Point of Difference: The Key to Career Success
BY ANDREW S. HARRIS, President AND WILLIAM J. HEERY, Vice President
Harris Heery & Associates



There is an unconventional strategy that can guarantee you are the strongest candidate in any job interview.

By "strongest" we mean that you will be the most desirable candidate for the position, that the fit between the hiring organization's needs and your skills will be so obvious that the company will make its first offer to you.


Moreover, we predict that your success on the job is likely to be higher and your tenure longer if you adopt this unconventional strategy. That's why, whether you're looking for a job now, planning a job change soon, or positioning yourself for a major career move in the future, you can achieve your goals by adopting this little-used approach.

Can any career management strategy possibly satisfy immediate, short- and long-term needs? The answer is yes - the Point of Difference (P.O.D.) strategy can.

A New Approach
Our experience confirms that P.O.D. is the single most effective approach to career management whatever your situation. P.O.D. is the approach of choice when you need a job immediately. Short term, you can use P.O.D. to leverage existing skills and credentials to target jobs for which you will be the strongest candidate. And long term, you can use P.O.D. to strengthen existing skills and identify critical new skills for development that will make you and even stronger candidate.

In a nutshell, P.O.D. is tailor-made for executives who want to interview from a position of strength, land a job in which they can be successful and fill the position for as long as they choose.

P.O.D. runs counter to conventional wisdom, which holds that job hunters achieve their greatest success via mass marketing. Launch hundreds of resumes, so the wisdom goes, and a couple of them are bound to sail through a window of opportunity somewhere.

That's the problem. With the conventional approach, you may find a window of opportunity with bars on it. When you simply luck onto a panel where you are the fifth or sixth strongest candidate, you have invested time and effort to put yourself in the wrong place at the wrong time. That's no position to be in. In fact, there are other drawbacks to the conventional approach.


First, by trying to appeal to all companies, you spread yourself too thin. It's counterproductive to attempt to appear deserving of a "time at bat" everywhere.

Second, there is always a limited response to mass mailings. Let's say you mail out 400 resumes and cover letters and get a four-percent response. That means 384 either responded negatively or didn't respond at all. This can be frustrating. But the hopes raised by 16 who did respond are often dashed. Reason: you are competing against dozens - sometimes hundreds - of other applicants. The odds of striking out are high.

Trusting to the conventional approach is how candidates become the fifth or sixth strongest applicant. It is how job seekers put themselves on a treadmill characterized by false hopes and genuine disappointments. Applicants who fail to position themselves as the first or second strongest candidates rarely get an offer.

If It's Broke, Fix It
A P.O.D. strategy corrects the shortcomings of the conventional approach. The primary benefit of P.O.D. is that it offers an alternative to the inadequate planning that characterizes the conventional approach. P.O.D. starts by finding your point of difference - the cluster of strengths and selling points that are unique to you alone. The next step in the P.O.D. process is to scour many markets to find the limited number of companies that are clearly in need of your skills.

While P.O.D. may seem to limit your options by focusing on only a handful of companies, actually quite the reverse is true. The P.O.D. approach vastly increases the likelihood of success, because it uses your strengths in a way that differentiates you from other candidates, then strives to align your strengths with opportunities where those strengths are in demand.

The P.O.D. approach forces you to plan. Most job hunters don't plan. They substitute action for thought. They compile lists. Draft generic resumes and cover letters. Race to the stationery store. Rush to the post office. Play telephone tag. And wait.

If they get a response, they spend more time worrying about their wardrobe and grooming than the critical fit between themselves and the company. What they've got in their talent bag is what they go with. This approach often results in a failure to get an offer.


Adopting the P.O.D. approach, on the other hand, redefines the game. By identifying your point of difference, looking for a fit between your strengths and companies that can use them, and marketing those strengths with a highly focused employment proposal, you can succeed in finding the right job quickly. Finding your P.O.D. is a process that requires creative thinking, but it is worth the effort.

Start by asking yourself what's in your background that makes you different from other candidates - and how your point of difference will be valuable to a prospective employer. Avoid the trap of focusing too narrowly. Don't limit the inventory of your skill-set to jobs you have held, degrees you have earned and graduate courses and seminars you have taken.

Go beyond the superficial elements of the industries in which you have worked to analyze the products and services, functional disciplines, technologies, managerial philosophies and business issues where you have experience.

Widen your perspective significantly beyond past job descriptions to include the common and uncommon problems you have solved. Think about cross-functional expertise you might have developed. Perhaps you've had involvement in team building. Or a role in strategy formulation. Or have helped two independent departments transcend turf battles and work together. These are all P.O.D. material.

Examine the technical skills you have acquired. "Technical" covers a lot of ground, from software applications to governmental regulations to cultural change in the face of global competition. Were you involved, for example, in a successful TQM or reengineering implementation? Did you participate in any type of an innovation, whether new product introduction, process improvement, procedural change or new market development? What role did you play and what results did you achieve?

Be sure to include any special skills in your inventory, such as foreign languages, international experience, special certifications or consulting expertise. By now you should have compiled an impressive P.O.D.

Taking Aim at Your Target
Once you've satisfied yourself that you've uncovered your P.O.D., the next step is to align your P.O.D. with the needs of specific companies. Identify all industries where there may be a potential fit between your P.O.D. and a company's needs. Then begin the search for individual companies within each industry, using all available resources - networking, the business press, government and industry research and professional recruiters.

In addition to the general business press - The Wall Street Journal, Business Week, Fortune and Forbes are the well-known national examples - regional business publications can also be valuable sources. Also, there are countless trade publications serving virtually every functional area. All are gold mines of information for P.O.D.-driven job seekers. So are industry associations. Join one.


In the press, for example, you will find news of companies which are introducing new products, merging, acquiring, being acquired, branching out into a new markets or grappling with a host of challenges and problems you may have successfully dealt with. These are your opportunities. Your personal track record of new product introductions, experience with a merger that successfully melded dissimilar corporate cultures or your knowledge of a particular industry's changing competitive environment might create a snug fit with the requirements of many of these companies.

Remember, decision makers hire people who have already solved the problems that are currently bedeviling them. P.O.D. can help you craft an employment proposal to a particular company in a way that makes you the strongest candidate for a position, instead of just another resume in the stack.

Depending on the industries on which you are focusing your job search, professional recruiters can often help. For one thing, these consultants can provide objective feedback on your thinking. Although you might be tempted to turn to a spouse, friend or relative, they're likely to be neither objective nor particularly qualified to help.

For another thing, search counselors know where certain jobs are and won't send you out on interviews at companies where you have no realistic employment chance.

Lastly, professional search firms often have in-depth knowledge about companies you might be interested in. This is an invaluable resource for determining if there is a good fit between your personality and that of the company.

In an era where the pool of jobs at large- and medium-sized companies is shrinking and competition is becoming fiercer for the remaining open positions, P.O.D. offers job seekers a much-needed competitive edge. Simply stated, P.O.D. helps candidates accomplish the three essentials for job-hunting success with a minimum expenditure of time, effort and dollars:

  1. Get an interview
  2. Get an offer
  3. Get a job where the fit is right




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