Problem-solving is listed first here because it is the most important skill anyone has. In fact, when you are hired for any job, as a professor, a president, or a custodian, you are hired to solve problems. And if there is one thing scientists and engineers excel in, it is solving problems. This is not to be taken lightly. Most people don’t realize that their foremost skill of importance is problem-solving, and as a result they don’t articulate that to potential collaborators and employers. They don’t discuss their problem-solving agility in detail on their CVs, they don’t verbally communicate it when they are at a networking mixer and they certainly don’t clarify it during a job interview.
But if you can clearly enunciate your value, in part as a function of your unique problem-solving experience, expertise, and savvy, you will unlock hidden career opportunities and you will be more able to access advertised openings. This is the essence of effective networking.
This task of precisely expressing your value is not that difficult to do (especially once you realize the extent of that value). And when you start doing it strategically (or even passively), you will find that hidden opportunities will pop up in surprising places. Years ago I was flying from Dallas to DC and as I was boarding the airplane I noticed my seatmate’s shoes. They were just so beautiful and one-of-a-kind that they easily stood out. As I sat down, I couldn’t help but compliment this stranger on her colorful choice of footware. She smiled and I soon introduced myself, and before long we were just chatting away at 30 000 feet. We both became so immersed in conversation that by the time we landed, two hours later, we could hardly have guessed the time went by.
As it turns out this woman was the wife of a very well-known senator and as we conversed she asked me about my work. I told her that I was a professional speaker and comedian. She seemed engrossed by this and asked me a lot of questions about it. She soon revealed that she does charity work which requires an abundance of public speaking and is driven to enhance her speeches. But injecting them with humor was a challenge – “do you think you could help me with that?” she inquired. And of course I said yes, and gave her some tips right then and there. I got her business card and gave her mine, and later sent her a thank you note. I also emailed her to stay connected and offered to assist her further with her speechwriting needs.
This is a classic example of my point – if you can plainly articulate that you can solve the other person’s problems, this will entice them to want to learn more from you, which will most likely result in them offering you access to the Hidden Platter of Opportunities. Perhaps you will make the opportunity yourself or the other party will customize one just for you, as the senator’s wife did for me. Or maybe in the course of the conversation the person will realize that you can solve certain problems in x or y fields or departments within their organization, and they press you for more information that ultimately helps them make a decision about whether to engage you further. Just remember – everyone has problems that need solutions. By networking strategically, you can begin to communicate that you can provide those valuable solutions.
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