What Is Your Competitive Advantage?

I’ve had a lot of conversations lately about interview strategy. I’ve written about interview tips before but this entry isn’t about dressing right and sending thank you notes. This is deeper. The further you get in your career, the more important it is to compare your background to requirements for an opportunity AND the competition. Rarely does someone have 100% of the requirements. Personality and culture fit are big. Beyond that, requirements get prioritized.

What are your strengths and weaknesses? Write these down.Now, what are your competitive advantages and disadvantages? Wait. Aren’t these the same? Not always!

Everybody has strengths and weaknesses. This is generally a specific skill set or lack thereof. You need to take it a step further. What are your competitive advantages and disadvantages? Your strength could be SEC reporting or coding in a specific language. Is that a competitive advantage? Not if the top 3 candidates all have that. You have to dig deeper if you want to win the interview process. What have you done or accomplished that your peers with similar technical skills haven’t? Think of specific projects, messes you cleaned up, systems you implemented/upgraded, processes you’ve improved, industry experience you have, specific and tangible accomplishments/results, etc.

Conversely, what does your competition have that you don’t? Attempt to turn that competitive disadvantage into an advantage. Your competitive disadvantages are often experiences you haven’t had. Whether it is something technical, an industry you haven’t experienced yet or a system you’ve never worked with. Think of specific times you’ve learned something new. Have you already been successful taking a position in a new industry? Be able to communicate that experience, the obstacles you faced and how you were successful. Maybe it’s not something as obvious. Have you ever learned a new ERP system? Transitioned into a new division within same company? Asked to take on a new position in the same company that was an entirely new technical skill set? These are all relevant experiences. Be able to communicate why you got those new opportunities, the obstacles you faced and how you overcame them. Articulate specific successful results.

Keep in mind that you need to sell yourself in an interview (in an appropriate way of course). “Why” you got those opportunities is important. It’s easier to get new experiences within your current organization where you’ve already proven yourself. If you had the chance to do something new at your company, it’s because you’re good. If you interview externally for a job that will be new to you in certain ways, don’t stop at communicating how you did it. Let them know why you got the opportunity in the first place. Don’t come across arrogant but it’s ok to say “due to these specific accomplishments and results, I was asked to take on this critical project or role for my organization.”

There is also something to be said for taking on a new challenge. Is there a chance you could bring more energy and enthusiasm compared to a candidate that’s been there done that? You might also bring different perspectives and fresh ideas.

If you have a weakness or competitive disadvantage, don’t leave an interview without addressing it. They didn’t bring it up? Then you need to work it into the conversation! Otherwise it remains on the “con” side of the ledger when they compare you to other candidates. You may not fully relieve their concern but the interview is your only chance to do so. It also shows that you did your homework and came to the interview ready to make a strong pitch for yourself. That’s more attractive than a more qualified candidate that interviews like they already have the position locked up.

Have an interview coming up? You must evaluate your strengths, weaknesses, competitive advantages and disadvantages. Be honest and critical. Figure out what sets you apart and anticipate what you might be lacking so you can counter. It’s the only way you can craft an appropriate message to the potential employer.

I hope that helps! Please fire away with any questions.

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