Understanding Your Personal Strategy of Boutique Employability

By Julia Ivy

November 25, 2019


This post talks about understanding the strategy behind the personal strategy, and not just any personal strategy but Personal Strategy for Boutique Employability. First of all, the term Personal Strategy is overused, while not really defined.  While it obviously includes the “strategy” in its definition, it’s frequently used by psychologies to emphasize their message that a person should define and own their own path in life.

When you are at the “what’s next?” stage in life, many options are at your disposal in determining your strategy for career design. You might choose a conventional approach for a personal strategy for fitting a job or target big career goals, or you can try a “BE” personal strategy for crafting your space in the job market.

You might have even bumped into my book “Crafting Your Edge for Today’s Job Market,” which promises that you will invest in your personal capital if you follow the E-D-G-E steps in your personal strategy formulation, social capital, and professional capital. This can therefore impact your BE – boutique employability. I wouldn’t be surprised if you wonder, “What is this boutique employability about? Do I need that BE personal strategy, or I would rather follow a conventional way of sending my resume to the jobs and try to get hired?”

I must say that these would be perfect questions to ask. So, this post is about the BE personal strategy and how it differs from the conventional. Let’s start with defining the “BE” personal strategy and then go through some details of what this strategy means compared to others.


Differentiation, Blue Ocean and Distinctive Capabilities

Defining the “BE” Personal Strategy for Boutique/Built-in Employability

Boutique employability is for those who do not want to be just another job seeker. The “BE” personal strategy is for those who want to design their own unique space in the market, making the competition irrelevant. Millennials labeled this approach to employability “BE,” “Boutique Employability” due to its uniqueness and multidimensional approach. Veterans called it “BE,” “Built-in Employability” because the steps lead them to “cash in” on acquired skills when entering the civilian job market.  What does it mean from a strategic angle of view?


Differentiation in Personal Strategy

From my website’s description, you will note that both BEs — the Boutique Employability and the Built-in Employability — refer to a niche personal strategy for employability that prioritizes “being special in a narrow area” vs. “being better in a wider area” of conventional employability.  Similarly, a niche market differs from a mass-market or a boutique differs from a department store. The subject differentiation strategy for boutique employability differs from a wide market differentiation of conventional employability. Such an angle of view on personal strategies refers to an infamous Michael Porter’s generic strategies and applies it to our own personal strategies.  It means that:

  • If you are interested in conventional employability, you would target a wider scope of organizations and jobs and try to be better in a wider competition. Because you want to fit a wide range of companies, your own “core” must be easy to understand and apply.  So, you choose a conventional title (say, an accountant). Apply to tons of accountant jobs, and get ready for harsh competition for a spot in your industry (because there are so many well-educated accountants there!). So, you are trying to become more attractive to an employer with a better diploma, a better experience, or better connections. The pro of this approach to personal strategy is your market’s size: there are many companies you can outreach. The con of this approach is that the competition is tiring and never-ending, with more and more new “accountants” graduating colleges every year.

  • If you are interested in the BE niche employability, target a smaller group of jobs and companies. Understanding their unique needs positions yourself as having a special, unique set of capabilities that would serve them best. So, if you have a background in accounting, you specialize in a specific company or provide expertise in a particular accounting service. The pro of this approach to personal strategy is that the competition is much lower, and you are hard to substitute. The con is in the number of companies that need such a unique skill set as yours.


Blue Ocean for Personal Strategy

I love the Blue Ocean Strategy concept, developed by W. Chan Kim and Renée Mauborgne, professors at INSEAD. This concept claims the motion of creating an unexplored “blue ocean” instead of competing in a crowded “red ocean.” It provides businesses with tools for unlocking new demand and making the competition irrelevant.  If Kim and Mauborgne developed this concept for business strategy, we could apply it for a personal strategy as another angle on the “BE” strategy for boutique employability.  Therefore:

  • If you follow a conventional approach for personal strategy, you follow the traditional competition-based strategies (red ocean strategies) that accept an industry’s boundaries as given based on the belief of environmental determinism. To sustain yourself in the marketplace, you are trying to assess what others offer and be better as described in the “differentiation strategy,” or you lower the price for your service. Akin to the argument above, space is limited within the defined boundaries, so you try to redistribute or hold the job instead of creating a unique value.
  • The BE personal strategy is close to the Blue Ocean one. It is based on the view that job boundaries are not given and can be reconstructed by the actions and beliefs of people who reject environmental determinism and prefer the reconstruction’s view instead. Instead of trying to be better (say, having a higher level of diplomas) or charge less for the job, they are thriving for uniqueness through combining skills and experience from different industries in the plight of value innovation. That is, the creation of innovative value to instigate new demand.


The Start: The “Inner” Elucidated CORE

This is all about distinctive competencies and how to make them match the market opportunities. How many of us found ourselves frustrated that we had a hard time fitting the “box” of a given job? We are tired of competing with younger or older, or of different gender, or speaking better — even if they are so linear and one-dimensional. How many of us knew that the complexity of a profile we have because of our multidimensional interests and experience is a precious capital. Still, we didn’t have a strategy to make it work.

It would be obvious that any personal strategy must bring together your own “inner” qualities and the market “outer” demand and find their match. The question is where to start in this process.

  • If you are interested in conventional employability, you start with the “outer” environment: You first look at what jobs are in most demand and what qualifications are most desired, and then set personal development goals. So, you take the outer market as given and try to adjust to it by getting the market’s qualifications.

  • For the BE — Boutique and/or Built-in Employability, you start focusing on your “inner” self. You first elucidate your professional core, which brings together your “built-in” previously accumulated experiences and qualifications (if you are an accomplished professional) or combines your “all over the place” qualities (if you start your career). Your Elucidated CORE AS a PRO defines your unique combination of capabilities and qualifications that treat it as a starting point. Then,you scan the “outer” environment for jobs that might fit you or set the goals to craft the space at the market that would fit your core.


Ownership: Them or Me?

Finally, BE is not for everybody. My book “Crafting Your Edge for Today’s Job Market” starts with the measures of professional and psychological readiness that you and I need to have to pursue Boutique Employability.

  • On professional readiness, we have to have several qualifications to craft our own edge. The “BE” personal strategy asks for more sophisticated “inner” material than the “follow the flow” one. That is why I usually work with master students or accomplished professionals. Millennials who recently graduated from undergraduate programs are often strong enough because many have job experience and several diplomas. The BE personal strategies would be too early or even irrelevant for people who never tried more than one activity and don’t have much to offer. However, it is all fixable.

  • Psychological readiness is trickier, with a proactive stand in edge crafting as a major indicator. In a nutshell, you ask yourself, who decides what kind of space in the market you get? If you believe that this is “them” (employers, market demand, competition, or simply people’s opinion on what you should do) who define your space, you are not yet ready for the BE employability. If you challenge the status quo of the rules of the game on how jobs are defined, welcome to the club. Your journey will be more difficult but more exciting. It would be YOU who hire your employer.  


Back to the Map of my Blog

On the map of my blog, this post belongs to the intersection of the “BE” column & the “WHAT IT MEANS” raw on the map of my blog. It explains the meaning of the Boutique Employability vs. Built-in Employability vs. General Employability as a part of the BE-EDGE method.

Now there are no doubts as to why the “BE” personal strategy fits best multidimensional accomplished professionals who want to change the game and live in full as they have a lot to contribute and know how to take ownership for their own decisions. Veterans are the best example of that. It also fits Millennials who are naturally multidimensional and inward-oriented.