Ace The Interview: Be A Problem-Solver

By: bigduke
In a sense, employers don't really want employees. Employees are a terrible bother. They have to be paid. They have to be trained. They take vacations. And then they go to work for somebody else. If there were a way to run organizations without employees, you can be certain most employers would do so.

But there isn't, so they can't.

Employers need employees to perform necessary functions, to solve operating problems. Wherever a job opening exists, you can be certain there's a problem that needs solving. So the employer isn't so much seeking another mouth for the company to feed as he or she is searching for a solution to a company problem.

The notion that a new employee must somehow be forged into a tool which can and will solve the problem is a worrisome thing for an employer. Has the employer chosen the best available person? Does the new employee have the potential for a smashing success, or a crashing disaster?

An employer finds it particularly comforting when he or she believes the new employee is a problem-solver, a worker who understands objectives, instinctively making the right decisions and marshaling the necessary resources to achieve them. Not someone who simply plugs away, performing a function with no real insight into the purpose of it all.

Problem-solving ability is a particularly high order of qualification for any responsible job. If you're perceived as a strong and able problem-solver, you'll be a serious contender for the job. Of course you'll also have to relate your training, experience and abilities to the employer's needs. But if you position yourself as a problem-solver at the interview, any employer will tend to perceive you positively.

Everyone faces and solves problems of one kind or another every day. A problem may be as simple as finding a two dollar error as you reconcile your checkbook, or as complex as making a sale to a difficult customer. Your own experience is filled with problem-solving successes, and it's up to you to bring them to the attention of prospective employers.

It's not difficult to do so. It's simply a matter of communicating your own experience, wherever appropriate, as a successful exercise in problem-solving:

1. The challenge you faced.
2. Your analysis of the problem.
3. Your course of action.
4. How your action solved the problem.

"The company I worked for had huge accounts receivable. Half the customer took more than 90 days to pay. The problem was that no one was really in charge of collections. I told my boss we could get the money in faster if we just made some diplomatic phone calls, and I asked her if I could devote one morning a week to try it out. It worked so well we expanded it to two morning a week, and within two months I'd brought most of the slow-pay accounts to under 60 days."

See the pattern? You identified a problem, took an action and solved it. It needn't be a cosmic problem or a brilliant solution, so long as both are meaningful. The important thing is that you are perceived as a take-charge person, a problem-solver. And that alone will give you a strong edge over much of your competition.

It's a worthwhile exercise to plan ahead, to reflect on the problems you've solved, and identify the situations you'll want to talk about to prospective employers when the appropriate times present themselves. In a serious interview, the employer is likely to ask you broad, open-ended questions designed to get you to reveal your strengths and weaknesses. "What's your greatest strength?" "What do other people think of you?" "What's your most outstanding quality?" "What was the most difficult situation you ever faced?"

These are golden opportunities for you to make certain the employer knows you thrive on challenges, and that you solve problems enthusiastically and creatively.

"People who know me would agree that I'm a problem-solver, and a good one. I enjoy the challenge of identifying a problem, analyzing it and solving it. For instance --"
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