Defining Brand You

How to win the job or the promotion by positioning yourself as an expert at what you do

By Donald J. Strankowski
Ascend Career and Life Strategies, LLC

Recent information and data has salaries leveling off or slightly trending downward.  The kind of leverage that job seekers and employees had in the free-spending days of the mid to late 1990’s dropped dramatically as 2000 approached.  The pendulum has now swung firmly to the employer’s side.  There are simply more qualified candidates in the labor pool right now able to fill most positions than there were two or three years ago.  Employers don’t have to pay as much for good talent—it’s mere supply and demand.

But don’t be misled into thinking that just because the job market is tight, you’re automatically roped into your current position.  Even though competition is fierce for top positions, there are still ample opportunities for workers for advancement—both inside and outside their current organization—who know how to position themselves.

The best way to position yourself as the top candidate for any new job or promotion is to market yourself as an expert at what you do.  You need to determine your key competitive advantages and core competencies. You need to define Brand You.

Defining your Key Competitive Advantages

Most well known businesses have clearly defined key competitive advantages and core competencies; things they do better than anyone else.

McDonald’s core competency is hamburgers.  Sure you can also get chicken sandwiches, ice cream and even salads at McDonald’s.  But they’ve build their reputation and have defined their key competitive advantages by specializing in making hamburgers that are quick, inexpensive, and tasty.  And, because of their focus, McDonald’s has been the market share leader for decades.

Starbucks is another good example.  Fresh brewed coffee is sold just about anywhere these days from supermarkets to gas stations.  With so much convenience for one type of product—in this case coffee—why would one pay three or four dollars for a coffee or latte from Starbucks?  Starbucks does one thing better than most everyone else: produce a high quality coffee drink.  Their coffee shops also have trendy décor that many patrons find appealing for doing homework, reading, or just people watching.  Starbucks has built its reputation and defined their brand by offering high-quality coffee in a place that’s trendy and inviting for customers.

It the same thing with you.  To keep yourself marketable and to protect against becoming obsolete, you need to define your key competitive advantages and core competencies.  You can then leverage them in every instance where you’re competing for a new job or promotion to increase your chances for success.  Employers don’t want run-of-the-mill employees, they want top performers and experts!

Determining your Unique Brand

If someone were to line up 10 people including yourself, all in your present occupation, what would make you stand out from the rest?  What advantages would you carry?  Here are a few areas to consider when defining Brand You and your key competitive advantages:

  1. Given all the duties and responsibilities in your job, what are the top three or four things you feel you excel at?
  2. When I was in high-tech sales, there were many aspects of my job; prospecting for new business, reaching the decision maker, building relationships, product demonstrations, and account management just to name a few.  But what I really excelled at was identifying the customer’s needs and “hot buttons” and then providing solutions.  I also excelled at demonstrating and presenting my products in a way that was convincing and created excitement.  Where are your areas of expertise?  What do you do well; better than most others?

  3. What are some of your notable accomplishments and achievements?
  4. Have you ever been recognized by your superiors, formally or otherwise, for a job we done?  Have you won any contests?  Were you recently promoted or given additional responsibilities?  Have you worked for any big-name clients or on highly-visible projects?  Brainstorm and think hard.  Most everyone has areas in which they have done well or were recognized.

  5. In addition to work skills, what other key personality traits do you have to offer?
  6. Looking back at my sales career, I was very goal-oriented and strategic.  I knew what I needed in revenue each month to make my sales quota and had a plan for each prospect I was calling on.  I was constantly strategizing on how to get the deal closed.  I used to keep track of all my prospects on a big white board in my cube.  I would tally up the amounts of each closed deal and approximate the amounts for the deals I was still working—all in plain view.  Are you detail-oriented, a good problem solver and a team player?  Which traits can you parlay in another position or industry?

  7. Who are your high-powered contacts?
  8. One of the best career insurance policies is to know lot’s of people who can attest to your work ethic and personal character.  These are the relationships you forge, nurture and hang onto because they can be invaluable down the road.

A Plan for Self-Development

 You need to be honest with yourself regarding your core competencies and competitive advantages, i.e., your skill set and what you have to offer. You also need a plan for getting better no matter how good you think you are at the present. You need to view yourself as an ongoing project.

I once attended a Chicago Bears training camp in Platteville, Wisconsin.  I was watching the afternoon practice in 90-degree heat with 90 percent humidity.  The Bears were going full contact drills in full pads.  However, I was amazed that after practice in the sweltering heat, star running back Walter Payton stayed after and ran wind sprints.  He was in the last year of a Hall of Fame career, but still carried the attitude of wanting to get better and be the best.

Each of us needs to instill this sort of hard-work philosophy in order to reach our goals.  If you feel you’re been left behind (or have left yourself behind), you need to embark on a personal development plan to gain (or re-gain) your competitive edge.  As former NBA coach Pat Riley once said, “If you’re not getting better, you’re getting worse.”

The best way for you to set yourself apart from the rest of the people in your field is to be one of the few people who are learning and growing at a faster rate than everybody else.  The decision you make now can give you an edge for the rest of your career.  Some experts claim that your current level of skill and knowledge has an “expiration date” of about two to three years.  This means that much of the information you utilize on a daily basis right now will be obsolete within a few years.  Committing to lifelong learning and deciding to be one of the best in your field will also improve your levels of confidence, courage, and self-esteem.  You will feel better about who you are, what you are contributing, and the difference you are making.  You will also vastly increase your marketability and your chances for landing a better job at a higher pay rate.

Always ask yourself, “What are my key competitive advantages and how can I get better at what I do?”  The best companies do this day in and day out.  You are working for YOU, Inc. no matter who signs your paycheck, so keep your skills sharp and your image marketable.

Donald J. Strankowski is founder and President of Ascend Career and Life Strategies, LLC, a career training and consulting firm for businesses, professionals, and executives. He works out of Boulder, Colorado and can be contacted at 303-245-7049, via email at [email protected], or on the web at