The past week hasn’t been a good one for the economy for sure. Whether you’re on Wall Street or at the corner store, everyone is asking “what about me?”
Recently, I was advising a mid-career business professional about his next step. The biggest shock for him wasn’t the difficulty of doing his resume or the importance of networking. It was the shock of the realization that there are thousands of people who are just as qualified as he is with the exact same experience and skill set.
For years I have been underscoring the importance of professionals creating their own career brands, to get specific rather than generalize a resume for any and every opportunity. And in a tight economy, there is no more important career realization than this: there are a thousand more just like you. Whether you’re planning your career within one firm, one industry or one field, you’ve got to find a way to become a constant—known and relied upon. You need a brand.
Here’s why it matters. You may remember when Apple first introduced the iPod. They were certainly ahead of the game. But Apple always knew there would be competition. So they planned for it. Instead of relying on the things all mp3 players could do, they got specific—white earbuds, a click wheel, smooth simple operations, engraveable backs. These were all very specific, very differentiated options. They were easy to market, they mattered to their customers, and they became valued and desired by consumers looking for an mp3 player.
How can you use a marketing strategy to create your own career brand?
1) Ask yourself what’s standard
One of the things Apple did well was to sell things that were different from the standard features of an mp3 player (i.e., storing music). Don’t focus on selling the things that everyone can have (i.e., ten years experience in the field). Instead, what is it that makes you unique beyond the same resume that many other might have?
2) Get an understanding of who your customer is and what they want
Apple focused on the “cool factor” knowing that this mattered to young customers and they could help build market share. Ask yourself who needs your expertise now and who will in the future. Ask questions to find out what type of person is needed for the future of your field or business. What unique characteristics are valued above and beyond what’s required to do the job?
3) Don’t try to sell everything
Think of the iPod commercials you know well. They don’t walk you through the features of the iPod. They sell an experience that invites you in. Then you can learn the features and the details on your own. The same goes for you. Sell what’s intriguing or different first to stand out. In my book, The Right Job, Right Now: The Complete Toolkit for Finding Your Perfect Career I talk about finding your sweet spot—making choices about what skills and behaviors you most want to use. That’s one way you can determine what to sell. You don’t have to say “I’m good at this skill.” You can focus on the why—the behavior. So if you’re great at selling (so are a million other people), you can focus on why—maybe it is because you are intuitive and flexible. You can read the customer and adapt your strategy to the customer’s needs. That won’t work for all sales jobs so yes—you may be eliminating some opportunities. But you also are more likely to find the best fit job or career this way. And at the same time, you become known for this specific and unique combination of talents.
In a 2003 article on mp3 competition author Bill Howard said “Apple has had a free ride, because competitors knew what to do but didn’t do it.”
Don’t give other professionals the free ride. Start identifying and marketing your competitive assets now. Ask yourself the same question companies ask: what makes your brand different from all of the similar products out there?
Susan D. Strayer, SPHR is a talent strategist with specific expertise in career development, human resources and recruiting and job search strategies. She is currently Director of Talent Management for one of the world’s best known brands, and has over ten years of experience in corporate HR, career coaching and HR consulting. Her latest book is: The Right Job, Right Now: The Complete Toolkit for Finding Your Perfect Career. You can learn more about Susan and read her blog at http://www.susanstrayer.com/.
Thanks for the thoughts and guidance Susan!