What is Your Competitive Edge?
Carol had been out of work for six months and was frustrated by her inability to land a new job. She'd had a few interviews but nothing had come through for her and her money situation was getting tight. Like many unemployed people Carol decided to seek work through a temporary agency.

Carol was delighted when the agency found her work related to her area of expertise. The pay was not great but it was enough to keep her afloat. In addition it gave her the freedom to say no to the work when she needed to continue her job search or attend to family matters.

According to an article in the Boston Globe this month the use of temporary help is growing in the US. Not all temporary help is supplied by temp agencies either. There are also independent contract workers that are hired for a project. These workers go from project to project working for themselves or for an agency. Kelly Services estimates that one quarter of the US workers are employed on some sort of temporary arrangement.

From a company’s perspective having a pool of candidates that can move in when there is work to do and then move on when the work comes to an end is very desirable. It makes for a “just in time” work force. A company that uses a small core of permanent workers and then hires just enough temporary workers to complete the job doesn’t have the heart wrenching layoffs and the severance pay issues that have been a problem recently.

For this reason the temporary help industry is one of the fastest-growing segments in the labor market. By 2012 the Labor Department estimates it will grow by another 50 percent.

What about the worker? Is this change a good one? With every change come some positive and negative consequences. In some respects this type of work has advantages for the worker. Temporary work allows more work/life balance than permanent work. Workers can take time off when they need it. Of course when they don't work they don't get paid. If the job isn't waiting for the person when he/she returns to work there will be another to go to. Contract workers might work long hours on a project but could then take time between projects. Another advantage is that workers can try various types of jobs to broaden their skill set as well as their network.

The downside is that it doesn’t give the same feeling of job security. In a sense you always have to be looking ahead to the next assignment. The issue of benefits is also a problem although some temporary agencies now provide benefits such as health insurance.

In their book Trends For the Near Future Ira Matathia and Marian Salzman give five trends for the future and the first one is that “Full-Time Employees will decrease in number”. How does someone in the workforce prepare for this shift? It seems to me whether you are a full time employee or temporary worker, you will need to keep your skills up to date. In fact Matathia and Salzman identify skills trainers as one of the hot jobs of the millennium. Those trainers they say will be training both current employees and freelancers.

All this seems to indicate that many of us are going to be changing jobs more frequently in the future. It will be more important than ever to be able to articulate our own “competitive edge.” What value do you offer the employer? What skills do you have? What strengths and qualities do you add to those skills that will make your offer unique and compelling? Business owners, employees and temporary personnel - we all need to be able to articulate our value.

Carol was able to work in a couple of different departments honing some old skills and developing a couple of new ones. An added bonus was that with each temporary assignment she got feedback on her value to the organization. Uniformly the employers liked her persistence and follow-through. She added these points to her resume and then created a value proposition that emphasized these traits. She is confident that she will become a full time employee in the near future.

Take Action:
1. What are the skills you offer to your employer? Are they up to date? If your skills are not up to date, create a plan to bring them up to date. Are your skills obsolete or heading in that direction? What skills will you add? (Be sure to choose marketable ones!)

2. Identify the strengths you have that could be useful in your work. Brainstorm with someone (a coach perhaps) in what ways your strengths could be used. Don’t limit yourself to your current situation. Be creative!

3. What experiences have you had that demonstrate your use of your skills and strengths in a unique way? You will want to prepare your "stories" before you have an interview. Stories about your work are more memorable then simple statements of what you offer.

4. What is the value proposition that you offer a potential employer? Create this statement and practice it so that you can emphasize it to your potential employer. It succinctly and clearly says what you offer. Have the statement on your resume too.

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