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The Perils (and Value) of Career Nicheing

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By Jacqui Barrett-Poindexter

“Find a niche! Get a niche. Work in a niche!” In his Nov. 22nd post called, “Over-Nicheing, Steve Spalding asserts, “We spend a lot of time extolling the unlimited virtues of nichedom, but we rarely think of its very real limitations.”

Though he goes on to say you “should” have a niche in order to focus your attention, budget and creative resources at an audience who cares, he also warns that niches can be a trap if you get too narrow and limit your audience to a handful of folks.

I agree!

Definitions of Nicheing in the Careers Industry

In the resume writing and career coaching industry in which I participate, nicheing might mean specializing in a specific industry; for example, it may mean that you concentrate your talent in resume writing for technology professionals or finance executives or sales and marketing pros … and so forth.

Or, it may mean that you work mostly with entrepreneurs or expats; or possibly you only work with a certain career level or type such as the executive; the C-Suite (chief executive officer, chief operating officer, chief information officer); mid-career; boomer; generation Y; early-careerist; white collar or blue collar; etc. You get the drift.

My Take: Preparing Unique, Story-telling Resumes Is a Careers-Industry Niche

I’ve discerned that my career art + my journalistic style of asking the “who, what, where, when, how and why” questions + my ability to discern and translate personality types combine to drive a unique influence story that clinches job interviews. A career reporter, I interview celebrities, if you will, who star in their own occupational productions. I take a Barbara Walters approach to asking the probing, oft uncomfortable questions. My careerist clients often squirm and balk, but, after delving beneath the surface, I reach their tender underbelly, and they reveal career secrets to their success that stoke up their career message.

Based on the depth and breadth of my career unearthing processes, nearly 14 years specializing almost solely in career positioning documents (versus broadening my focus to the entire career coaching spectrum) and my building an amalgamation of partnerships with forward-thinking career organizations, I naturally attract assertive, optimist, confident and forward-thinking careerists. As such, my value proposition results: “compose career positioning documents for forward thinking executives and professionals, unearthing and translating their value into words.”

How could it be more focused and “niched” than that?

The Backstory

After 15 years working for others in corporate offices, I hung my own business shingle in 1997 and, before “nicheing” in the careers arena, I created a business services organization focused on writing, editing and project management.

My gigs consisted of designing and writing small business brochures, editing business correspondence, writing an occasional resume and even orchestrating a concept-to-delivery restaurant menu (including copy-writing, recruiting a designer, arranging a photo shoot, hiring a children’s menu artist and project managing this destination café’s innovative menu marketing material portfolio – restaurant, take-out and children’s menus).

My clients were business owners, entrepreneurs and individuals. Within four months of my business launch, I was recruited to consult for CareerTrend, offering resume consultation and writing services to “their” clientele on a part-time basis. During a one-year span, I accelerated my career writing and story-telling learnings and honed my craft. When the owners offered to sell CareerTrend to me in 1998, I dove in feet first, refining my focus and parlaying my writing talent into the careers arena exclusively.

As such, over the years, I have invested in seven to eight+ annual conferences, three certifications, two business coaches and three website masters, which has led to my confidence in having honed a career writing and business entrepreneurship specialty. After several toe-dipping initiatives in career coaching, I refined my career path toward career writing strategy and value proposition story telling.

As such, what I have learned for myself, for other entrepreneurs and for the job seekers and careerists I serve is …

Creating a Unique Value-Focused Niche Doesn’t Mean …

…. you must be narrow or limiting. It just means clarifying areas of value you want to market about yourself and how they fit the needs of a target audience. Then, showcase those areas in vivid, distinctive and audience-centric career communications.

… you must be totally transparent about every little trait, talent and initiative that you possess or have done in order to be forthcoming about your career. Career gushing is not the key – tidy up the edges of your career value proposition images that fit neatly within the target audience’s frame. And don’t let anyone ever tell you what you can and cannot do – your capabilities and experiences and target audience are ultimately for you, and your audience, to determine.

… you can’t cross industries. Though a technology widget sales person is more likely to fit the mold of a recruiter’s job search requirements for their client company’s technology widget sales opening, bear in mind that recruiters only fulfill about 2-3% of all available opportunities.

… Use your personal marketing, networking and relationship building skills and opportunities to articulate how your experience selling complex concepts and financial services to high-net-worth individuals translates effectively into technical solutions selling. Speak to their pain points with stories that show you’ve already succeeded in solving similar such problems in the past. Compel them that you are their solution.

… Offer to work, initially for free or at a lower-than-market-value rate to get the experience you need to succeed in the new industry … and to prove your value in this related, or new, niche (it’s really left for interpretation as to whether a new industry, indeed, would be considered a whole new niche).

Creating a Unique Value-Focused Niche Does Mean …

… you can sell the unique methods: the how and why you do what you do to attract a buyer or employer. It’s not just what you do; e.g., “I sell,” “I program,” “I crunch numbers,” “I manage teams,” but also the way you do it — how you have impact through influencing others inside or outside the organization; the way in which you cut through a process issue to quickly contain costs and accrue profit; the way in which you deflect a project tragedy and boost a business development strategy; and so forth.

… It’s both your personality AND technical talent that you uniquely bring to the table.

… you can transition your talents across sectors on both a micro- and macro-level. Breaking through to a completely new career arena may require small steps to scale back up to the career ladder level you currently are at, but you can. Combine your differentiating traits with your transferable talents and then add splashes of word color to emphasize that you are irresistible to the target reader.

As such, in my own career, I not only transitioned industries twice before becoming an entrepreneur (moving from not-for-profit to the service sector); but then moved into entrepreneurship into a boutique industry that offered a virtually Wild West type of venue.

I chose to stake my ground, and thus carve my niche, in the career positioning communications “Wild West” landscape. I do hope you’ll stop by for a visit and a strong cup of coffee.

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