When you’re looking for a new job, think of yourself as the solution to your target employer’s problem. Every hiring manager’s primary goal is to look good, to progress in their own role. You will perform best in job selection processes if you can help them achieve that goal. They look good when they hire people who help their colleagues solve whatever problem they’re facing, whether increasing sales, improving operations or developing go-to-market strategy for a new product.
Particularly if you’re transitioning from a different function or industry, you may not have solved these exact problems in the past. Even if you’re coming from the same function and industry, every company is different, so you’ll have to do some translation to help hiring managers understand how you can solve their companies’ problems.
Read every job description you see as a problem that the employer is looking to solve. If they’ve written it thoughtfully, the responsibilities will reveal the problem at hand. However, job descriptions are often not written with great care or updates. Since the rate of change is faster now than ever before, the problems any employer is facing are definitely changing. Which is why networking is now such a critical part of any job search. Real-time conversations with employees from the company and team that you’re hoping to join will reveal a lot more about the problems they’re facing than any publicly available information.
Once you’ve understood the problems that the employer is looking to solve, you can make yourself the obvious candidate by positioning yourself as the ideal solution to those problems. Here are the specific steps to get there.
Understand the problem.
Do your homework online and offline in informal coffee chats to understand the company and the team you’d like to join. What’s changing most rapidly in their industry? What’s happening at the firm’s leadership levels? What does the C-suite write and talk about? Listen carefully, ask thoughtful questions and take notes so you’re sure to retain all the information you’re gathering.Frame yourself as the solution.
If you’re listening carefully, you’ll learn their language in these conversations. Do they refer to managers as ‘bosses,’ ‘supervisors,’ ‘leaders,’ or otherwise? Pick up on specific vocabulary as well as tone. And then describe how you’d solve the problems you’re hearing, based on specific examples from your past experience, recounted in their language. A dose of humility is important here – be confident about your ability to help without trivializing the challenges they’re facing.
Describe how your skills could solve an employer’s problem, humbly and in their language.
Share your excitement about solving their problem.
The (right) reason for all the push for diversity in the workplace is for every problem, there is a perfectly-suited person to solve it out there somewhere. What is a daunting problem to many will be a rewarding challenge for the right person to take on. Once you’ve understood the target employer’s problem and explained how your skills and experience will solve it (in their language, remember), show and tell how excited you would be to be the one charged with solving this problem, for this company. Positioning yourself as the solution to employers’ problems forces you to take an empathetic view of their situation. This approach prevents the defensive or arrogant tone that interviews can elicit, under pressure to justify our past experience or training. When you take the time to understand the employer’s problem, you speak to your qualifications as the resource they are to solve that problem. Any successful consultant knows this is the surefire way to get hired: paint a picture of what a client’s situation would look like after their engagement.
By the way, positioning yourself as a solution in this way can also get you hired for roles that don’t exist yet. If you listen carefully enough, and study your target industry, you may identify problems – and solutions – before an employer.