Solving Problem, or Exploiting Opportunity?

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Is your job search more focused on avoiding problems, or on seeking opportunity?

One of my favorite quotes from Peter Drucker, the late, great management expert, goes like this: “Results are gained by exploiting opportunities, not by solving problems.”

I think what he meant is that there are always going to be problems that need solving, and if you spend all your time grinding away at them, you’ll end up with a bunch of things checked off your list, but maybe not much more than that. Perhaps all along there was a huge opportunity that you didn’t have time to take advantage of, because you were too busy solving problems. And it occurs to me that this advice is very relevant to the job search process.

When I interview a software engineer who’s thinking about looking for their next job, the way they describe what they’re looking for usually falls pretty neatly into one of two patterns. Most of the average candidates tell me about something that’s bad about where they work now, and they’re trying to fix it: bad commute, bad relationship with manager, layoffs happening, feeling underpaid. There’s nothing wrong with trying to improve these things, to be sure. Just about every job search has some element of trying to fix something.

However, the candidates that I find to be the most excellent, the most desirable to future employers, take it further, and paint a more compelling picture of a future success. They’re creating a vision for me of the opportunity they want, of the way they see themselves growing, how their career is going to unfold, what they’re going to learn.

You probably are always evaluating your current job opportunity and benchmarking it against what else you might be able to get, at least subconsciously and passively if not openly actively. Why not frame such evaluations in terms going for the opportunity, rather than simply trying to solve a problem? I think you’ll find it to be a great way to accelerate your software engineering career.

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