What makes you different…I mean really different?
Posted by Molly Wendell // in Job Search
If I sit in one more executive job search/networking meeting and listen to some CIO tell me what makes him different is that “I work with people, process and technology” I think I’ll scream. Here’s what I’ll scream: Who doesn’t? In this day and age, who doesn’t work with people, process and technology? That doesn’t make you different. It makes you exactly like every other person in the room. It doesn’t matter what functional area you’re from. Virtually everyone works with people, process and technology.
The same goes for the VP of Sales. “I build and mentor sales team to reach their highest potential.” And that makes you different? Isn’t that the entry point for every person in sales management? Give us a little help here. Are you best at working with highly technical sales teams with long sales cycles and average orders in the multi-millions? Maybe you excel with managing channel partners in consumer products – where you’re trying to penetrate big-box stores? Give us those details…and maybe we can help.
What about VP of HR? “I’m an HR generalist – working with all aspects of HR.” Guess what? Most of us non-HR types don’t really know what that means. Tell us specifically, are you best when companies are in the early stages – ramping up from 30 people to 300? Do you work well with part-time and/or unionized labor? Maybe your specialty is full-time, technical workforces. Do you know how to decrease attrition to all-time record lows in a call-center environment? If so, we may have some ideas for you.
Oh, VP of Marketing – don’t think you’re going to get off easy: “I build brands.” What are you, Coca-Cola? Companies that are hurting in revenue aren’t worried about building their brand (and devising the best company newsletter ever), they’re worried about driving sales. How are you going to affect that? Let us know. We’d love to hear it.
Finance, Ops, R&D, Engineering, General Management. The same goes for all of you. Tell us how you’re repositioning and repackaging yourself in today’s competitive marketplace. Tell us what makes you different…really different.
As I sit and listen to people’s backgrounds, I attempt to reposition people by looking for what I call combinable skills. What skills can you combine that make you very valuable? My brother-in-law worked as a chef in a fine-dining restaurant. He’s now a sales rep for Shamrock Foods (and you guessed it…he too works with people, process and technology!). He sells food to chefs. They respect him because they know he was a great chef and he understands their issues. He doesn’t focus on what food they want to purchase. He talks to them about the menu (thereby determining the ingredients required). He makes recommendations as to things that will work well together. He gets it. They like that he gets it. They buy from him. He likes that they buy from him.
So think about your background. What in your background can you combine that enables you to reposition and differentiate yourself? Maybe you run marketing and have worked with both consumer and business-to-business products. Try looking for a company that sells in the B2B world…but is trying to penetrate the B2C space.
Maybe you’re in Operations and you’ve worked in high tech plant manufacturing, plus spent some years in the lighting industry. Combine that with your stint in construction when you were working part time in college, and you just might be the perfect Ops exec in the solar industry. Were you a CIO for a retailer that had multi-unit locations? Why not take that multi-location concept and check out opportunities in the consumer banking industry (it may be tough times right now…but great companies are always looking for great talent). Did you run sales for a radio station that focuses on the Hispanic market? Find a consumer-based company that is targeting the Hispanic market where mass media is a critical component and make your pitch.
Can’t figure out which industries might be good fits for your combined skills? Try playing this game with others from different backgrounds. I call it “Guess the Industry.” Describe the attributes of the industries you’ve worked in and see what that means to other people. You’ll be amazed at the answers they come up with. And it might lead you to some new and exciting companies to target…companies where you can take your combined set of skills, and reposition yourself as someone who really is different!