Article originally published in the Philadelphia Business Journal on August 28, 2018
People advance in their careers by differentiating themselves from their peers, just as businesses differentiate themselves from their competitors. An individual’s track record of accomplishments, skills and the experience gained in previous jobs can be used to achieve that peer differentiation.
Recently I had lunch with a college sophomore at Drexel University who was just finishing up his first six-month co-op work assignment at a company before returning to school. The co-op program is an opportunity for students to work full-time in their field to gain valuable hands-on experience. I asked him what he had learned during his co-op job and what he contributed to the organization.
He responded with the many ideas he offered to improve the organization’s business processes. Because his suggestions fell on deaf ears, he thought his experiences at this company would not help build his resume, which is one of the most important things anyone can do regardless of where one is in their career.
I told him to the contrary, his focus on continuous improvement is exactly what might make his resume stand out from the dozens submitted for a job opening and get him an interview. A commitment to continuous improvement, among other factors, is a differentiator for any job candidate.
In November 2017 I wrote an article headlined, “Eight ways to differentiate yourself to land that next job,” in which I identified traits attractive to potential employers. Employers will want to know if you possess these traits. How you respond to the following questions will differentiate you from your peers.
1. Are you results oriented?
You will be asked about the results that you achieved in your previous positions. How did those results support the goals of your organization, or those of a customer or client? Show how you have been innovative and have exercised initiative. A potential employer will assess what you can do for their company, based on what you accomplished at your previous company.
2. Are you customer/client-focused?
All employees have internal and/or external customers/clients. If you are in a staff position, your job is to help other staff and line organizations within your company be successful in achieving their goals. If you are in a line position, your job is to help your company’s clients or customers achieve their goals to be successful in their businesses. How have you done so?
The Holy Grail of any business is to be the preeminent preferred provider to its market and the company that customers/clients will first choose to go to for products or services. How have you helped your previous employer travel the journey to be the preferred provider to its market?
3. Do you embrace continuous improvement?
In your previous jobs, did you challenge paradigms and the accepted ways of doing things within your area of responsibility if you felt there was more effective or efficient approaches to accomplishing your organization’s goals?
4. How do you de-risk your decisions?
You may have sole authority to make a decision that you deem risky. The way you de-risk that decision is by asking others for their opinions. It is not a weakness to ask others for their views – it’s a strength. The decision is still yours, but you get the benefit of others who may see the issue in a different light. Share examples of how you have de-risked your decisions.
5. What is your leadership style?
You should share your expectations and jointly develop goals with your direct reports without micro-managing how those goals are achieved. You should help create a sense of ownership in your employees for what they do, and hold them accountable for results.
6. Are you effective at selling your ideas?
People who are in sales aren’t the only ones who sell. Everyone is selling their ideas to their boss, their peers, the teams they serve on and to their direct reports. This requires good presentation skills. It also requires good listening skills, not only to address objections, but to be open to other ideas. Discuss how you have sold your ideas to your organization, and demonstrate that you listen and value the opinions of others.
7. Do you keep commitments?
People who keep commitments engender trust. Without trust, no organization can properly function.
Don’t make a commitment unless you can keep it. If you find that for whatever reason, you can’t keep a commitment, let the other person know immediately. She might have made a commitment to another based on your commitment to her.
8. Do you fit the culture?
Prospective employers will want to know if you are a good fit. Conversely, you will want to determine if the culture of a prospective employer is a good fit for you. Stay away from a company that has a reputation for unethical dealings with employees or with customers, or has a toxic culture.
The key to landing your next job is differentiating yourself, demonstrating that you are an effective leader and developing a reputation of achieving results within your field. Do this well, and employers will seek you out.
Stan Silverman is founder and CEO of Silverman Leadership. He is a speaker, advisor and nationally syndicated writer on leadership, entrepreneurship and corporate governance. Silverman earned a Bachelor of Science degree in chemical engineering and an MBA degree from Drexel University. He is also an alumnus of the Advanced Management Program at the Harvard Business School. He can be reached at Stan@SilvermanLeadership.com.