The Quest: Candidate Positioning

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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.