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The Quest: Candidate Positioning

As the marketing manager of my own job search, the more I go out networking and promoting myself, the more I realize that my profile positioning is at the core of everything that I do.

How do I improve my product positioning - one of the four "P's" in my marketing mix? How do I improve the way I am perceived by prospective employers and by people I network with? What are the key factors defining my positioning in a prospect's mind?

My goal is to make decisions on my positioning that define me as the leading candidate and that generate a positive response from prospective employers. In my profession, portfolio management, two job-performance factors often overshadow everything else: a fund manager's historical investment returns, and the volatility of those returns. By charting investment returns on one axis and volatility on the other, a prospective employer can visually compare all portfolio managers' track records and pinpoint the one with the highest returns given a desired range of volatility of returns.

Defining My Competitive Advantage

This is a possible candidate screening criterion in my field. But even though I rank well against these two factors, my desired positioning focuses on the robustness of my investment process. My objective is to define a narrow positioning space in my prospect's mind where my skills and experience will stand out.

It is easier for me to make the case of sharper skills in a narrow and less crowded positioning space. I therefore encourage prospective employers to evaluate candidates based on both the historical risk-adjusted returns, and on the robustness of the investment process.

In addition, owning the specialist spot in a prospective employer's mind makes it more likely you'll be remembered when a job opening becomes available. As an athlete, I have observed that a specialist who consistently ranks in the top three in a narrowly defined sport is more likely to attract a devoted fan base than a top-20 ranked generalist athlete who trains across multiple sports or disciplines. For instance, an athlete of the caliber of Michael Phelps may not have been able to achieve the visibility and positioning that he achieved focusing only on swimming, if instead he pursued a career as a triathlon athlete having to train in biking, swimming and running.

In most sports there is a medal for the second and third-place finishers. When interviewing for a job, on the other hand, in most instances there is no podium for second or third place. This is why differentiation - a leadership position in a narrow positioning space - and ultimately niche marketing, are so vital. These tactics help raise my odds of establishing a leading position in a prospective employer's mind that I know will generate a positive response in the long run.

James Weldon (a pseudonym) is a portfolio manager. This is the third installment of a weekly column detailing his strategy and tactics in searching for a new job after he was let go by the hedge fund group at a bulge bracket investment bank in New York.

AUTHORJames Weldon Insider Comment
  • Jo
    Jon Jacobs
    12 September 2008

    At the risk of sounding biased (since I'm the eFC staffer who brought this guest author aboard), I find James Weldon's view comes closer than the above two commenters, to reflecting the way hiring managers seemed to approach their task when I was a candidate. Sure, attitude and soft skills always matter. However, of the many hiring managers I met, all were firmly focused on their specific needs here and now; none gave a whit about "other skills and traits that could be cultivated and useful to the organization." For instance: My leadership experience never conferred any advantage when interviewing for non-supervisory roles. I would cite my communication awards, but when seeking technical positions these counted for nothing (and might even have worked against me) - even though the job specs always asked for "excellent communication skills." Nor did my technical training, precisely in the field I'd be communicating about, impress anyone who considered me for a communications role (but I know of two instances where it worked against me).

  • DC
    12 September 2008

    I could not agree more with James Vancini. When I sat on the other side as a business owner I, too, was always looking at an individual not just for the specific position at hand but whether this indivdual exhibited other skills and traits that could be cultivated and useful to the organization both in the short term and long-term. Again, terrific insight, James.

  • Ja
    James Vancini
    11 September 2008

    Interesting information, but I think you maybe missing some key points from the other side of the desk. Unless you are unwilling and /or unable to do other things related to your field, your 'target marketing' approach very well may pigeon hole you. There may be other positions or skills for you, but focusing on 1 spot is risky, since you have to be the best to be selected, and that leaves no room for error. Additionally, while technical skills are important, more are hiring for attitude and soft skills. I always spend as much time focused on potential, culture fit and leadership traits as I do for the technical skills. It generally turns an interview into a very productive conversation and gives us both some great insight. Good luck and dont let up!

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