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Jack of one trade: Why finding a niche could help your career
Monday, November 18th, 2013

It's easier to stand out from the job seeking crowd when you have a unique combination of skills, experience or attributes

Two trends seem to be emerging in the job market - a decrease in traditional graduate jobs or entry-level positions requiring little to no previous experience; and an increase in positions requiring specialist skills and backgrounds - often for specific, limited projects.

In his blog post entitled Skills are the new currency, recruitment specialist Bill Boorman describes a new world of work where employers hire for skills for the short-term, rather than for future potential. Josh Bershin also reports that in the quest to make organisations more agile and responsive to change, jobs are becoming more specialised. In an environment where "success is being redefined by expertise", those lacking specialised skills find it harder to get work.

Being employable (and particularly in technical or professional roles) will entail developing a niche: building a set of skills that will allow you to deliver results for an employer right from the start, rather than needing extensive training. It also means that as more positions become available on a temporary or project basis, the responsibility for career management and direction will fall increasingly on you as an individual, rather than on any particular employer. You'll need to be clear about what you offer in terms of expertise, and then package these skills as solutions to company problems.

Identify what makes you different

What unique combination of skills, experience or attributes enable you to perform work that others could not do as easily as you? What specific talents or values do you have that propel you towards one type of work or role?

Be clear about what you do, and how you do it. It helps if you can boil it down to one essential message. "I work in marketing" is too general, but "I develop online marketing strategies for small and medium businesses" describes a specific niche.

Defining your niche will help you identify roles (whether permanent, temporary, or contract/project-based) where you'll be able to contribute – and which will give you career satisfaction. Understanding your focus and your key skills will also lead to greater clarity in your application materials, whether these are traditional CV, LinkedIn profile or speculative applications. It will also help you to narrow down your job search, so you avoid applying to all jobs that you vaguely match, and to guide you in your career development.

How this impacts your job search

Adopt a consultant mindset at all stages of the job hunt, rather than acting like a more traditional employee. Firstly, don't discount freelance or contract work in favour of permanent positions. Then, rather than just applying to advertised vacancies, take a more proactive approach and be speculative. Target companies that have a need for your specialist skills, work out how you can fill that need, and then communicate your "solutions-to-problems" message.

Go to an interview or meeting prepared – but not by prepping answers to the stereotypical interview questions. Instead, in his blog post Interview like a consultant recruiter Steve Levy goes through the data-gathering questions you'll need to ask so you can then offer interesting, innovative solutions and prove you can deliver the "economic value" a company needs.

Staying niche

One of your biggest priorities should be to remain relevant. You'll have to maintain your specialist skills, either through practical experience, or learning or training courses.

As you start relying less on employers to provide career direction, you'll need to strengthen your own network, which can operate not just as a source of work or projects, but also as a professional support system. Join industry organisations, and stay connected to other professionals through attending professional events, or regular contact online.

Source: Theguardian.com
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