Strategically Entering the Job Market: Going Beyond Your “Table Stakes”


In his book Strategic Learning, Willie Pietersen makes the point that winning strategies must go beyond “table stakes” with a winning proposition that meets the most important needs the customer/client has.  Table stakes are the basic services or products that are necessary to be in the game. In an article in Sunday’s New York Times on Best Buy’s remarkable turnaround in a market where retail chains are being devastated by Amazon, Hubert Joly, Best Buy’s CEO, parallels Pietersen’s point. In summarizing Best Buy’s strategy, Joly states that the goal is not to be lower priced than the competition but to offer “a very compelling set of customer promises with the assortment, the advice, the convenience, the service.” Whether or not Best Buy’s strategy will prove to be sustainable is an open question in a situation of eroding profit margins. Never the less, the points made by Pietersen and Joly contain interesting lessons for university students to pay attention to as they strategize about entering the job market.

A degree, skills, and experiences relevant to the industry or market sector one is attracted to are table stakes, not the core of a winning proposition. Not in today’s world. True, without the table stakes you can be in the game. However, what is important is how you can add value to the prospective employer through meeting the most important talent needs confronting the business or organization. This means:

  • Researching the industry, and identifying the strategic needs that are a primary concern to them.
  • Clearly communicating your understanding of those challenges and, equally important,
  • Speaking in a way that conveys how you contribute to addressing the challenges within the context of the functional sector with which you are interviewing. This can be the deal closer.

What does this mean in practical terms? Well, for example, when asked “What questions do you have?,” ask about what the current priorities are in terms of delivering to their customer chain, either internal or external to the organization. What are the expectations they have to meet? Engage with how these needs are being met, by making it clear you are focused on performance and positioning yourself as a potential contributor to what their customers want and need.   


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