People that say they can solve problems are worth talking to because employers often want problem-solvers in their organizations. People who can actually prove they’ve solved problems both in the past and the present however will always get selected first. Yep, there’s a big difference between saying you can do something and actually demonstrating your ability.
Not long ago I had the occasion to talk with an employer and he was sharing with me an experience he had with an applicant during a job interview. One of the key qualities he was looking for in the next person he hired was a person’s ability to take on problems and find solutions. What he was listening for a person to share was specific examples of when they’ve faced problems, what their options were, the thought process they undertook at the time and after weighing pros and cons, what they actually settled on as a solution and then the action they took. Sometimes he went on, the result itself didn’t even have to always work out favourably as long as the thought process and the effort was there. Results he said would come most of the time.
In this one interview, he heard this applicant describe a situation at work where they were faced with a problem while working alone. They related in their example what they did when consultation wasn’t possible and things actually worked out very favourably for all involved. It was as he said, an impressive example of their ability to problem solve. So much so in fact, that he was impressed enough to offer the candidate a place. It was at this point however, that the applicant made an error that cost her the job.
She mentioned to the interviewer that she wouldn’t be able to work on the weekends (a written requirement in the job posting) as she didn’t have anyone lined up to look after her child on those two days. This as he related it, was a current and ongoing problem that she hadn’t been able to solve. How, he reasoned, was she going to be able to solve his problems associated with the business if she was unable to solve this critical problem of her own? Presumably being more important to her to solve her own problems, he could only imagine she’d put less effort into solving the organizations as they arose were she to be hired. She didn’t get the job.
Now lest you think she was immediately asked to leave, he told me that he had first asked how long the problem had existed. After all he reasoned, if she had only just learned that her childcare provider was suddenly unavailable, she could have made a case that it was a short-term problem and she’d have a solution quickly. Her answer however surprised him; she’d had this childcare problem for over a year.
This was to him more an example of her inability to solve a critical problem than any example she could present to him from her past work experience. Here was a very real problem that in over a year she had not successfully resolved. What she was hoping for was that he’d hire her to work just Monday to Friday and that some of his existing staff with greater seniority would be scheduled to work the weekend shifts. How likely would you think an employer and the fellow employees would see that as a reasonable accommodation? That’s thinking from a very egocentric place; the world resolves around me and others should meet my needs.
Problems exist; they come and they go only to be replaced by new ones. There’s a lot of good in being faced with problems actually. Be careful if you wish you had no problems to deal with in your life. Problems present opportunities to use your existing skills, coupled with your life and work experiences to devise solutions. Being challenged with situations that require you to think, research, brainstorm, consult and eventually make educated and sound decisions based on what you’ve accumulated is a desirable skill.
Now some people can solve problems that benefit themselves only; or benefit an organization but at the price of the customers they serve. Other organizations are bending over backwards so much to keep their customers happy that they actually destroy themselves in the process, so that’s not a long-term problem-solving strategy for success.
The best solutions to problems typically start with one’s ability to correctly comprehend and diagnose the problem. This is followed by coming up with the possible options available that will resolve the matter to the satisfaction of all. Ideally all parties want to feel that they have a resolution that maintains the relationship moving forward, meets their own needs and everyone can move forward.
If you are heading into an interview fully advised in a job posting that problem-solving is one of the requirements of the position, you should expect to be asked to prove through examples from your past that you’re a problem-solver. Don’t wait until that moment, look dumbfounded and sputter out some poor example or worse yet, tell them you’ve never had a problem you couldn’t solve. That could just show you’ve never been properly challenged and your skills in this area are underdeveloped.
You might typically be asked to relate past problems with customers, co-workers, management etc. Be ready. Be a problem-solver.