Defining your Key Competitive Advantages

Setting yourself apart from the competition by determining your unique brand

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

Much like the marketing campaign for a new brand of laundry detergent or toothpaste, successful job seekers need to define their area of expertise or Key Competitive Advantages and then get the word out to the marketplace.

We are now in an era of specialization.  You should then position yourself as a specialist in a particular occupation, trade, and industry.  In baseball, you don’t ask your starting catcher to play centerfield twice a week and then play shortstop every Monday.  Sure there are professional baseball players who can play multiple positions, but the very best players (and the highest paid) play the same position day in day out—and do it well.  It’s the same with you and I; we become better at certain things as we spend more time practicing them.  So as you embark on your job search, remember that you are an “expert” at what you do.

A person who is a specialist in a particular area or trade will far often win the job over a jack-of-all-trades type candidate.  The fact is that most of us do have experience and relevant skills in a number of different areas.  However, if you want to increase your chances for success in getting hired, you must position your skills and expertise in one or two occupational areas – the areas that most interest and excite you.  All documents, communications, and positioning statements should be prepared with this in mind.

Most well-known businesses have clearly defined 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 built their reputation and have defined their Key Competitive Advantages by specializing in making hamburgers that are quick, inexpensive, and tasty.  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’s 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: Brand You

If someone were to line up 10 people including yourself, all in your present (or planned) 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?

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 and better than most others?

    2. What are some of your notable accomplishments and achievements?

    Have you ever been recognized by your superiors, formally or otherwise, for a job well done?  Have you won any work-related 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.  Clearly defining your notable accomplishments and achievements is one of the best ways to establish your worth and leverage your performance in winning your next job or promotion.

    3. In addition to work skills, what other key personality traits do you have to offer?

    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?

    4. Who are your high-powered contacts?

    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. Your network list should always be growing not shrinking.  Establish your high-powered contacts and maintain these relationships throughout your professional career.  People like to do business with people they like and trust.

Leverage your Key Competitive Advantages when assembling your resume, cover letter, or a job business plan.  Be sure to also mention them in any interview situation with your current or prospective employer.  Companies want people who can produce results, so by sharing what sets you apart, you put any hiring manager at ease regarding your stated level of performance.

In today’s job market, more than anything else, you need to distinguish yourself from the masses.  Many published job openings in newspapers and on the Internet can receive hundreds (and in some cases thousands) of responses.  Similar to marketing a new consumer product, you need to package, bundle, and market yourself as the ideal fit for the position you’re applying for.  You need to be become a specialist at what you do and define your advantages.  You need to pay special attention to details and show the prospective employer that you are not simply your average run-of-the-mill employee.  There is simply too much competition right now to rely on antiquated job search methods and hope for the best.

Donald J. Strankowski Jr. is founder and president of Ascend Career and Life Strategies, a career training and management 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
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