Personal Competitive Advantage

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Posted Thursday, 24th November 2011

Have you ever asked yourself, "What about me is my competitive advantage?"

Take a second to have a think about what that means to you.

being competitive

Competition is a bad word - to different people it means a lot of things that turns out to be worlds apart. For our use, competition will refer to the display of characteristics that set one apart from the others. For example, competition on price means that entities are displaying their price as what sets them apart, introducing the idea that their lower prices mean that they are better.

Our western culture (particularly in Australia) has a personal competition problem. That problem is that any person displaying competitive traits is seen as arrogant and quickly brought into line. It's called the 'tall poppy syndrome' as an allusion to cutting down anyone who dares push above the rest.

The net result of this treatment is that people are scared of personal competition. They tend to play themselves and their achievements down so as not to appear arrogant. This is particularly true in the software development field. Software developers, while, generally speaking, already being introverts or introverted extroverts, find it hard to publicise their achievements.

your advantage

Think back to the crowning achievement in your career.

If someone else were to attempt to do what you did, where would it become different? That difference is your personal advantage.

This personal advantage is the reason why you were hired.  It is the reason why you were promoted and why you achieved a successful result on project.

There is a corollary to this: Your personal advantage is why you were also not hired, promoted or achieved success. This is because your personal advantage may not have been suited to the task at hand. If your advantage was a symbolically viewed as a hammer, yet the task required a screwdriver, then a missed 'opportunity' has allowed you to pursue other opportunities that help develop your personal advantage.

Our lifelong journey is about identifying and developing our personal advantage. After all, it is the only reason that we, individually as a person, are distinguished from anyone else with a common skillset.

making it count

Your personal advantage is crucial to what we term as success. It is what makes our contribution to society valuable.

There is a crisis in the United States where many graduates have trouble finding jobs that relate to their area of study and qualitifcations, if they find jobs at all. A 2010 article puts this number at about 17 million people, including "5,057 janitors in the U.S. with Ph.D.’s, other doctorates, or professional degrees" (from linked article).

With such a huge amount of graduates who share the same skills as everyone else, it quickly becomes important to stand out. We see this message all the time - career counsellors, job seeking websites and various media outlets all inform us that we need to be noticed.

What they don't tell you is how to get noticed, so a lot of people put emphasis on what they paid thousands and thousands of dollars for - their skills learned in university. However, everyone else has the same or similar skills so this approach doesn't work.

The way to get noticed is to identify your personal advantage and to market yourself in a way that emphasises that advantage.

To take a quick example of a graduate who has a Bachelor of Accounting degree. What sets them apart from the hundreds of other graduates with a Bachelor of Accounting degrees?

If you were to look at the skillset - nothing. However, the graduate in question may have highly developed social skills, allowing them to make angry clients feel better about a situation. An accountant who can also turn a furious client into an understanding and cooperative one has enhanced a business relationship.

Have you ever asked yourself, "What about me is my competitive advantage?"
After all, it's what you do best.

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