A Blue Ocean View Of Career Strategies

“So what are you going to do with your career then?”

This question used to terrify me. Sweaty palms, sleepless nights… Pure terror. If you’re feeling the same at the moment, then fear not.

Having just finished a corporate strategy module, I have been thinking in depth about how it applies to my career as I search for the dream position to take after graduate school. Like many people, before this course, I thought I knew about strategy. I thought I had it all covered. In a nutshell, I thought that you should do the best thing for your company and reap the rewards. Pretty simple?

I can honestly say that my paradigm has never been shifted on a single issue quite as significantly as it has in recent months. Under the guidance of an expert strategy professor who was able to share real life examples of some complex and challenging situations he faces as a strategy consultant, I now realize I knew nothing at the beginning of the course and only know slightly more than that now. On top of everything else you can learn, a top MBA program will help you realise what you don’t know.

One issue the course covered was the difference between outside-in strategies and inside-out strategies. Should you, as a company’s chief strategic officer, look at what the market is doing and try to do meet unmet needs (outside-in), or should you infact focus on discovering what your organization is already good at and applying it to the market (inside-out)? If you think about it, it doesn’t just apply to companies- its an interesting model to use when deciding your career path.

For instance, think of it like this: should you look at the gaps in the job market and present yourself as someone who can fill them, or should you instead consider what you are good at and search for positions that allow you to do exactly that?

Well, to use the old consultancy adage, “it depends”.

The outside-in approach lends itself best to long term decisions. I am eternally jealous of those who have a calling to do what they do. Doctors, teachers, pilots and many others have generally gotten to where they are because they knew at a young age what they wanted to do and were totally committed to achieving that goal. As long as there is a need in the job market for that profession, if you have a calling then, as Nike say, “just do it”.

A good example is the future IT industry. In the US in particular, there is going to be a huge shortage of software engineers in the coming years. So anyone who is good with computers and can see a gap in the market would be well advised to start training right now. The cherry on the cake? A shortage of skilled workers usually leads to huge salaries due to simple supply and demand.

However, for the rest of us who never had that “calling”, it makes more sense to look inside first and then apply it to the outside world once you truly understand yourself. If you are still waiting for an epiphany regarding your career, don’t worry you are not indecisive as some may assume. Nevertheless, you certainly need to demonstrate that you have thought through your choice of career when you sit in that interview.

Metaphorically, look yourself in the mirror… And ask yourself some searching questions:

What motivates you?
What do you enjoy doing?
What are you good at?
Why are you a ‘Blue Ocean’ candidate, that is: what makes you unique? What can you offer that no one else can?

Once you know what you are good at, it becomes much easier to narrow your search by selecting career options that suit you, and eliminating ones that don’t. If you’re not sure what a certain career path entails, then ask someone.  Either speak to a careers coach or request an informational interview with someone in that role so you can ask them questions. If you phrase your invitation right, you will be amazed how many people accept your request to sit down and talk- after all, who doesn’t like speaking about themselves?

All in all, it doesn’t really matter if you look inside out or outside in your career decisions. What helps most people who really don’t know what to do with their career, is having a structure to follow that gives them confidence they are following the right path. Interviewers can’t fail to be impressed if you can show that you have really thought about who you are.

In a recent study, the one skill that CEOs consistently said they wanted to see most in their graduate hires was self awareness. Invest the time to consider who really you are, and you will be able to tell the whole world what you want to do with your career and hopefully, avoid all those sleepless nights.