How to find product-market fit for your career
In the world of product strategy, product-market fit describes the moment when a startup finally finds a widespread set of customers that resonate with its product (The Lean Startup by Eric Ries).
This same concept can be applied to careers to find your path and job that delivers the most value for you and your customer. The customer can be an organization or your own business. It’s the fundamental idea behind Strategy 2 – Target a Unique Opportunity in the Career Strategy Framework.
The Target Concept
A “target” is a visual metaphor for finding your optimal career fit. It’s where you apply your time, talent, and energy to valuable customer problems with unique solutions emanating from your identity. Throughout your career, you will likely have many targets as your interests change and the dynamics of the world unfold through forces you do not control. Your relevancy over the long term is predicated on your ability to adapt and find new targets throughout your career.
You will unlikely start a career at the center of your ideal target. It’s generally a slow and steady journey experimenting with various jobs while you develop skills and hone in on where you provide the most value. You will feel the energy and positive emotions from work that resonates to your core. Through this exploration and iteration, you learn the dynamics of the market and the uniqueness that sets you apart from others. Reaching the center of the target is only possible when you have amassed the skills, experience, and credibility in your field. There are no career and life hacks to find the center instantly. Finding this magical place will require patience, focus, self-belief, and endurance. There are many ways to find your career target, such as creating a job that does not exist within an organization, job transitions, or starting a venture you control.
The fundamental tenets of the Target strategy are to:
Target a path of your individuality that is profitable and sustainable – Act as a strategist to evaluate trends and select profitable markets that offer outstanding financial rewards and are sustainable over time. Choosing to go into a market that does not provide monetary rewards or is short-lived is a non-starter.
Target problems with solutions where you create unique value – Differentiation drives above-normal returns and demand for your work. Target problems in your chosen field or job where you create exceptional value.
Target opportunities that align with your identity and love for the work – Perform work that exudes who you are and how you see yourself. Loving the work and bringing energy will fuel you to overcome challenges and master your craft.
Career Targets Are Dynamic
Change is one thing we can guarantee when managing our career target. Each of the four factors contributes to a dynamic market where you and the market evolve.
Identity – who we are, what we believe in, what we want, and our roles in life change over our careers.
Unique solutions – we develop new skills and experiences that shape our capacity to create and monetize unique value propositions. Competitors and technology aggressively enter markets with opportunity, and your uniqueness may fade.
Energy – we may experience changes in our love for the work or environments that create or destroy our energy.
Valuable customer needs – preferences, problems, and opportunities are constantly changing due to forces in the external environment. It’s through the dynamics of supply and demand that price the value of solving the need or problem.
My mental model thinks about this as an optimization problem. In data science, supervised optimization algorithms aim to estimate a target function (f) that best maps input data (x) onto output variables (y). A machine learning algorithm called gradient descent (or ascent) takes short, incremental random walks to find a global optimum. That optimum could be to minimize or maximize the output. The picture above has multiple starting points, but the algorithm will “hunt” and eventually find the global optima.
Think of your time, talent, identity, and energy as the input data. Your mind needs to function as the “optimizer” to find the work that delivers the maximum output value. View the “random walks” as your career journey to search and locate the work and conditions that enable you to reach your true potential. You may have become comfortable and think you are operating at your potential, but a new optimum may surface through this dynamic marketplace. Transitioning throughout your career will help you remain relevant to the market and stay true to your identity.
The dynamics of today’s job market provide opportunity, and its forces fuel the creativity and relevancy of our careers. Acting as a strategist to innovate your product and adapt it to changing market needs increases your ability to control your destiny. Shaping unique value propositions through our identity, talents, and energy creates meaning and impact. Staying vigilant in managing your career target is vital to remaining relevant and contributing unique value to the world.
Please take a look at my strategy, product, and career-oriented book collection for further study.