By taking ownership and showing initiative, you’ll stand out in any pack.
One night when I was bartending in college, I witnessed one of the greatest traits an employee can posses.
A fellow employee and I were rushing to prep for fumigators to spray down the bar (yep, it was that kind of bar), and we had no idea what needed to be done; we’d received zero instruction from the owners and it was 2:30 a.m. I decided turning off the pilot lights on the stove would be a good idea, so I asked my fellow employee if he knew how to do that. His response? “No, but I’m sure I can figure it out.” We both went downstairs and followed the gas line from the stove until we found an on/off lever for the gas. We pulled the lever and off went the burners.
Hardly brain surgery, I know, but there’s a great lesson here. Rather than get frazzled like I did, my co-worker stayed totally calm and simply put on his problem-solving cap. He wasn’t even phased by the fact he didn’t know what to do (I actually don’t think it even occurred to him), he just knew he would look at the problem until he found a solution.
That’s what employers want. Hell, that’s what EVERYONE wants – someone who’s a doer, who finds a way and gets the job done.
In a world full of crappy co-workers and employees, your boss is dying for a can-do attitude. All bosses are – that’s why problem-solving ability regularly ranks as one of the most desirable traits in a prospective employee. Problem solvers are strategic and critical thinkers, people who bring ideas and solutions.
And guess what? Ideas and solutions make money.
Innate or obtainable?
“Your interpretation of the experience determines your perception,” Michael Michalko wrote in Psychology Today. Put another way: we decide how we react to a given situation. Some of us might be more predisposed to the can-do attitude, especially optimists, but how we react is up to us. Some situations may be out of our control, but how we react rarely is.
Like any other highly-valued skill set, a can-do attitude requires practice, practice, practice. When preparing for different government jobs, I knew I’d face a lot of problem-solving or puzzle questions, and my early attempts at these challenges did not go well. Whenever I heard a sample Google or Microsoft interview question, I’d respond with the mental equivalent of seizing up and falling into the fetal position.
I needed work. So I tried as many sample questions as I could and bought puzzle and mental exercise books like How Would You Move Mt. Fuji? Most of these questions deal more with how to react to and work through the problem at hand, so they’re great practice even if you don’t get many of the answers.
I also practiced a ton of analytical reasoning while studying for the LSAT, which really does ingrain a formulaic, methodical approach to a given problem. Some people are born with this skill set, but the rest of us have to work hard at it.
Luckily, it’s teachable – and learnable.
Valuable beyond your career
Being a problem-solver will take you far, regardless of your profession or industry, but it will also pay dividends in your personal life.
When faced with adversity, something as inevitable as death and taxes, those with a can-do attitude are well equipped to handle any situation. Struggling marriages, partnerships or businesses can often be righted by working through the challenges methodically and with perseverance.
In contrast, those who quickly or dismissively deem the problem unsolvable (often known as quitters) are just as quickly defeated.
Next time you’re asked about a problem you don’t know the answer to, be honest about it but volunteer to find a solution. It’s a way of taking ownership and showing initiative, two things any boss loves. Adopting challenges with a can-do attitude is also arming you for interview time, when you’ll almost certainly be asked about a time you “worked through a difficult problem.”
“Whether you think that you can or can’t, you’re usually right,” Henry Ford famously said. That certainly applies to having a can-do attitude. It’s optional; it’s a choice.
What kind of attitude do you choose?
Tim Murphy is founder of ApplyMate.com, a free application tracking tool.