What are your defining qualities and attributes that you believe have value to customers? Think of yourself as a product and employers as customers.
Most customers are interested in quality and price. Not all customers are just concerned with price, because some are more interested in the product being high-quality and long-lasting.
The key is that a company needs to understand that a product cannot be all things to all people. The company’s marketers need to identify a target market “of buyers sharing common needs or characteristics that a company decides to serve” (see first link). You determine what your product can do, and who is likely to use it, or you determine a market and design your product to meet that group’s needs.
As Harvard Business School researchers noted, researchers have sometimes lost their way. They are more focused on the product than the customer.
Customers want to "hire" a product to do a job, or, as legendary Harvard Business School marketing professor Theodore Levitt put it, "People don't want to buy a quarter-inch drill. They want a quarter-inch hole!" (see second link)
Basically, the customer want the product to do what he wants the product to do, at the lowest cost possible. He or she will choose the product that does that best.
The exception to this is status symbol items. People don’t want a Jaguar to get them from Point A to Point B. They don’t buy huge houses full of luxuries because they have large families. Sometimes a product, a brand, is valued in and of itself.
Interestingly, the same is true with people. Some people choose to market themselves by attending prestigious status symbol universities or working at famous companies. Other people choose to focus on specific skills. In this economy, some people even work for less-trying to be a value. Of course, the bottom line is whether or not you can do the job!
Customers value courtesy, sympathy (actually, I do mean sympathy), compassion, understanding and a rudimentary ability to analyze logically. Working backwards in the list, logical analysis is valued because if a customer is explaining a problem, the clerk or representative must be able to follow it to find the core issue that needs addressing and then to find a way to address it. Understanding is critical--especially in a bad economy such as America has been experiencing--because no one wants to be made to feel foolish for presenting a problem.
Compassion and sympathy are valued because ofttimes a problem a customer might have is due to some unhappy event. When forced to explain something unhappy to receive proper customer service, one wants to know there will be a kindly receptive ear listening. Courtesy is becoming more and more rare and therefore of greater and greater value when it is found. Ofttimes, a person in customer service may not even realize the actual meaning of courtesy much less be able to extend it.
Along with the above-mentioned attributes I would add Reliability. If I'm the product, and an employer is the customer, then they would be acquiring someone who they can count on to be there and work hard at the prescribed job tasks. Reliability contributes to more efficient business operations because an employer isn't scrambling to fill a role because someone has not shown up for the day. In addition, operations can be less efficient when someone not totally trained for a certain role must cover for the person who is unreliable.
A second attribute I can offer as "the product" to the "customer" (employer) is experience. Like a consumer product with years of research, testing, and knowledge behind it, I as an employee can offer experience in a number of areas as well as academic training, akin to the gradual development of a quality product that's stood the test of time and is embraced by consumers as being effective, reliable, and still relevant today.
Patience. It is impossible to serve customers without a huge amount of patience; you can be kind and friendly and all those other things, but the minute a bad customer hits your buttons, you lose any productivity and move into a "just get them out of here" mode. I know this very well from working in a theater, and I am not a very patient person.
Another important aspect is listening. Even though customers are often obtuse and confused, it is possible, with practice, to understand what they mean rather than what they say. Good rapport with regulars will help with this; many people have trouble with incorrect orders because they stop listening at a certain point, either to work on one part of the order, or because they assume they know what is desired. Always listen carefully, and then repeat the order back.
Any answer to this depends, of course, on the nature of the job one is applying for and on one’s individual attributes. If I were applying for a generic job (not any particular job) I would emphasize my people skills, my ability to communicate, and my ability to think “on my feet.”
Most people who have spent much time at all teaching have these skills. Teachers have to be good with people. They have to deal with many different people in all sorts of moods every day. They have to be able to communicate effectively with their students, with the students’ parents, and with administrators. They have to be able to improvise since things happen in the classroom every day for which no one could have planned. I believe that I have these qualities and attributes and could bring them to bear on any job I took.
More and more employers are hiring concerns that come in and instruct their employees how to communicate (speak and write both) and reason effectively. Thus, communication skills are a priority. Additionally, people who possess a work ethic are in demand nowadays, as well as those who have ethical values. Obviously, when the top officials of government are covert in their official actions and tell untruths in public forums, honesty is fast becoming a quality that is rare. In short, the qualities that have made for good employees for years and years are yet in demand today, proving once again that human nature has not changed despite all the advances in technology, etc.
Regardless of the job, an employer is seeking people who are willing to work hard, and increasingly, people with "soft skills" associated with critical thinking. This is important because many industries (including education) are innovating so quickly that employees will need to be retrained in new methods, new technologies, and even new areas multiple times. So for many employers specific skills are less important than the ability to think critically and be flexible. Frustratingly, many studies (one of which is linked to below) show that undergraduate and graduate programs, including MBA programs, are not sufficiently fostering these skills.