How/When To Narrow Down to the Right Niche #JobSearch

I got some great questions from William:

I love your site and find your videos very helpful and very insightful. I am currently an active job seeker, a position that I have not really been in before, and been having problems getting my mind set around searching for a job. Your videos have been helping me in that department, giving me tasks to do and strategies to think about which works well for me since those are a couple of my strengths.

I just finished your “Developing a Killer Personal Brand”. You spoke about Niche vs. General Purpose which I am having challenges getting my head around. I spent my entire career getting good at one aspect of Information Technology (IT) and then moving on to another area. For example I spent 10 years honing my skills supporting and architecting server environments before moving over to supporting and architecting networks.

I am defiantly fighting people’s conception of a mile wide and an inch deep which I don’t believe is the case for me.

Five years ago, after some soul searching, I decided to focusing on Information Security which in itself has many facets to it. This bring me to my questions, “How do I identify what area of information security I should be focusing on when I love all of it?” and “Is this what you really meant by identifying the Niche?”

Any other advice you can give me on the subject would be greatly appreciated.

Thank you, William, for these questions.  Before we dive into this, I should say that the videos he is talking about are my Pluralsight videos.  I have about 30 of them on Pluralsight, and they are soft skills, job search, career management, and professional development.  All JibberJobber users can get a 30 day… just login and you’ll see the links.

William says he is essentially branded as being a mile wide and an inch deep. When I started my career in IT I was branded as a mile wide and a mile deep. I didn’t have nearly that much breadth or depth, but people thought “oh, Jason does web development… we should ask him why my computer is slow.” Or, why my mouse doesn’t work, or if he’ll design a logo, or (true story) if he’ll hang my new TV. Because any IT means all IT, right?

If you are in IT you know that is absolutely false. But people outside of IT seem to think that’s the way it is.

So, what do you do?  What is the difference between these statements?

I’m a web developer

I’m a front end developer

I’m a full stack developer

I’m a database programmer

I do networking.

Each of those is pretty specific, although one I find hard to believe (a full stack developer means that you do all of the technology… my guess is that generally you are decent on one end and poor on another, but you can hack your way through it all).  That is where our faulty assumptions come into play… or as William says, people assume he’s a mile wide (lots of skills) but an inch think (not good at any of them)… as we used to say, Jack of all trades.

It is our job to clarify what we really do, and communicate it in a way that everyone can understand it.

We need to make sure that even people outside of our field, who don’t understand our jargon, can get what we do, so they can talk about us!  I can’t emphasize that enough! That’s why we need to come up with messaging that people (like our spouse, kids, neighbors, friends, etc.) can share with others.

If your message is “I can do everything in this field (industry, job, profession, etc.) then your message might be too vague to understand.

When I counsel people on LinkedIn, I tell them to focus more on your results, or the What’s In It For Me (WIIFM) for your client.  Instead of “I am a front end developer,” how about “I make websites beautiful, easier to use, and increase sales with my designs.”  WHAT A DIFFERENCE!  Switching from your job description to the value you bring shifts the conversation!

I know this gets harder as you have more years and diversity in your career.  William says he has 10 years experience in one area, than 10 years in another related-but-different area.  How do you communicate that?  The most important thing to consider is that your answer isn’t to provide a comprehensive list of job titles or accomplishments, but to take the right experiences and accomplishments for the actual job you are applying to.  Don’t start at your history, start at the client’s (hiring manager’s) needs, and work backwards.

The next topic/question is about narrowing down from all security to certain security.

The thing is, William has a lot of experience… and he probably can do a lot of different security roles. Or, said another way, he has a lot of breadth and a lot of depth.  Security is a fast-moving field, and his background should show that he can learn and adjust, and has the proper background, training, and exposure to excel in security.  I would suggest that he focuses on that message, and come up with stories (or mini-stories) to illustrate those points. He should figure out where he wants to get his hands dirty (web, network, WAN, mobile, etc.) and go deep there… or, honestly, he sounds like someone who could be a great CTO.  Sounds like the world is at his feet… he just has to identify which direction he’s really interested in, and then narrow the stories and messaging so they really support the idea that he would be perfect for the role he’s looking for.

That is my answer to the last question, on what is niche?  It’s the last few sentences in that last paragraph.