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Five ways to gain a competitive advantage in your chosen field

Gaining a competitive advantage in your chosen field of work is a continuous journey and doing so is important for building and sustaining a successful career long-term. Here, we provide our five top tips to help you develop your edge.

July 13, 2020

Three people sit at a meeting around a small table while one with a competitive advantage in her field points to a computer monitor

It's human nature to enjoy the feeling of being in your comfort zone, especially if you have worked somewhere for a long time. You may be performing well and feeling comfortable with your job and those around you. But to remain relevant in a market that is continually evolving and facing political and economic change, it is more important than ever to focus on refreshing your skills and strengthening your network. Retaining a competitive advantage in your career is about more than hard work and long hours—it's about having a plan and affording the time to both maintain and progress it.

Here are our top five tips to help you build and retain that competitive advantage and position yourself for future success.

1. Prioritise professional development

In whatever field you work, continued professional development is critical. Having a plan and owning it is the first step to truly advancing your career. Start by assessing your strengths and current skill set, and work with your manager to identify any gaps based on your career aspirations. When you know the gaps, you can plan how you are going to develop in these areas.

Opportunities which may arise to further develop your professional skills could include:

  • New technologies: Perhaps your company is using a new technology or operational tool. If so, then lead by example and stand out in any team by immersing yourself to become the 'go to' person for this new technology or process. Embracing change and upskilling in a 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.
  • Acquiring new skills or qualifications: Where possible, seek out further training and reskilling 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 into which 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.

2. Develop your personal brand

In line with professional development, a focus on personal development is equally important. Where you are going in your career can be based on how well you build your personal brand. Just as a strong brand can influence a product purchase, in the workplace it 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: Use feedback to assess how you are presenting what you see as your 'authentic self' against how others perceive you 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, and leaders. This group will likely change as you move through your career.

3. Join a professional association or network

Most industries have professional associations available online that you can join. Also attending events 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 are 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 becoming 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 break the ice!

4. Lean into 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 obstacles appear, these can be a great way to demonstrate character and problem solving, helping 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.

5. Feedback, feedback, feedback

Feedback can be both positive and an opportunity for improvement, and it's important 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 give you visibility into your performance and your colleagues' perception of you. 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 find an opportunity to pause 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 advance and gain a competitive advantage as you move forward with your career?