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Jan 26, 2016
This article is part of a series called Wake-up Call.

Here’s a fact about the jobs at your company that you may not like: they’re a commodity. You might think that what you have to offer is unique and the position you’re filling is like no other. You may believe your work environment is novel and the culture you create in your workspace is special. While this is partially true, in that every company is slightly different, I propose a thought experiment.

For a moment, try seeing things from a different angle. Flip your perspective 180 degrees and see things from the perspective of the job-seeker.

Job-seekers — your candidates — typically pursue more than one job opportunity at a time. They have to, in order to increase their chances at being hired. They can’t put all their eggs in one basket. They send out multiple resumes and cover letters every week. Sometimes they’re looking at dozens of jobs with the exact same title, all at different companies. They scan employment sites and read scores of job postings with nearly identical language. Every company tries to add their own flair to their blurbs, but to the candidates, they all start to run together.

It doesn’t stop there.

The rest of the process follows a pattern. Email resume, receive response. Exchange emails and possibly phone calls. Then comes the interview: leaders ask a series of questions, which the candidate answers. The questions don’t vary much, and the people asking them tend to dress and act the same. The jobs even look alike, too. They involve similar tasks often done in standard cube farms. Employees use similar technology and software from one company to the next.

For the candidate, all the jobs become a blur. All the interviewers start to sound like the adults do to Charlie Brown and his friends: wah-wah-wah, wah-wah-wah-wah. Like it or not, that exceptional position at your extraordinary company is a commodity.

Now, let’s flip the perspective back to you, the employer.

You can avoid falling into the commodity trap by adopting sound strategies to separate yourself from the masses. A growing group of savvy business leaders are differentiating their organizations by combining shifts in business practices with better approaches to hiring and employee engagement. Two innovations gaining great traction are The Quid Pro Approach and Micro-Niching.

Quid Pro Quo: Value Where It Counts

Companies are learning to unlock their value by charging more and subsequently re-investing in their employees. Leslie, founder and managing partner of a company in the San Francisco Bay Area, cites this strategy as central to his company’s success. “Because our service offering is higher, the price point is as well, and honoring this assures a better match between a prospective client and our company.”

Leslie’s firm provides finance and accounting support services. Its quid pro quo approach to service value has led to dramatic and consistent growth and an impressive repeat business rate over the past five years. By reinvesting a significant portion of these gains back into the company — especially in enhancing best practices and improving technology –customers and employees benefit from the marriage of an on-demand, responsive service with a user-friendly approach to customer interactions. Its current offering includes client counseling, which leads clients to better returns in their business endeavors, and focuses on career development for staff, which, in turn, drives productivity and improves customer service.

Value offerings such as these, combined with a willingness to charge for this increased value, positions firms like Leslie’s to create custom service packages for potential clients, thereby expanding both what and how much they buy. The practice of escalating value for an escalating price not only creates more options, but also puts Leslie’s competitors on the back foot. They now struggle to compete with the new and interesting bundles her company offers. The end result is a firm that has the financial resources to hire great people, invest in their development, and cultivate a culture that retains top talent.

Micro-Niching: Niching the Niche

Working within a niche is a time-tested strategy that many business leaders believe has helped reduce commoditization. This is true to a certain extent, but there’s a catch: many know about it and many do it, which means its effect has become diluted. The ability to create a distinct option that buyers view as one-of-a-kind requires more than it used to. It requires a renewed focus, a sharpened vision, and a new approach.

Michael, the CEO of a UK-based human capital management organization, has successfully met the challenge of refining and deepening the niche-based approach of his company. Michael is a leader in what’s called Micro-Niching.

“We have reshaped our company to have clearly defined divisions of specialization that are led by industry experts,” Michael says. “They have been tasked with not just creating their own areas of expertise, but also in developing independent cultures representing the sectors they support.”

These Micro-Niching initiatives mean that the distinct brands are now situated to corner their respective markets with increasing efficiency and effectiveness. As its level of knowledge and engagement deepens, Michael’s team creates lasting client relationships and delivers targeted value unparalleled by traditional niche providers.

“In a relatively short period of time, we have increased margins and improved our productivity,” Michael reports. “The longer-term effects include a much better market presence as we have been able to position our brands more clearly in the market, becoming de facto thought leaders in the process. People are clamoring to work for us.”

In a short period of time, his company has grown substantially and he’s had to hire dozens of new people. The company’s prestige and unique position in the market makes it relatively easy to attract top-shelf candidates for all his new positions.

Creativity: The Anti-Commodity

What Quid Pro Quo and Micro-Niching have in common is creativity. To return to the thought experiment from earlier for a moment, creativity is what will make your company stand out from the dozens — scratch that — hundreds of job postings a job seeker sorts through every day.

For the employer, creativity separates a run-of-the-mill company from the pack when competing for customers and top talent. Creativity counts, now more than ever. An entrepreneurial spirit in companies both large and small fuels profitability and attracts top-talent. Add hefty doses of inspiration, and your organization and the jobs you offer become unique. People will want to work for you. Value them. Show them how you do it. In turn, they’ll value you. If you do, they’ll choose you over your competitors. Remember: no one wants to be a drone in a cubicle.


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This article is part of a series called Wake-up Call.