In their book The Start-up of You
, authors Ben Casnocha and Reid Hoffman (Cofounder of LinkedIn) write that in the career marketplace, you’re selling your brainpower, skills, and energy in the face of massive competition.
Potential employers, investors, partners and others with power will be choosing between you and someone who looks similar, so you have to ask: How are you first, faster, better, or cheaper than all the other people in the world who want to be doing what you’re doing?
To increase your competitive advantage in this context, they suggest combining “three different, ever-changing forces” to inform your direction:
Your Assets: These are what you have right now, and there are two types:
- Hard Assets: These are the things you’d typically list on a balance sheet, such as the cash you have in the bank, your investments, and physical possessions like your desk and laptop. “These matter because when you have an economic cushion, you can aggressively make moves that entail downside financial risk.”
- Soft Assets: Examples include your knowledge and expertise; your professional connections and the trust you’ve built with them; your strengths (what comes easily to you); and your reputation and personal brand. Although soft assets can be harder to tally than the cash in your bank account, once your basic economic needs are met, they are “ultimately more important.”
Your Aspirations & Values: Aspirations include your “deepest wishes, ideas, goals, and vision of the future,” while your values represent what’s important to you in life (e.g., autonomy, integrity, power, etc.). These are key factors because “when you’re doing work you care about, you’re able to work harder and better.”
Market Realities: In the end, no matter how special you think your soft assets, skills, and experiences are, they won’t give you an advantage “unless they meet the needs of a paying market.” You have to ask: How badly do people need what you’re offering, and if they do need it, how is it better than the competition?
Casnocha and Hoffman offer several questions to help you further define your competitive advantage:
- Go to three trusted people in your network, and ask them what they see as your greatest strengths. If they had to come to you for help or advice on some topic, what would it be?
- Think about how you spend your free time – do those activities and interests differ from what you say your aspirations are?
- What are the things people frequently compliment you on?