April 13, 2017
What’s Your Competitive Advantage?

Whether you are trying to land your dream job, inclusion into a coveted group, or maybe even just get a date with that special someone, it comes down to this. It’s one thing to be considered.  It’s quite another to be sought out.

I’ve been thinking about this quite a bit lately, as my daughter begins to consider colleges. On paper, she looks like a fantastic candidate for any school. Stellar grades in advanced classes.  Playing goalie for two sports teams. Selection into a variety of leadership programs and community activities. Should be easy for her, right? Nope. Every bright kid has a similarly impressive resume. The thing that will get her into the school of her choice? Understanding and being able to articulate her uniqueness. In other words, there are a plethora of people in the world who are as similarly accomplished as we are. Those who understand their competitive advantage, or “it” factors, are the ones who ultimately hold the keys to the kingdom. Do you know yours?

Read on to find out how to discover yours and determine how to put it into practice.

1. Get Some Perspective.   

Life is not a zero-sum game. Sometimes, we try to make it one. If we win, someone else loses.  Guess what? It doesn’t matter how amazing you are; at some point, someone is going to knock you off your pedestal and replace you.  In the 1952 Olympics in Helsinki, British athlete Roger Bannister set a record; he broke the four minute mile. This was largely thought to be an impossible feat for decades. And yet once he accomplished this feat, the record was beat in a mere 46 days.  Bannister was different because he achieved the seemingly impossible. It not that he possessed more extraordinary skill than other runners; he just approached the goal differently.

2. Go Back to Childhood.   

Pablo Picasso famously said, “Every child is an artist. The problem is how to remain an artist once we grow up.”  I love my kids’ goofy antics.  Sometimes, we’ll be doing some mundane errand and I’ll catch them dancing down an aisle in Target, completely oblivious to onlookers.  My instinct was originally to think, “Knock it off!  You two look insane!”  Now, I chuckle and either cheer them on or join them.  Life is too short to spend it worrying about our quirks.  Rather than chase them away so we can morph into the norm and be just like everyone else, embrace that which makes you different.  It could just be your competitive advantage. 

3. Skills Alone Won’t Cut It.   

At this point, intelligence paired with working hard sums up many a colleague. Awkward as it might feel, this is the time to take inventory of what makes you a stand out. Go find a quiet space and consider your capabilities. Anything strike you as especially new or different from those around you?  Are you introverted or extroverted?  What connections do you have?  Skill sets?  Keep going until you can both visualize and articulate what makes you unique.

Think about social media today.  There is a place for Facebook AND Instagram AND Twitter.  They are all unique and offer different elements for the user. Let’s focus on what makes you unique and how to sustain it.

4. Go Test It Out!

Once you’ve narrowed down your uniqueness and competitive advantage, go test it for some real-time feedback.  If you are a recruiter who is skilled at finding those hard-to-find passive candidates, test your differentiation and up your game by creating a new way of reaching out and connecting with these people that you’ve never heard of before. See if it makes a difference.  Pride yourself on being a visionary? Pitch some colleagues a new idea and be open to their feedback to make it even more impactful before driving it forward.

There are an innumerable set of ways to set yourself apart from everyone else.  Once you’ve determined the basics of what makes you unique, do some experimentation and master that difference. 

Go disrupt.  Define your own category.  Then own it.  

Christina Luconi is Chief People Officer for Rapid7. Follow her on Twitter: @peopleinnovator.