Career Advice: What Is Your Value Proposition?

“value proposition…an innovation, service, or feature intended to make a company or product attractive to customers.”

Today, I am beginning a series focused on offering career advice.  Taking someone’s advice on your career is a two-edged sword.  First, it is important to understand that every person’s goals in life are different and any advice offered will take the slant of that individual’s perspective.  Secondly, bear in mind that every successful person has made mistakes and that many decisions they have made along the way have not resulted in furthering their career.  We also learn from mistakes, so hopefully, those who mentor you are willing to share their follies as well as their victories in order for you to avoid making the same mistakes.  Lastly, I would suggest as you read this series that you consider how the advice I give pertains to your industry.  My perspective comes from years in IT and government work, so some things may not align directly with the space or industry that you work in.  My goal is to keep the information general enough that most of it would apply to anyone seeking to gain traction along the path to their desired career.  Please feel free to share, comment, and most importantly disagree.  I am not above some constructive criticism and I hope to learn as much through this series as I share.

Today’s article is focused on a sales and marketing term known as value proposition.  A value proposition is something that sets you or your company apart and makes you more attractive to customer…or potential employers and company leadership.  In this series, I want you to look at a value proposition as that “secret sauce” that makes you different from all the other talented and experienced players in the job market.  What is it that makes you a better choice for the role you desire to have?  Since moving through our career requires us to sell ourselves, I will throw out another term to be considered at this point.  Differentiators are those qualities that distinguish you from your competition.  The differences are not necessarily value propositions.  For instance, one thing that makes you different from your competition is your current salary.  If you make more than the employer wants to pay, then that is something the other person can claim as value, since they would be saving the company money.  Sure, there are ways to put a spin on anything to make it more appealing.  What if there are reasons that your salary are high.  Perhaps it is because you have been well-educated or have won numerous prestigious awards.  Now we are getting somewhere.  You have shown value and something that sets you apart in a positive way.

Value does not always equate to money.  For some careers, you may find that getting the salary you want is not difficult.  There are companies who will not balk at paying the right person large sums of money to accomplish the goals they have in mind.  So, selling yourself short and seeing low pay as a value proposition is also not the right strategy.  Now it sounds like we are talking about government contracts.  So, what can you do to set yourself apart, in more important ways than a price tag stapled to your sports coat?  I would suggest that you look for the low hanging fruit.  What is the shortest path to get you more noticed?  Some people in the workforce attempt to use the “brown noser” method which basically makes you a yes man or woman.  They choose not to disagree with the boss and to go out of their way to be noticed by doing the things that seem to get the most attention from management.  I chose to go the other way in my career.  I have found that while some mangers like a yes man, the managers I really wanted to work for, did not.  They were paying me good pay and expected me to provide value.  If I am only agreeing with them, then there is no value in my existence.  If I only disagree with them, there is no value in my existence.  The value has to come from elsewhere.  So, what did I do?

Early in my career, I began to notice different personalities in the office.  There were the quiet ones who just wanted to work their hours and stay out of the headlights of management.  There were the brown noser types and the people who acted like they were everyone’s manager.  I didn’t know where I fit in.  I wanted to have a place and to be of service.  One day I was sitting at my desk and someone asked if I would help move tables for a luncheon.  I offered to help, but I noticed others in the office saying that they were not interested.  People had “jobs” to do.  The manager did not ask directly for this assistance, as everyone was approached by the office administrative assistant.  I assumed that most of the things the admin was doing on a daily basis were directed in some way by the manager, or at least supported them.  So, by helping set up tables for the luncheon, I was ultimately taking care of something that the manager wanted done.  He didn’t care about tables.  He cared about having the luncheon to recognize accomplishments.  This experience taught me the difference between being valuable and being a brown noser.  A brown noser does the things that will bring about immediate reward and attention.  Someone who is actually trying to become valuable just does what is needed.

In one role, I was a highly paid network engineer in a government facility.  We were not allowed to pay contractors to come into this facility and clean, so the engineers were told to take out their own trash and sweep/mop the floors each week.  I was making around $70,000/year at this time.  My view was that if someone wanted to pay me that much to take out the trash, I would do it all day long.  There were so many who complained about taking the long walk out to the stinky dumpster to throw away trash.  I decided I would take ownership of my situation and make it a value proposition.  I offered to take out other people’s trash and I would often sweep the floor more than others.  I was not interested in the approval of my manager.  I was interested in making myself valuable, not only to our leadership, but also to my fellow coworkers.  This same thought process has guided me throughout my career.  I decided long ago that I will probably never be the smartest person on the team.  However, I can be the person most willing to do the work that others really don’t want to do.  It is not always a striking difference.  Sometimes no one is complaining, but no one is volunteering either.  I am not often the first to volunteer, but if I see that something is not getting the popular vote, I’ll eventually offer to assist or take on the challenge.

Over the years, I have had people tell me that they appreciate my willingness to rise to challenges or grunt work that no one else wants.  I take pride in the fact that I do not see myself too good for dirty work.  A paycheck still spends just as nicely regardless of the work I had to do to get it and I could choose to complain about menial tasks, but how would that benefit me in the long run?  It wouldn’t.  I hope this little tidbit helps you in your career.  Do not take it at face value.  I am not suggesting that you assume my role, but simply suggesting that you decide what your value proposition is and dedicate yourself to making it clear to those in authority over you.  Show them why they need you and why you should be watched.  We are all unique.  There is, in fact, something about you that is different and to be valued.  I would like to hear your thoughts on this subject.  What sets you apart in the workforce?  Have you attempted to focus on this area and strengthen it so that it can benefit you?

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