by: Liz Ryan
For years we talked about our Skills. We said “I have negotiation skills, administrative skills and strategic skills.” We claimed a whole bunch of skills, but what are skills, really? Who can say whether you have those skills?
When someone tells me s/he has great Negotiation Skills, I immediately wonder whether the person I’m talking with negotiated peace accords between warring nations or got the coffee vendor to throw in a few extra creamers with the coffee order.
Skills are amorphous, and even if you possess a certain skill, do you know when and how to use it? That is the question. That’s why stories are so much more powerful in a resume or a LinkedIn LinkedIn profile than lists of Skills could ever be.
If I’m interviewing you I want to know what problem you solve. When you can tell me what kind of Business Pain you relieve in your work, then I know that you understand how your talents fit into the larger organization.
When you can tell me what kind of Business Pain you alleviate, then I know that you see the impact of your work on the ground. You’re not so tuned into the work on your desk that you’ve lost track of its connection to the organization you work for.
In our business we solve three or four common kinds of Business Pain. People who need great jobs and can’t find them have Job Search pain. Employers who can’t find great people have pain, and so do employers whose broken recruiting systems represent a recruiting impediment instead of a competitive weapon. Leaders without followers have pain that gets them to call us. Publications have pain when they don’t have a reliable base of regular readers because no one wants to read their content.
You have to know what kind of Business Pain you solve, and you have to know a lot about the pain. If you were an expert in relieving a common and annoying kind of rash that affects guinea pigs, you’d become an expert in that rash and its early and advanced symptoms. You’d become very comfortable asking every guinea pig owner you meet “So, I hope you’re not experiencing that awful guinea pig rash that’s going around….”?
You wouldn’t talk about your skills. No one would care. As soon as you asked about the guinea pig rash, the guinea pig owners with sick pigs would say “Yes! My sweet guinea pig Anastasia has a rash on her hindquarters. Can you help?”
Your knowledge of the rash would be your calling card, even more than your ability to make the rash go away. No one wants to hear about your triumphs unless they have the particular kind of pain you know how to solve.
Most working people don’t know what kind of Business Pain they solve. They want to tell you about their years of experience and their degrees, but no one cares about those things. Anyone who does care about those attributes is not someone you want to work for, because real business people solve problems and then as a reward for solving each problem get a bigger problem to solve.
I love to meet a job-seeker who says “I solve the pain that start-ups experience when they can’t get over the hump from the fad of the moment to an established brand.” I love to hear from a new college grad that they solve the pain an organization feels when it can’t put a thinking human being at the front desk because they can’t find anyone who can think and talk and be human all at the same time.
That new grad is going to knock it out of the park at the front desk and then get promoted, and he or she is never going to lose sight of the bigger and bigger pains s/he solves for employers.
You can do the same thing. You can stop thinking about your skills and focus on answering the question “What kind of Business Pain do I solve?” Is it the pain that comes in when IT systems are stretched past the breaking point and costing more money and heartache than replacing them would cost?
Is it the pain of spending a fortune on social media and getting nothing in return? Is it the pain of having forty-seven open job requisitions because the broken recruiting system screens the best people out and lets the worst ones in? You have to answer that question, and when you do, your mojo will soar and your value to employers and clients will increase. The rest of us will be on the sidelines cheering you on!
About the Author
I was a Fortune 500 HR SVP for ten million years, but I was an opera singer before I ever heard the term HR. The higher I got in the corporate world, the more operatic the action became. I started writing about the workplace for the Chicago Sun-Times in 1997, but it took me ages to find my own voice. Now I write for the Huffington Post, Business Week, LinkedIn, the Harvard Business Review, the Denver Post and Forbes.com and lead the worldwide Human Workplace movement to reinvent work for people.
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