What Is Your Career Superpower?

finding your niche to profile yourself in a competitive and crowded job market is greatly benefited by awareness of your “super power”.

Many of you will know what I am talking about. Your direction of study was very broad but with little depth, or common enough that there’s a lot of people with your exact skill list on the job market. It’s been a tough time to get in for interviews, let alone getting hired for any jobs. Sometimes it was the lack of experience, the large volume of quality applicants or simply a matter of not having the supportive network to find a vacancy in time. It can be harsh, demeaning and demoralizing, especially if it keeps up over a longer period.

Time for some soul searching.

In work, like in any business, your success in landing jobs, gigs or customers is based on your USP – your Unique Selling Point. It’s what separates you from the rest of the pack and makes a recruiter sit up and take notice when your resume comes round for review.

When you’re in the process of building a career rather than just searching for your next job, or are trying to professionalize and take your role to the next level, what you need is a super power. Something you can do, like no one else can, better than the next person.

Saturday Morning Serials?

Think back to the old Superhero comics and Saturday morning cartoons (or your favorite Netflix/Crunchyroll series, I don’t judge). Superheroes are an odd bunch of characters because they need to be:

  • Instantly recognizable (silhouette and color palette)
  • Back story and motivation explained in a few lines
  • An exciting and unique (combination of) super powers to define them

Because of this, you might have quite a few of the traditional “masked spandex” type of characters running around, but because of their diverse color schemes and their powers, they could instantly be picked out and recognized when they arrived on the screen.

This correlates almost immediately with the value of being recognizable and unique on the job market, as well as getting noticed for talent programs, job openings and promotion opportunities inside your existing company.

Look at Linkedin, and the variety of people that are posting articles or updates there. Now take a look at their pictures and profiles. Most of them are going to fall in the traditional “3/4 view face shot of executive in dark grey or black suit, white shirt, potentially photoshopped”. Safe? Definitely. Exciting? Not so much.

But those who draw the most attention are those who are different, the ones who have found out exactly what their “business superhero identities” are and have been able to build this into a persona that commands attention and recognition on sight.

For example, look at these pictures of the “top Influencers to follow in 2018” post:

They rather stand out, don’t they? Each of them not only shows off their personal brand in the picture, but they also have found their career niches, and either started or govern companies that match their skills. When you’re trying to break through into jobs that stand out, you yourself have to stand out.

That doesn’t mean you have to emulate these people and do what they do, however. You need to find out what constitutes your “career super power” and then learn to leverage it for personal success.

Radiation, Mutation or Cosmic Gift?

The origin stories of many superheroes involve a moment of becoming, or realization, that they are gifted with power beyond others. It usually coincides with their decisions on how to use that power in the future as well. Such a formative event may work when you’re bombarded by cosmic radiation or bitten by radioactive arachnids, but for us mere mortals the realization of our ability comes through self-analysis. Or, in this case, third-party self analysis.

You see, we are terrible judges of our own character and ability. I’ve touched upon such well-known terms as “impostor syndrome” and “promotion to incompetence” before, but in essence we have a tendency to miss the mark when it comes to seeing what we are capable of, and how well we are at doing our jobs.

One of the main principles is that doing what we’re very good at feels easy to us. We then consider that most people, given a bit of time, can do that function just as well as we can. That’s not usually the case and this simple chore for you would cost another person twice the time for half the result. This is one of your super powers.

However, acknowledging that is hard, so it pays to have a third party – someone else – verify this for you. It doesn’t matter who it is – family, friends, a close colleague – as long as you trust them. Ask them frankly what things you do on a regular basis that they would think are special, and then try and get them to elaborate.

Maybe you’ll find out that you have amazing organizational insight and can determine what management will do next based on previous announcements. Perhaps you always seem to create documentation that is easy to understand, no matter how difficult the subject. Or, when you take the word in a meeting you really inspire people to action without even realizing it yourself.

Those are the things to home in on, the things that others feel are your “special gifts”.

With Great Power Comes…

…Great potential for improvement. No seriously. Potentially also responsibility, yes, but the primary reason for this exercise was finding your super powers, your “unique selling points”. Now that you have some ideas on what those are, it’s time to start developing your powers and try them on.

Try and find common uses for your special traits, and see if combined they suggest a role or job that seems suitable and exciting to you. If you are discrete, have organizational insight and are a great negotiator, why not become a professional negotiator for (non)governmental organizations? Now you can start identifying what you’d need to be considered for such a role, and acquire those skills and experiences. Additionally, if you’re really excited about it, it will also show in how you act and people really pick up on that.

Maybe you find out that you’re a great motivator, like working with people and want to work independently. This seems to inform becoming some form of life-coach or perhaps a job counselor. You’d need to consider how you’d put yourself out there and start up a business, but this knowledge alone will already give you a lot of confidence.

Those are just some examples, and if you know your super power(s) but don’t really “feel the career” that goes with it, feel free to put up a comment and I will be more than happy to give some suggestions.

“Career” Salad with “Choice” Sauce

You may feel very excited and immediately want to throw your life around, but calm down and take a breather first. First consider that you may need to keep up your regular job and slowly grow into your new persona as time goes on. The best ideas need to sit and marinate for a while to get the best flavor.

Like a superhero, this can mean having a dual identity for a while, and presenting your newfound powers as a hobby or side gig on your Linkedin profile, or perhaps an area of interest for future improvement. After all, you want to stand out. And to stand out, you have to be good as well as enthusiastic.

So take the time to research the roles and careers you could get in to with your skills, and find out how to be unique. This can actually mean turning down your “best fitting” career if this means you are competing with others because your skills actually are basic requirements for the role. For example, being extremely stress resistant, with good eyesight and hand-eye coordination is a basic for a police sniper or aquatic welder, so you’re not going to be unique in that hiring pool. But add those skills to a drone engineer, and you could be the first choice of candidate for undersea spot welding with drones or unmanned disaster surveillance.

The key here is to use your super powers in a way that’s not immediately obvious to your career. If you’re not willing to make big changes, then consider how you can best leverage your super powers in your current job to get better results and more opportunities to advance in the company.

Character Development

Of course using your new-found self knowledge to change careers is an option, if you want to expand the scope of your existing job you can do so by leveraging your special skills for that purpose.

Consider how your skills could be used to improve your work, or the processes behind it. See how you can be involved with planning, improvement or communication, which not only serves to make a better, more manageable workplace, but also immediately puts you on the map for your extra activities.

And those, in turn, can make you stand out. Just like the extracurricular activities in high school and university, these efforts broaden your scope, boost your confidence and make you a more desirable recruitment target.

If you want to make a game out of it, create for yourself a professional identity, and rate your business and professional skills like you’re a roleplaying character. I will make a post shortly where I will set up some guidelines on doing this in a professional and entertaining way.

Like the superheroes we use as a template, you are a professional. At the end of the day you don’t want to be Bob Generic. You want to be “Bob from Accounting, who can find a two-million error in a six page spreadsheet. You’re not going to be Anna Average, you’re going to be “Anna from Human Resources, who can tell what kind of person you are just by talking to you once”.

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