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Article

5 Ways to Gain a Competitive Advantage
in Your Field

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 confident that you have the right skills and knowledge needed to handle your current job responsibilities effectively.

However, in today’s fast-paced and ever-evolving market, it’s important to take steps to stay relevant and current with trends impacting your field by 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 taking the time to both maintain and progress the areas that help you stand out from other professionals.

Here are five tips to help you build and retain a competitive advantage in your field and help position yourself for future success.

1. Prioritize 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 skills, and work with your manager to identify any gaps based on your career aspirations. When you are aware of the gaps and have pinpointed where you may need to develop skills, you can better plan how to address and develop those areas.

There are several ways to help further your professional development and develop professional skills to help advance your career.

  • Learn to use new technology or tools: Companies regularly implement new technology, operational tools and processes to help streamline work or advance digital transformation initiatives. If you see this happening at your company, it’s a great opportunity to lead by example, immerse yourself and 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.
  • Acquire new skills or qualifications: Where possible, seek out further training, upskilling 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, connecting with a recruiter who has visibility into which skills are popular in the market is a great way to make sure you’re developing in-demand skills that can help further your career.
  • Expand your leadership skills: In any industry, the ability to demonstrate leadership is always an asset. This could be leading others through formal management, leading by example in a team setting or through managing a project or initiative. Where formal opportunities don’t present themselves, you could consider taking on other roles such as volunteering to be part of a corporate council, becoming a social responsibility champion or asking for additional assignments beyond your core responsibilities.
 

2. Develop your personal brand

In line with professional development, a focus on personal development is equally important. Your career trajectory can be based on how well you build your personal brand. Just as a strong brand can influence a consumer to purchase a product, establishing a personal brand in the workplace can lead to interviews, promotions and new doors being opened. Here are some ways to help build your personal brand:

  • Know your authentic self: Start by identifying what you want to be known for and how you would like to be perceived by others.
  • Proactively seek 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 further development.
  • Build 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. Attending industry or networking events can also 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, consider going with a coworker or friend to your first event to break the ice.

4. Lean into challenges

Often when challenges are thrown your 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 your character, willingness to take initiative and how you navigate problem solving — all which can ultimately help you stand out. 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. Seek feedback, feedback, feedback

Feedback can be both positive and an opportunity for identifying areas of improvement, and it’s important to seek out both. It is often said in business that “perception is reality,” and while everyone likes to have a positive view of themselves, the reality is that the next promotion may not come if others don’t agree.

Soliciting feedback regularly will give you visibility into your performance and how your coworkers and managers perceive you. This important information can be useful when identifying areas for professional development or when you’re looking for a promotion or role change. It can be uncomfortable to ask someone for their honest opinion, but if you work at building great relationships with those around you, then asking and receiving feedback with time will become second nature.

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 gain a competitive advantage as you move forward with your career?

If you’re looking for more ways to gain a competitive advantage in your field or to connect with a recruiter, contact Aston Carter today. Ready to apply for a job? Explore Aston Carter’s job board of more than 5,000 active job listings to find your next opportunity.

*This article was originally developed by Aston Carter EMEA and adapted for Aston Carter North America.