You must develop a Personal Career Strategy, or you’ll find yourself buffeted by chance and the caprice of the market.
Corporate Recruiters have their pick of recent graduates with similar backgrounds, similar experience, similar ages, and similar education.
That’s the group of undistinguished candidates clustered at the bottom of the graph to the right.
Nothing makes these candidates stand out . . . they all look the same. Same age, same experience, same education.
None of them appear in the High-Demand Skill Zone, where corporate recruiters seek their stars.
The High Demand Skill Zone
The key to career success for every graduate is to position himself or herself in the High Demand Skill Zone. You do this by crafting a prudent personal career strategy and then implementing it over a prolonged period.
A personal career strategy is a plan – a blueprint – that charts your course and explains not just where you want to go, but how you will get there.
The idea of incorporating strategy into business was broached more than 40 years ago and was defined as “the goals of the firm and the pattern of policies and programs designed to achieve those goals.”
Likewise, your personal career strategy can be loosely defined as “Your goals and the patterns of policies and programs you design and implement to achieve those goals.”
So what advantage do you gain by crafting a personal career strategy and then pursuing it?
The Advantage of a Personal Career Strategy
Well, first understand that you must determine your mission and your objectives in life. These are issues that require deep thought and consideration. Then, and only then, can you craft a meaningful professional strategic plan.
Whatever your professional goals, recognize that you need a personal career strategy to succeed over the long term. As such, you will find yourself pursuing one of four generic strategies. The details of each, of course, vary from person to person. . . but these four strategies run the gamut of what is available to you.
The four generic strategies are: Low-Cost, Niche Low-Cost, Differentiation, Focused Differentiation. These personal strategies closely parallel the strategies available to businesses competing for customers in the open market.
No single universal strategy satisfies everyone’s career needs and wants.
This is because the same job market presents different opportunities for different people. Any of the above strategies for business and personal success can be more effective than others in helping you reach your ultimate goals in life, depending on your ambition.
The appropriate personal career strategy must be matched against the type of goal you’ve set for yourself and the type of compensation you believe most appropriate for you, whether money, time, or psychic or spiritual satisfaction.
Let’s plot these four strategies on a 2×2 matrix and combine them with the axes of Supply and Demand. This indicates the types of majors that can be found in each quadrant.
Hire Me . . . I’ll Work for Less.
Most candidates reside in the bottom left quadrant – the Low-Cost Strategy. This is the default strategy that engages many young graduates, who believe they cannot move into the other, more attractive quadrants. Graduates here compete for positions with other similarly aged, educated, and experienced candidates and thus compete with other candidates on price (salary) . . . someone equally qualified is always available in the recruitment pool who will take less salary.
In fact, that is the implied mantra: Hire me, I’ll work for less.
When you’re trapped in the Low Cost quadrant, you are a commodity. You’re a generic product who differs little from your competitors. You are like wheat, or cement, or aspirin, or corn, or a cheap watch.
As a commodity, you must compete on price, and this is a terribly unprofitable place to be. Obviously, this is not a strategy that anyone willingly pursues unless you are, as they say, doing what you love to the neglect of every other consideration.
You can move out of the Low Cost quadrant in one of two directions. Let’s look first at the Niche Low Cost Strategy.
Niche Low Cost Strategy: because positions in this quadrant typically pay less, are in less demand, and are tightly focused on a candidate’s specific qualities and skills that uniquely qualify a candidate for the position. Typical majors that fall in this quadrant might be Latin, Ornithology, Greek Philosophy and such like. Earning potential is not generally increased by such a strategy, but the rewards can be great in other areas.
But doing what you love does not necessarily eliminate the possibility for you to become financially successful. If your goal is to become a competitive candidate and to combine personal and professional satisfaction with the highest possible financial remuneration, then there is a particular strategy that you ought to pursue.
For you to increase your earning potential, you must change from a Low-Cost strategy. And the first step is to differentiate yourself in some way from your competitors that is also in high demand by our society, particularly potential employers.
You want to re-position yourself in one of the two right-side quadrants by pursuing a Differentiation Strategy. If we were talking about products, you would want to transform yourself from a Timex to a Rolex
What are some ways to move into this quadrant?
Your goal, of course, is to separate yourself from the pack of your competitors and mark yourself as a premium candidate. You want recognition as differentiated in a spectacular way that increases your value to a firm and, thus, your earning potential.
Not just any differentiator will do.
It should be 1) a quality or skill that appeals to you, and 2) a quality that puts you into the quadrant that provides you with the greatest reward, however you define that reward.
But it stands to reason that not all differentiators are created equal. Some skills increase your earning potential. Others do not.
You could position yourself in ways that are unusual but not in great demand by the job market. This means you are pursuing a Niche Low Cost strategy, which is the upper left quadrant. This means that your acquisition of unusual skills does not change your commodity status.
Simply because a skill is unusual and rare does not make it, de facto, a high demand skill. A skill may be difficult to obtain, require lots of study and training, be in a state of low supply, and yet still be in low demand.
Examples of this type of differentiating skill or college major might be a facility with Greek Philosophy, Latin, or Ornithology. The supply of candidates with such skills is low, but they also remain in low demand as well.
Again, forms of compensation other than monetary can rightly influence the decision to pursue a Niche Low Cost strategy. The psychic rewards of working for a good cause motivates some people far more than monetary compensation.
Emotional satisfaction or the satisfaction provided by lenient and flexible work hours cannot be underestimated.
From another perspective, military personnel often forego lucrative careers in the private sector and receive compensation in the form of giving sacrificial service.
But if your goal is financial gain as well as the rewards of a particular type of work, then you must pursue a Differentiation strategy or its variant, the Focused Differentiation Strategy. Each strategy arms you with valuable skills possessed by fewer candidates. The Differentiation Strategy puts you into competition with others possessing similarly differentiated skills that are in high demand by recruiters. Your chances improve greatly at obtaining the position you desire at an attractive salary.
But for you to become a highly sought candidate in the rarefied atmosphere of the High Demand SkillZone, you should pursue a Focused Differentation Strategy. The numbers of candidates is few and corporate demand is high. You can do the math.
Your goal is to pursue a course of action that puts you squarely in the corporate recruiter’s High-Demand SkillZone.
Many graduates mistakenly believe that now, at the launch of a career, it’s too late to differentiate themselves. Perhaps even you believe that all of the methods of differentiation are closed to you because of choices made long ago.
Some folks differentiated themselves four years ago by matriculating at a “name” school, which pays off at graduation as a point of differentiation that at least some corporate recruiters believe is important. That choice was made years ago and cannot help you now.
Nor would you want to rely upon it, since its effect dissipates quickly, like ice cream on a hot sidewalk.
Choose your Personal Career Strategy Carefully
Folks who rely on school reputation as a differentiator soon find that school reputation is a superficial point of difference that pales beside other more substantial differentiators such as High Demand Skills and Qualities.
There are ways to differentiate yourself now in meaningful ways. In fact, the most important differentiator is at your fingertips.
And the only obstacle to your acquiring it is you.
You can pursue a Differentiation Strategy right now, because there is one highly sought skill that you can obtain rapidly. And it’s exactly what corporate recruiters want.
Outside of narrow functional specialties, corporate America wants graduates with superior presenting abilities more than any other skill – more than strategic thinking, work ethic, analytical ability, or leadership ability.
The ability to present well is rare in the business world. This is true for many reasons, not least of all ignorance, hubris, and ego.
Put it all aside, open your mind and heart, and you can become the superior presenter you were meant to be.
It’s what this website, and this book, are all about.