Seeking Success? Find Your Niche and Stay There

By Jim Hopkinson

Adapt or die! Learn new skills! The only constant in life is change! 

The way these phrases are thrown about, it would seem the only way to advance your career is to assemble a toolbelt of dozens of different skills. Your days would be spent scouring the internet for articles about the latest trends, with each evening absorbed in a new class to get hands-on training with a groundbreaking social media platform, management technique, or health advance.

Not so fast.

To be sure, you can’t bury your head in the sand when it comes to being aware of what is going on around you. But don’t overlook the advantage of “doubling down” and focusing only within your core strengths. 

In the best-selling book “Strengths Finder 2.0,” author Tom Rath pulls from 40 years of research to help readers determine their five top talents. The message of the book is short (30 quick pages) and to the point: People spend too long trying to improve their weaknesses, when they should be capitalizing on their strengths.

From there, the book gives you a unique key code in order to go online and take a 30 minute test to determine your five core talents out of the 34 that their extensive research has identified.

As a parent, what if your son or daughter brought home a report card with A’s in English and writing, B’s in Spanish and history, but a C- in algebra and a D in geometry. Your natural reaction might be, “We need to get those math grades up!” Of course math is important, but it would be wise to look for ways to double down in language and writing categories in the future.

The same goes for business. Let’s say you are really starting to gain traction as a salesperson. You’re building your account list, honing your presentation skills to show the benefits of your products, and really making progress at asking for the sale and closing the deal.

Then your supervisor comes to you and wants you to learn a new accounting program. It’s a highly technical way to amass all of the numbers for your sales and produce weekly reports that are broken out in several ways for the finance team.  What do you think?

If it’s an industry-standard sales tool that falls within your niche and will help you advance as in your field, then it’s probably worth it to check it out. But if you’ve determined that your core strengths are persuasive people skills and your weaknesses are minute details, you could kindly suggest to your boss that perhaps you could work directly with an account assistant to have them help you with the details so that you could focus on what you do best.

So what can you take away from this?

1)    Learn what NOT to do

Just as important as finding your strengths is learning what you are NOT good at. If you let yourself get sucked into a position where your best skills aren’t being utilized, it won’t help anyone. Your company won’t be getting production out of you, you won’t be happy, and you’re probably setting yourself up for failure.

2)    Make smart partnerships

Find someone that complements your strengths so that you don’t have to try and do everything. You see this a lot with successful entrepreneurs, where one co-founder is the organized, tech-heavy, process person, and the other is the outgoing, salesy-marketing type.

3)    Know thyself

While the book is a great tool to reinforce things, your own gut feeling will tell you the direction that best suits you. Imagine you’re told you are to present in front of 100 people. For someone that is shy, a wave of anxiety will rush through their body. For someone that embraces the spotlight and loves the big stage, they’ll get a rush from it. Don't ignore that immediate reaction.

Thus, keep your options open for learning new things, but don’t be afraid to be the best possible person within your niche. Few people remember Michael Jordan… the baseball player.

Jim Hopkinson speaks, writes and teaches about career and salary topics. His most recent book "Salary Tutor: Learn The Salary Negotiaton Secrets That No One Ever Taught You" guides readers through the ins and out of successful salary negoation.

Reboot_workshop_logoReboot your career in 2012! Jim is the co-organizer of Reboot Workshop, a day-long "unconference" in New York City on January 28. The workshop's 10 speakers in fields such as word-of-mouth, digital media, tax law, and health/wellness will show people how to escape their day job and live outside the 9 to 5. PayScale readers can use coupon code 128payscale to get 20% off. Learn more.

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