01/16/2009 05:12 am ET Updated May 25, 2011

Surviving the Recession: Ditch the Job Search; Start a Problem Search

During a recent appearance on CNN, I was posed the following question: "Most companies have called for hiring freezes until January, but millions out there are desperate and can't wait. What can these people do to solve their problem?"

It is a reasonable question. Bills begin to pile up. Frustration and fear grows. There is a sense of urgency to right the situation, to get back on track, to solve your problem.

But wait! Employers NEVER hire people out of sympathy. Employers hire people to fix their own problems.

The fact is that in a recession (particularly this one), employers themselves face significant challenges. It is safe to say that most of the people you will come in to contact with during your employment search have very real fears about the security of their own jobs.

While the end goal should always be to find lucrative and fulfilling work, your approach in the job market must be outwardly facing, not inward. Look for problems that you can solve for others, and that's where the job offers will be waiting.

In an expansionary period, the problems that companies often face relate to keeping up with growth, building production capacity and their bench of talent to meet future demand. In a recession, the major issues are re-energizing sales and improving efficiency (often through cutting costs).

In a "problem search", the first step is self-assessment. Where have you successfully increased revenue (through sales or marketing) for a product or division? How have you creatively found ways to cut operational costs, or redesigned a process to make it more efficient? What are the problems that you are confident you can solve for others? Write down specifics. Arm yourself with facts.

Next, do your research. Identify industries, companies, and then divisions or even specific managers where you know there is a problem they are trying to fix. Gather as much information as possible - from articles, the internet and even discussions with others who work at the company. The goal is to understand as thoroughly as you can the problem an employer is dealing with, and then to be able to confidently articulate how you have solved similar problems before, and how you can help right now.

Fewer jobs in the marketplace are a byproduct of any recession. But there are no shortage of problems companies are desperately trying to overcome. Identifying and solving an employer's problem is, in the end, the best way to resolve your own.