model.

2. Communication

Without strong communication skills, a professional cannot share their solutions with the right people. Someone with conceptual skills can easily explain a problem and offer solutions. He * She communicates effectively with people at all levels of the organization, from senior management to teams within specific departments. Conceptual thinkers are also good listeners. They perceive the needs of their counterparts and take them into account when creating a plan of action.

  • Active listening
  • Clear verbal communication
  • Put your thoughts into easily understandable words
  • Explain complex problems and relationships
  • Communicate a strategy and approach effectively
  • Show empathy
  • Being able to empathize with others
  • Being able to present
  • Get others to act

3. Creative thinking

Candidates with conceptual skills need to be able to find creative solutions to abstract problems. It's about thinking “outside the box”. You need to consider how to solve a particular problem with the given resources.

  • Abstract, creative and intuitive thinking
  • Enjoy complex problems
  • Knows creativity techniques such as brainstorming
  • Come up with innovative ideas
  • Open to new approaches

4. Leadership

Someone with conceptual skills also has strong leadership skills. He * She has to convince others and inspire them to follow the company's vision. A manager always has to gain the trust of their team first.

  • Commit to achieving the company's goals
  • Develop and communicate a vision
  • Lead employees
  • Delegate tasks effectively
  • Motivate others to act
  • Drive team development
  • give feedback
  • Argue convincingly
  • Bring stability
  • Plan strategically
  • Implement measures

5. Problem solving

When someone identifies a problem and analyzes the situation, he * she must decide how to solve that problem. People with conceptual skills are good at making decisions that will lead to results, even when not all of the information is available.

  • Ignore irrelevant information
  • Logical and critical thinking
  • Break down a project into manageable parts
  • Formulation of effective procedures
  • Weigh up solutions
  • Prioritize
  • Make and justify decisions
  • Run solutions

4 methods of checking conceptual skills

The application documents can usually only provide an indication of whether a candidate has the necessary conceptual working methods. Various tests or methods are available to check the conceptual skills of applicants.

Incidentally, recruitment software such as Recruitee can support you in selecting personnel. For example, you can create detailed profiles of your applicants and make appointments for selection procedures without lengthy email conversations.

1. Structured interviews

As part of a structured interview, you can ask your applicants specific questions that aim at conceptual thinking. For example, you can question how your counterpart has behaved in certain situations in the past. Another possibility is to describe a fictional situation and ask your candidate to describe how he * she would behave.

Can't think of any good questions? Here are the 10 best interview questions for critical thinking.

2. Simulations

Simulations are ideal for confronting your applicants with job-related problems and tasks and for letting them make decisions. It is immediately apparent how they would behave in certain situations. The way you approach the problem says a lot about your conceptual skills.

3. Role play

If you want to test the communication and leadership potential of your applicants in particular, then role-plays are ideal. Your candidates will be confronted with real people and a fictitious situation from everyday work. The goal is to experience a realistic response to a challenge.

4. Case studies

In a case study, your candidates work on a business-related problem under time pressure. You are confronted with questions that the management of a real company also has to ask. Here you can check how your applicants approach problems and make decisions even with incomplete information.


Conceptual thinkers are essential to any business. It is worth investing in conceptual work internally, because this tends to attract future-oriented talent. Ambitious employees want to work on exciting, varied tasks today. This makes recruiting easier for you.

However, this way of thinking and working also involves a certain degree of risk. In order for conceptual capabilities to be fully exploited, they must create value. That means putting daring ideas into practice and expecting to fail. That has to be accepted in the company.


Julia is always on the trail of the latest trends in HR and recruitment in order to conjure up interesting content. As a former HR manager, she also draws on her own experience and specialist knowledge.