You might be counting on your field of professional expertise or specific skill-set to help you land your next great job opportunity, whether it’s an internal promotion or a new job at another company–and you could be right. But you might have another talent that would turn you into a front-runner, even against stiff competition.
What’s that? It’s your ability to solve problems. Not necessarily minor problems, either–sometimes, huge and very complex problems. Job seekers or internal candidates who offer that ability aren’t exactly a “dime a dozen,” as the old phrase puts it. Having it could give you an edge.
If you’re planning a job search to find a new position outside your current company, problem-solving will almost certainly save you grief at some point. The types and scope of the problems you could encounter in a job search would defy even a die-hard list-maker like me to catalog all of them.
So here’s just one example: You’re conducting a highly confidential job search to find a new senior-management position because you’re not seeing a career path to that goal in your present situation. What do you do if you spot a possible opportunity but the person you would be talking to also knows your current boss well?
You do have at least a couple of options. You can:
In many respects this is an easier situation to contemplate, since it doesn’t involve trying to make a move to another company. However, your job could wind up on the line if, for example, you fail to solve a problem that would be considered part of your area of responsibility.
When you hold a leadership role, high-level problem-solving basically goes with the territory. You can’t (or at least shouldn’t) hand a problem off to a subordinate simply to take the pressure off you! That’s not to say you can’t delegate certain tasks that your direct reports should be capable of handling; there’s a difference between delegation and dumping.
Solving a simple problem doesn’t usually require a high degree of skill. However, complex problems can be another matter altogether. It could be helpful to break them down into pieces or steps. If you naturally gravitate to doing that or have developed that ability over time, you’re in a good position to “earn points” by tackling and solving difficult problems.
To start with, you obviously need to identify the problem, but you can’t leap immediately from that step to fixing it. Trying to take shortcuts could cost you more in the long run than if you did it right the first time.
The quality that can put you well ahead of your competition–on the job and in a job search–is your ability to not only solve but actually prevent problems. If you’re alert and perceptive, you can identify potential problems before they become major headaches–or, worse, major disasters.
Of course, just seeing a problem approaching isn’t enough. You also need to come up with a solution that negates the problem. In other words, you must see the potential problem and devise a way to circumvent or prevent it–an action that makes good sense for your organization and is executable. That’s where you’ll really have a chance to shine! And that, not coincidentally, is how you will find yourself potentially in high demand with employers.