Career Building – Defining Your Competitive Advantage

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If you intend to survive in the world of Corporate America or as an independent consultant, you need to identify what makes you special. If there are hundreds or thousands of people competing against you for your dream career, you need to know why you are different and be able to express it to anyone that asks. When a company develops a brand, they fill in this blank:

“Our customers buy from us rather than any other company because …”

You may not be a business, but you can be sure you are still selling something. That “something” is the combination of your brains, energy, and skills. If you want to be different from other professionals, you need to complete this sentence for yourself:

“A company hires me over another professional because …”

Are you first? Faster? Cheaper? Are you offering something that is hard to come by, maybe even rare or valuable?
By the way, you don’t need to be better than EVERYONE. You can’t do that. Companies don’t compete that way and neither should you. You are better off competing at the local level. This is not just in the way of location. This includes industry, segment, and skill set. Now, it becomes a competition you can win! Here’s a personal example:

I create eLearning for community banking software. I also work within the Orlando market. If I wanted to market myself locally, I might say “I create the most engaging eLearning courses for banking software, within the Orlando market.” Once I reach that accomplishment, I might expand the statement to be “within the state of Florida.”

You define your competitive advantage by three forces: assets, your aspirations and values, and the current market realities.

Assets

Whatever you have right now are your assets. This is what you have going for you without any change. You build your primary plan upon your assets.

Soft assets are things you have that you cannot sell for money. This includes things such as information and knowledge, connections you have, skills you excel at, and your reputation.

Hard assets are tangible things, such as cash, stocks, your desk, your laptop. These items can assist you if you need an economic cushion. You can make moves that are more financially risky if you have cash, stocks, or items you can liquidate. For example, if you have the appropriate funds and time you need, you can take the necessary time to pick up a new skill or get your CPLP certification. You might even consider taking a lower paying position if it is interesting to you or can offer you a unique experience. It should be obvious that if you can survive for a series of months without income, you have different options than someone more economically challenged.

So, which is more valuable? I would suggest that your soft assets are more valuable than your hard assets. You can’t be the “superstar” on a project team with a wallet full of cash. You can with a brain full of information and skills. Also, a single asset is not nearly as powerful as a collection of assets.

You might be saying “I have three year experience in…” The way you should consider re-phrasing this is “Because I have three years experience in…I can offer…” That is really what is important; not the fact that you have three years of experience. Do you find that you are constantly finding challenges easy, while they challenge others? If so, you can be sure you have a valuable soft asset.

Aspirations and Values

This set of forces includes your deepest wishes, goals, and your vision for your future. This is essentially what you deem to be important. You may not be able to achieve all of these items, and they will probably change over time. But, it is completely possible to point your career in a direction that aligns with them, even if they change over time.

Why is this important to your competitive advantage? When you are doing work you enjoy or are passionate about, you will work harder and better than others will. That means you will outwork and outlast the guy (or gal) in it for the money. The best thing to remember is “as you attempt to improve on today, don’t lose sight of whom you aspire to be tomorrow.” Find your guiding light and keep yourself directed towards it.

Market Realities

No matter how special you think you are, your skills and experiences won’t give you an edge on the competition unless there is a market need AND they are willing to pay for your services. If, for example, there were no banking software companies in the Orlando market, my being an eLearning developer for banking software training would have little value. My real value would be in the fact that I have developed some kind of eLearning for several years. Your success depends on employers or clients being willing to buy your time.

Some Homework

Within the next week, you should take some time to define your competitive advantage and be able to fill in this sentence:

“Because of my [skill/expertise/strength], I can do [professional work] better than [specific types of professionals in my industry].”

Once you find your answer to this statement, ask other professionals who know you to fill in the sentence for you. Is there a gap? If so, it is either a marketing or a self-judgment problem. Ask some trusted connections this question: “If you had to come to me for help or advice on a topic, what would that topic be?”

Once you get familiar with who you are and what you are striving for, look for two or three others with similar aspirations. These are your benchmarks. Find out what makes them special, review their online profiles, and read their blogs. Essentially, track their journey against yours.

Over the period of the next few weeks, keep track of what you do in your down time and how you spend your Saturdays. This will reveal to you what your true aspirations and interests are. Do they match what you say your aspirations are?

During that same time, think about the value you add at work. What would happen if you weren’t there? In the office, what do your coworkers frequently compliment you on? This is probably where you add value.

If you want to share your competitive advantage with the community, others will comment and share theirs. You may have more in common than you think!

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One Response to “Career Building – Defining Your Competitive Advantage”

  1. Career Building – A New Skill Set – The Start-up of You « ASTD – Central Florida Chapter Blog Says:

    […] Developing your competitive advantage. This comes from a combination of your assets (what you have going for you RIGHT NOW), your aspirations (your deepest wishes, ideas, goals, and vision of the future), and the market realities (what the market wants or needs…and is willing to pay for). […]

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