Career Tip? Be Like Mike!

In the search for the “great” job, it helps to offer something that employers value that they can’t easily find elsewhere. It’s notIMG_3770 always easy but it’s doable; here’s how.

Start by thinking about you want to avoid; being a commodity.  A commodity, notes the Merriam-Webster dictionary, “is a good or service whose wide availability typically leads to smaller profit margins and diminishes the importance of factors (as brand name) other than price.

We all know commodities. While classically they get sorted into soft and hard commodities, they are things like gas, wheat, milk, copper and tin.

But you can make a case that other things – think airplane fares, TVs, even cookie cutter homes, are commodity-like.

Job roles too.

Why is this important? Commodities get valued on primarily two factors; cost and convenience.

If an employer thinks the role you hold as being a commodity – which happens, by the way, for exec roles from CEO on down (e.g. “even a monkey could fill this job“), you’re valuable as long as you’re cheap and /or handy enough. When you outlive that usefulness, it’s time for some other person or thing – think the new hire, automation, or that friendly outsourcing firm offshore – to step in and take your job.

Your mantra is simple: have something about who you are, the experiences you bring, or the skills you have that are valued and not easy to get elsewhere.

In over 30 years working with talent and pay, those three factors, adjusted for sector (e.g. asset management pays better than retail services), role and geography  are the biggest predictors that I’ve seen of relative pay and leverage.

There are assets that a client I’ll call Charlotte, who works in financial services, brings with her blue chip undergraduate and graduate degrees, great experience and, btw, speaks Japanese, Mandarin and Cantonese. Or a client I’ll call Bob who brings a tech and biotech background and is originally from India, letting him tap into the a great network in the SF Bay Area that pasty white guys like me from Oregon can’t always easily access.

Which brings me back to Mike. While shoe repair places have gone the way of most urban gas stations, they still exist, filling a special need in a community. When my pair of nice Alden shoes need new heels, I can pay $500 and buy new ones, or I can take them to Mike’s of Noe Valley Shoe Repair and get them repaired for less than $50. Cost is less important – anything south of $500 is money well spent – since the rest of the shoes are fine. His less than $50 charge for a few minutes work looks like a bargain.

Cut to the chase? Mike provides something that’s handy, that I can’t easily get elsewhere, and that I therefore value.

And you? If you’re not doing something similar in the role you hold you are on a road to being replaced.

Either figure out how to develop some special valued skill and/or get added experience or expertise that sets you apart if you want to keep your employability good and your compensation promising.

Life Back West is an occasional set of writings focused on ways people, teams and organizations can be both more effective (doing the right thing) and more efficient (doing the right thing well). More about executive, career and team / leadership coaching services can be found at the “About J. Mike Smith and Back West, Inc.” sidebar or the “Hire Me” tab. You can also read an online interview with me at WhoHub.


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