Five Ways to Build and Retain a Competitive Advantage in Your Chosen Field
Gaining a competitive advantage in your field takes constant work, but doing so is needed to build and sustain a successful, career long-term. Here are five top tips to help you develop your professional edge.
It’s human nature to want to remain in your comfort zone, especially if you have worked somewhere for a long time. Maybe you’re performing well and feeling content with your job and those around you. But in a market that is continually evolving and facing political and economic uncertainty, it is important to focus on refreshing your skills and strengthening your network to remain relevant. Retaining a competitive advantage takes hard work, planning and perseverance.
Whatever stage of your career you’re at, consider our top five tips to help you build and retain a competitive advantage.
Prioritise professional development
In any career, continued professional development is critical. Start by assessing your strengths and current skill set and work with your manager to identify any gaps based on the direction you plan to take your career. When you know the gaps, you can plan to develop in these areas. Having a plan and owning it is the first step to truly advancing your career.
Opportunities to further develop your professional skills could include:
- New technologies – Perhaps your company is using a new technology or operational tool. Embracing change and upskilling in new technology can be difficult, but by being quick to adopt new ways of working you will demonstrate the agility and adaptability essential in modern businesses. Leading by example in adopting new processes and immersing yourself so that you become the ‘go to’ person will help you stand out in any team.
- Acquiring new skills or qualifications – Where possible, seek further training opportunities or courses that you can attend to enhance existing skills or develop new ones. If you’re unsure about what course is right for you, connect with a recruitment consultant who has visibility of what skills are hot in the market.
- Leadership skills – In any industry, the ability to demonstrate leadership is always an asset. This could be leading others through formal management, leading through influence in a team or through managing a project or initiative. Where formal opportunities don’t present themselves, you could consider taking on other roles such as Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) champion or volunteer to be part of a corporate council or employee resource group.
Develop your personal brand
In line with professional development, personal development is equally important. Just as a strong brand can influence the purchase of a product, in the workplace, a strong personal brand can lead to interviews, promotions and new doors being opened. Elements to building a brand might include:
- Knowing your authentic self – Start by identifying what you want to be known for and how you would like to be perceived by others.
- Proactively seeking feedback – Assess how you present yourself against what you see as your ‘authentic self’ and identify any inconsistencies or areas for development.
- Building a ‘board of directors’ – Create a close network of people who can play different roles to support you throughout your career. This board of directors is less about your peer group or friends and more about leveraging sponsors, mentors, leaders. This group will likely change as you move through your career.
Join a professional association or network
In most industries, there will be professional associations available for you to join. Popular websites like LinkedIn, Meetup and Eventbrite provide access to relevant events in your area and attending them can be a great way to add to your professional credentials, create visibility of your ‘brand’, and meet like-minded individuals.
Remember, networking works best when you invest time proactively in relationship-building not just when you’re job hunting. Some of the best contacts will be people that you meet when you least expect it and who could help support you (perhaps even become part of your board of directors) at different stages in your career. If you find the idea of networking daunting, go along with a friend to your first event to help break the ice!
Lean in to challenges
Often when challenges are thrown our way at work, it can be tempting to shy away from them or hope that someone else will take the lead. However, when problems arise, these can be a great way to demonstrate character, problem-solving and help you stand out from the crowd. Perhaps you have identified a process which you think can be improved or see an opportunity to put yourself forward to manage a particularly challenging client or stakeholder. The more you can lean in to and deal with challenges, the more skilled and resilient you’ll become.
Feedback, feedback, feedback
Feedback can be both positive and an opportunity for improvement and it’s important that to seek out both. It is often said in business that ‘perception is reality’ and while we all like to have a positive view of ourselves, the reality is, that the next promotion isn’t coming if others don’t agree. It can be uncomfortable to ask someone for their honest opinion, but if you work at building great relationships with those around you then this task will eventually become second nature.
Soliciting feedback regularly will provide you with visibility on your performance and perception of you through the eyes of your colleagues and positive feedback can be used as testimonial to propel you when you are looking for a promotion or role change.
There is no time like the present to take a step back and reflect on your own career journey. Where are you at in your career? Where do you want to be? And how can you apply some of these tips to help you gain a competitive advantage as you move forward with your career this year?