Become your own IT career coach

As you set out to blaze your trail, think of yourself the way a product manager thinks

“Be your own brand.”It’s good advice. It would be even better if it helped clarify how to go about it. But brand management is the province of marketing, not IT. So other than adding a “New and improved!” sticker to your résumé, you might not be sure about the fine points.

Branding is about more than name recognition. It’s about setting expectations. Brand management tells customers about the experience they’ll have after buying a product or doing business with a company. That means the best brands shape product development and company policy just as much as they shape advertising copy.

If you really want to be your own brand, you need to think of yourself the way a product manager thinks. One formula product managers use to help them think through their strategies is the “Six Ps.” They are: product, price, [market]place, promotion, production, and people.

Apply these to yourself and you’ll have a far more satisfying and successful career. Here’s how:

Product: What is it, exactly, that you do, and do well enough that the demand for your services exceeds the supply? What, that is, can you do well enough that you can be confident you’re among the top ten percent in the world? There are enough different careers in the world that most people can achieve top-ten-percent-dom in several of them, because nobody can achieve top-ten-percent-dom in all of them. Neing in the top ten percent is a necessary, but not a sufficient condition for deciding what product you are (or want to become). For a complete view, use the Venn diagram approach. Envision three overlapping circles. One is what you either are good at or have the aptitude to become good at (the top ten percent). The second is what you enjoy doing. The third is what others are willing to pay for. You can be any product that sits in the intersection of the three circles.

Price: If you know what you want to earn in exchange for your services, you’ll be in a much better position to negotiate for it than if you constantly worry whether you could have negotiated for a few dollars more.

Place: Really, marketplace, but “Five Ps and an M” doesn’t have much of a ring to it. Your marketplace is the ecosystem in which your product plays a part. It includes your potential customers, of course. It includes your competitors -- how they position their services and what they charge for them. It also includes those who play complementary roles -- in-house, onshore, and offshore developers if you’re a project manager, for example.

Promotion: This centers on your selling strategy -- namely, how you reach and communicate with potential customers, and the messages you use to describe yourself and what you can do.

The most important part of promotion is how you plan to open doors, bypass all of the gatekeepers, and get in front of the only person who matters -- the one making the buying decision.

The least important is your résumé and cover letter. It’s good to think of your résumé as your brochure, and you’ll understand that while you have to have one, nobody will choose you because of it.

Production: If you sell cars, production is your plan for manufacturing and distributing your product Click for larger view. for less than you sell it for. Successful companies release new models of their products all the time. You should too, by keeping your skills fresh, staying abreast of industry trends, and otherwise making sure you don’t become obsolete.

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Production: If you sell cars, production is your plan for manufacturing and distributing your product Click for larger view. for less than you sell it for. Successful companies release new models of their products all the time. You should too, by keeping your skills fresh, staying abreast of industry trends, and otherwise making sure you don’t become obsolete.

People: Companies have employees, subcontractors, and outsourcers. They understand where the effort will come from to build, distribute, and market their products.

People matter to IT professionals, too. They’re your personal “network” -- as odious a term as “resource” is for “staff,” and just as pervasive. They’re your mentors, advisers, source of introductions, and the place you turn for support when your outlook seems bleak.

John Donne said, “No man is an island,” and it’s true -- although among IT professionals, too many approach peninsular status, and many more look a lot like an isthmus. If you know only two people in the industry, you’ll get into fewer doors, and you won’t sound as intelligent when you do get in.

Someone once said that if you build a better mousetrap, the world will beat a path to your door. Whoever said it didn’t know anything about product management and probably went bankrupt trying to sell a better mousetrap.

You are your own product. Manage yourself like one.

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