Career Strategies Archives

Where can I find “niches” to further my career?

Published on April 7th, 2012 by Alan Sklover

Question: Alan: I recently read one of your blog posts entitled “Avoid the Obsolete Job Trap,” and it got me to thinking. As a veteran solo business lawyer based in Fairfield County, Connecticut, I was wondering if you could please elucidate for me your recommendation on new legal niches . . . and further resources I can seek out on what you mean by “water law” and “selling digital content on the internet.”

Stamford, Connecticut

Answer: Steve: Your question is a great one – in fact one that nearly everyone these days has on their mind, to one degree or another. I am no expert, but I am fascinated with “what is going on” in this respect. Here are my thoughts:

1. For a variety of reasons, on a worldwide basis, it seems to be getting increasingly difficult to make a living. I am not the only person who believes that it seems to be getting harder to locate and maintain a secure livelihood. It’s the same in every business, every profession and every income level. Looking at countries all over the world, it doesn’t seem to be too much better anywhere you look. Perhaps it is the globalization of the world economy, perhaps it is computers and other machines replacing personal service, perhaps it is the effects of the internet, perhaps it is the last gasps of a possibly outdated economic order . . . I am not sure. But it surely does seem to me that people from Cairo to Chicago, and from Greece to Greenwich, and from Pakistan to Peoria are having a harder time locating and maintaining a secure livelihood with which to feed, house and educate their families. Whether this is a temporary or long-term phenomenon, we still all have to deal with it in the present.

2. Notice that large organizations of every kind often miss emerging trends and new opportunities. In every segment of every society, social organizations tend over time to grow and grow, often just for the sake of growth, even when there is no need for that growth. By “social organizations” I mean corporations, universities, charities, media companies, health care organizations, professional firms, and even religious organizations. And when they grow, they have a tendency to become increasingly impersonal, cumbersome and slow to adapt. Their large budgets require they appeal to large audiences, not small constituencies. It is everyone’s experience: it is very rare that you get personalized, specialized, or made-to-order goods or services from most large organizations. Instead, you must choose between “Press Button One for Pharmacy, Press Button Two for Ladies Goods,” or “Item 8 on the Menu.” They must appeal to the thousands of customers, not the few, and therefore must limit themselves to offering only products and services that will sell to millions of people, not the a dozen or two.

3. But the “problems” and “weaknesses” of others can be your “opportunities” and “advantages.” It is simply amazing how one’s perspective can change one’s life. While some people see and bemoan the problems of the world, others see the problems of the world as their own challenges, their own opportunities, and their own potential advantages. Problem: kids are not learning math. Opportunity: if you work in the education field, open up a tutoring service, or suggest your employer do so. Problem: people are increasingly unhappy about the level of chemicals in the public water they drink. Opportunity: consider opening up a water-testing, or filtering, company. Problem: your employer’s sales are going downhill. Opportunity: be the one and only person who takes the time and initiative to contact former customers to ask them why. Seeing the problems of others as your opportunities is a key to success in any field, because one way or the other, we all make a living satisfying the needs, wants and desires of others, and unfulfilled needs are where growth will take place.

4. For individuals and small groups of people, “niches” are an important career, professional and business strategy. Large organizations tend to miss the narrow and newer opportunities all around us, what is commonly referred to as “niche” opportunities. Whether in employment, the professions or small businesses, there is a valuable lesson here: look for human needs and desires that are not being satisfied by large institutions, and become either the person who does so, or the first and only employee in your company who does so.

Problem: Sadly, the incidence of autism is on the rise. Opportunity: If you are the only lawyer in your state who “specializes” in the legal rights of parents of autistic children, you will be busy and secure for a very long time. Likewise, if the neighborhood where your employer’s business is located is seeing the beginning of an influx of immigrants from a certain country, be the first to carry some of the goods and services desired by that new neighborhood demographic. Niche opportunities – for employees and for entrepreneurs – arise every single day, and they are all around us.

5. To locate valuable niche opportunities, start with demographic changes. Let’s say you are a real estate lawyer and because of the housing crisis and poor economy your real estate law practice is in the doldrums. No one is buying houses. No one is leasing new offices or stores. No one is building buildings. But think about it: Isn’t it true that more and more people are unmarried but living together? Isn’t it true that more and more young people who can’t find jobs are moving back in with their parents? Aren’t many seniors moving in with their adult children because they can’t afford nursing homes? Maybe you can develop a niche expertise in “agreements between co-habitators” to address division of responsibilities and liabilities Is it possible that compatible small businesses in hard times can “share” storefronts with each other? If you develop ideas and ways to take advantage of those “problems” of others, individuals, landlords and smaller business tenants may all love your services. If small businesses are having a hard time paying the rent, perhaps you could offer a service that negotiates lower rents from landlords for a percentage of the rent saved.

Once you have located and tested any one of these potential “niches,” it can become the centerpiece of a new, and perhaps revolutionary, “real estate law” practice. Write articles, offer seminars, start a website. You could be the first attorney in this new field of law, even the field’s “pioneer.”

By the way, I often refer to “water law,” as I see the scarcity, quality and availability of water to be growing human concern and a potential looming crisis, in which “experts” in the field – including attorneys – will be in significant and long-term demand. I have also noticed that “content” on websites and blogsites is becoming something of a tradable commodity, capable of being exploited by many different online businesses, but without for the moment any “brokers” who specialize in the field. These two “problems” seems especially ripe “niches” for investigation and possible development.

6. Sorry, I know of no real experts to consult; to locate and exploit “the riches of niches,” the best “guides” are an open mind, an adventurous spirit, and a willingness to take a risk. I have heard that there are centers of entrepreneurship, and even colleges that offer programs in becoming an entrepreneur. I rather doubt that there can be courses or programs to teach people how to locate and evaluate niche areas of employment, professions or businesses. Rather, I would suggest reading several magazines and newspapers each day, and consider what it is people are concerned about, what people are dissatisfied about, and what people want more of that they can’t seem to get. Then it’s just a matter of figuring out what you have within you – intelligence, compassion, creativity and discipline chief among them – that you can use to satisfy that human need or desire.

Finding and filling a niche in your workplace, in your profession or in your business field is a potential key to success in a world increasingly dominated with mega-stores, mega-hospitals, mega-donut shops, and mega-everything else. For employees, professional people, and small businesses, niche focus is a key strategy, and I recommend it without limit.

Thanks, Steve, for writing in. I hope this is of help to you.

Al Sklover

Is a Friend facing a problem at work? Great Gift:  Model Letters for Job Loss, Severance, Resignation, Bully Boss, or Performance Improvement Plan. Just [click here] to view our list.

P.S.: If you would like to speak with me directly about this or other workplace-related subjects, I am available for 30-minute, 60-minute, or 120-minute telephone consultations. (Even 5-minute “Just One Question” calls). Just [click here.] Evenings and weekends can be accommodated.

Repairing the World –
One Empowered and Productive Employee at a Time ™   

© 2012 Alan L. Sklover, All Rights Reserved.

Avoid, If You Can, The “Obsolete Job” Trap

Published on February 24th, 2012 by Alan L Sklover

 “My father worked for the same firm for twelve years. They fired him.  They replaced him with a tiny gadget, this big. It does everything my father did, only much better. The depressing thing is my mother ran out and bought one.

 Woody Allen 

ACTUAL CASE HISTORIES*You can see it all around you: jobs and careers that seem to be headed toward obsolescence. Can you avoid being one of those who is “left behind?”:

Item: Marilyn followed in her parents’ footsteps to become a travel agent. Little did she know that Expedia, Orbitz and other online travel sites would rapidly replace more than one half of those employed in her industry.

Item: President Obama recently asked members of an audience to raise their hands if, in the past few months, they had any contact with a bank teller. No one raised a hand.  

Item:  An increasing number of Americans in need of surgery are traveling to India for their operations – at one tenth the cost, in brand new hospitals – and seeing the local sights as part of the bargain.  

Item: Large online companies, like “Legal Zoom,” are performing incorporations, wills and simple patent applications – that traditionally kept lawyers and small law firms afloat.

Item: The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics predicts that 54,000 U.S. Postal Service mail sorters and machine operators will be out of work in the next seven years.

Item: And, yet, there are acute shortages of nurses specialized in geriatric care. And, as always, you may need to wait two weeks for a plumber to fix your toilet.

What do these observations tell us, and what can we learn from them?

LESSON TO LEARN: Over time, the world has always changed, it is changing faster today than it probably ever has, and it will likely continue to change faster than it is doing today. Due to technological, sociological and even biological trends, we are all faced with a challenge like never before: we must all learn to adapt ourselves – or risk being “left behind.”

Adaptation – changing with the changes around you – can mean a lot of things. Because the ozone layer seems to be diminishing, it might be healthier to use sun screens, or maybe even limit your time in direct sunlight. Because of the increasing presence of chemicals in our daily lives, it might mean eating more food grown organically. At work, adaptation means staying employed and employable by continually giving thought to the careers you choose, the jobs you apply for, and even the skills you learn each day.  

Whether you’re 22 or 72, there are things you can do. And should do. Sure, you can choose to ignore these things, but sooner or later you’ll lament your decision to do so.

WHAT YOU CAN DO: Here are six suggestions meant to get you thinking a bit about avoiding the “obsolete job” trap:

Read the rest of this blog post »

“Charity Participation – A Powerful, Yet Unknown, Career Booster”

Published on July 21st, 2011 by Alan Sklover

“Don’t trust people whose God is green.”

– Hon. Herbert Tenzer, Former U.S. Congressman
And Trustee or Chairman of Several Charitable Organizations
[to Alan Sklover, then a law student]

ACTUAL CASE HISTORY*: Few people know it, but Bill Gates may owe 99% of his business success to charity participation. Here’s what happened:

Bill Gates grew up in a suburb of Seattle, Washington, where his father was an attorney and his mother was very active in the local chapter of The United Way charity. She was so active in that worthy cause that she was chosen to represent the Seattle area on the charity’s national Board of Directors. To attend national Board meetings, she sometimes traveled to Washington, D.C., where The United Way’s headquarters was located.

Fortunately for young Bill, also sitting on the national Board of Directors of The United Way at that time was the Chairman of IBM, then the world’s largest computer company. Mrs. Gates and the IBM Chairman became friends.

Not long afterward, young Bill Gates dropped out of college to pursue his dream of working with computers. He and a friend, Paul Allen, came up with a sort of digital code to make small computing devices operate, which they named Disc Operating System, or “DOS” for short. Problem was, no one had any use for DOS. Their dream, though, was to sell DOS to a computer company, and use the proceeds to build new computer coding.

No one was interested. No one.

To help young Bill, his mom asked her friend, the IBM Chairman, if he would be willing to speak with her son, and give him some business advice on what to do with his DOS coding software. Though the IBM chairman agreed to do so, months went on without a meeting. Finally, he invited Bill to a meeting. To Bill’s embarrassment, his mother came, too; she just wanted to make sure her son received the attention she felt he deserved. The meeting was cordial, the Chairman offered some advice, and also promised to have someone more technical than he was speak with young Bill.
In the course of several more meetings – most of which young Bill’s mother attended – IBM made a decision to license DOS for possible use in its new “personal computers.”
Though the purchase price would have been modest, licensing DOS turned out to be one of the biggest blunders in corporate history, because the new “IBM PC” was built around DOS, and therefore became dependent on it.

What started out as idle chatter at a charity Board meeting, ended up with Bill Gates being viewed as a genius, and billionaire. Billionaire: yes. Genius? Well, I’m sure his mom thinks so.

LESSON TO LEARN: To achieve career success, everyone wants to attend prestigious colleges and big-name grad schools. To achieve career success, everyone wants to immerse themselves in LinkedIn and Facebook. To achieve career success, everyone wants to attend high-level industry conferences, and rub elbows with the famous and powerful. For lots of reasons, to get ahead, it may be wiser to help the homeless, feed the sick, and assist the aged.

Seems counter-intuitive? Maybe so. But good reasons exist to believe, and experience confirms, that charity participation is a proven, yet unknown, powerful career advantage.

WHAT YOU CAN DO: Let’s give serious thought to these sixteen points. And consider acting on them, to the benefit of your career, and the benefit of society, as well.

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“Can you suggest my next career step and the next ‘hot’ industry?”

Published on February 22nd, 2011 by Alan L Sklover

Question: Hi, Alan. I have a question about my career.

I am a management graduate and have six years of experience in talent acquisition in India. I am now working as an executive recruiter in one of the group of companies in the Indian city of Chennai. I am happy as a recruiter, and love this job.

But what would you suggest next for my career? Should I stick to being a recruiter and grow toward being a Recruitment Manager – Head of Talent Acquisition, or should I change my profile to be a more generalist role? Personally, I love the generalist role rather than confined to recruitment alone.

Should my next steps be Vertical Training, Communications Coach, or perhaps Employee Engagement?

Any suggestions as to which industry would be the best prospect would also be appreciated. Which is going to be “on fire?” Thanks. 

Chennai, India

Answer: Hello, Barada. Your career seems to be going well, and your questions are really great ones. Personally, I enjoy working with clients on issues of Career Strategy, and my own practice has become more and more that of a Career Strategist. 

a. Good Counsel requires personal knowledge. When I counsel clients, I first spend hours getting to know them, including their personal lives, their workplace passions and dreams, and their career goals. It’s only then that I feel I can properly counsel them on Career Strategy. With you, I do not have that opportunity to get to know you. For this reason, I can only respond to your questions in a very general way. Please excuse how general these responses are, but “A doctor cannot diagnose a patient he or she has not examined.”   

b. Only You can choose your best Career Goal(s). A person’s career goals are ideally the result of very careful personal choices, based primarily on personal values. To my mind, these goals are almost as personal as whether to become a parent, who to become married to, who to become a partner with, and where to live. The important thing is that your choice of Career Goals is carefully considered and deliberate, not in response to happenstance or whim. I will never say that compensation is not an important part of the reasons to take or not take a job, but I do know that money, alone, is not usually the reason my clients are happy or not happy with their jobs and careers. I try to help my clients choose their next career step and ultimate goals; I can’t make those decisions for them.

To review a newsletter I’ve written about “Employment Values” [click here].

c. Follow your Passion(s), and the path to your Goal will appear. Your email says “I am happy as a recruiter” and “I love the generalist role.” Those two statements indicate to me that you are aware of what inspires you, and what the path to your goal perhaps should be. Human nature is such that we all do better those things we enjoy. Continue to consider the things that you enjoy, the roles that you enjoy, why you enjoy those things, and you’ll be doing yourself a great favor. Should you migrate your work toward Vertical Training, Communications Coaching, or Employee Engagement? Each is an exciting “sub-field,” potentially quite satisfying, and capable of making you both “rich and famous.” At least right now, I think they’re all popular among employers; which is “most popular” to you? 

d. The “Human Capital” you develop to “sell” is best unique and needed. Employment is a business relation in which the employee sells his or her “human capital” to his or her employer. As a general matter, I believe that being a “generalist” is not as rewarding for an employee as is being a “specialist.” Sure, generalized training, experience and knowledge is valuable, but as a general matter, specialized skills, abilities and advantage will give you more career success and security.

e. No one can predict the next “hot” industry, but we can look to current trends for clues. If I knew the next “hot” industries, I’d also probably know next month’s winning lottery ticket number. Of course, no one can tell you that.

But here’s eleven current trends that point to what may well be next year’s and future years’ “hot” industries: (i) increased business incorporation and adaptation of the internet; (ii) the growing demand for better medical care, especially among older people; (iii) growth of business exploitation of social networking; (iv) growing concern for adaptation to wider variance in weather conditions; (v) enhanced methods of information security; (vi) increasing need for natural resource and energy management; (vii)  increased competition for protein foodstuffs and potable water supply; (viii) concerns for more effective national and public security; (ix) greater focus on the adequacy of public infrastructure; (x) the need for more effective educational and vocational education; and (xi) increased globalization of all business, cultural and personal lives. Chances are – but only chances – that these point to tomorrow’s “hot” industries. And chances are that here you’ll find the greatest future opportunities. That said, many of these areas of concern and need did not seem so pressing just a few years ago. 

 f. Stay close to your “Employment Values.” Use these as your compass when considering your goals, the objectives and path to reach your goals, as well as how you should develop and direct your “human capital.” What you believe is important in your life – family, good deeds, honesty, health, the environment, or otherwise – is what should guide you. I am certain that, if you do so, your later years will be ones not of “winter,” but of “harvest.”  

If you are interested in learning more about Sklover Career Strategy consulting services [click here].

Best, Al Sklover

P.S.: If you would like to speak with me directly about this or other workplace-related subjects, I am available for 30-minute, 60-minute, or 120-minute telephone consultations. (Even 5-minute “Just One Question” calls). Just [click here.] Evenings and weekends can be accommodated.

© 2011 Alan L. Sklover, All Rights Reserved.

Alan L. Sklover

Alan L. Sklover

Employment Attorney
and Career Strategist
for over 35 years

Job Security and Career Success now depend on knowing how to navigate and negotiate to gain the most for your skills, time and efforts. Learn the trade secrets and 'uncommon common sense' of Attorney Alan L. Sklover, the leading authority on "Negotiating for Yourself at Work™".

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