It’s baseball season, and for the record, I am not crazy about sports analogies, but I was struck by the wisdom of this recent blog post from Auren Huffman, CEO of Rapleaf, about Position Players Versus All-Around Athletes. As Huffman writes:
“Hiring managers face a dilemma similar to coaches: Should you hire someone who's really good at one particular thing - or someone who is more of an all-around player?”
Conventional wisdom from our career coaches indicates that you need to address a prospective employer’s immediate point of pain. Their point is that to get the right attention from the hiring manager, you either have to be able to save the company money, make the company money, or address some other immediate need. That would make you a position player in Huffman’s view.
But what about the company that has multiple points of pain and has limited hiring capacity. Should you try to sell yourself on your greatest strengths, or show that you have multiple talents that can be of value as the company grows?
Huffman, who among other things is an angel investor, notes that whether you are looking to hire a position player or an all-around athlete depends on where you are in the evolution of your team. If you are in “scaling mode” and have a three-year plan, then you know where the holes are in your lineup and looking for top performers with the specific expertise you need makes sense. He uses the example of an ad agency looking for a solid player in Web marketing. Like recruiting a catcher or a place kicker, it’s a highly specialized role and an expert won’t come cheap, but it will help with the firm’s growth strategy.
However, what if your company is a startup or in transition? Then you are in “change mode” which means you need pivotal players who can roll with the changes. If you are a tech startup, for example, you may find yourself targeting different markets. What starts out as an ideal software application for financial services may find a strong role in pharmaceuticals, so hiring a sales executive with a financial services Rolodex may not help your business grow when you need to. This is when hiring all-around athletes makes more sense. As Huffman puts it:
“While hiring position players will significantly increase the chance of success for your current model, it gives you little room to pivot. Any significant change in your business model might force you to swap out your team.”
So what does this mean for you as an executive job seeker? It means you have more homework to do. You need to assess where your target company is in their own development. Are they a more mature company with a game plan that requires your specialized expertise? Or are they in transition, which means you can bring multiple skills to the table to help the company grow?
The other question you need to ask yourself is do you work better as a position player or a pivotal player? Can you command the job and salary you want with niche expertise that really hits the sweet spot of a company with a well-thought-out growth strategy? Or do you prefer the challenge of being more of a generalist, and adapting your skills to meet the changing needs of the company? Either way, you need to make sure that your personal brand and your executive marketing documents highlight your expertise, and you approach the right kind of company that is either building their squad from scratch or looking for the expertise to extend their long game.