Prove you are a problem-solver


Employers want to recruit new hires who will solve their problems — not create new ones. Here are five ways to prove to employers that you’re a problem-solver — not a problem.

1. Strategize your current projects. Long before you start looking for a new job, identify projects on your current job that are likely to produce tangible results. These might be reports, Web sites, training or new procedures that are likely to improve your office’s operations in concrete ways by, for example, cutting costs, increasing productivity or improving efficiency. Then, ask your boss if you can lead those projects. Completing such projects will provide tangible evidence of your productivity and problem-solving skills that you can brandish in your job applications and interviews.

2. Show your successes. Bring to your interviews solid proof of your success such as glowing performance reviews or praising e-mails from managers; and impressive work products, such as printouts of Web sites you created, reports you have written or descriptions of your projects in annual reports.

3. Solve problems volunteered by your interviewers. If your interviewers describe challenges, obstacles or problems confronting your target office, suggest potential strategies for solving those problems either immediately or during follow-up interviews.

A case in point: I know a federal human resources manager whose interviewer mentioned that her target office had trouble motivating employees who were not eligible for promotions. In response, the HR manager presented during her second interview a list of innovative potential motivating strategies. The result: Even before the HR manager got home from the interview, her interviewers had left her a voice mail message offering her the job — even though she had been warned before her second interview that she still faced stiff competition for the job.

Another example: I know a federal manager who was told during an initial interview that she would be asked in a follow-up interview to describe her vision for her target office. In response, she called her target office’s director and discussed his vision, and then prepared a short PowerPoint presentation on how to achieve the director’s goals. The result: She got the job.

4. Generate opportunities to solve your target office’s problems. If your interviewers don’t volunteer the information, ask them what challenges, constraints or obstacles are confronting their office. A good time to do this is when your interviewers ask if you have any questions about your target job. In response, on the spot, in follow-up interviews or in a post-interview thank-you letter, gently suggest potential strategies for solving those problems.

5. Help your references help you. Your references probably won’t know anything about your target job or which of your credentials they should emphasize unless you tell them. Nor will your references necessarily remember your past successes or even the praise they themselves have heaped on you.

So when you ask your references if you may use them as references, describe to them your target job, why it appeals to you and your qualifications for it. Also, remind them of relevant projects and positive feedback they drew. In addition, volunteer to provide your references with copies of praising evaluations they have given you, your résumé and any other documents that would support your case.

Finally, here is how to impress your interviewers with your organizational skills and, at the same time, guide their discussions with each of your references to your best advantage: Prepare for your interviewers a list of your references in a neat table that has the following column headings: Name, Title, Contact Info, and Relationship to Me. Start each Relationship to Me box by identifying what type of professional relationship you had with each reference. Then, write something like “Can verify my xxx skills,” followed by a brief list of the credentials, projects, soft skills and any other characteristics you would like your interviewers to discuss with that reference.


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  1. Man, I would love to live in this perfect world that you seem to convey… but in reality, esp. DoD, it’s not what you know, it is WHO you know. Sorry, but that is the way things are out here in the real world… this article sounds like a Human Resources text book…

  2. There are many of us that would like to retire and are of age. But, would gladly come to work daily 1/2 days. no one ever addresses that. My dept could use me 1/2 days easily.

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