Do Something to Stand Out

How to Choose a Cell Phone Plan
A Non-Cyclist's Journey Into Cycling

Stand Out Solar Car Winners circle

American Solar Challenge Winner’s Circle, 2001. Our car is the red and silver one on the left, in 3rd place overall.

I have the great fortune of being able to work with many very capable young adults and students. Whether it’s through volunteer activities such as the non-profit corporation I lead, or through my day job as a Professional Engineer, I have the opportunity to influence and be influenced by the next crop of star employees and leaders. How cool is that?

Maybe I’m looking at a very biased sample selection, but almost every one of these high school and post-secondary students I meet has initiative, personality, and a solid combination of job skills and interpersonal skills. Folks, we are in good hands if this is any indication of the upcoming generation!


You knew there had to be a “but”, right?

Our world is changing. Although there are still many opportunities for these young folks, the opportunities are certainly different than some of what was available to my peers and me. Gone (or limited) are the days of solid job stability and gold-plated pensions. Gone (or limited) are the multitude of high-paying manufacturing jobs. Also gone (or limited) are the affordable housing prices.

So how is one supposed to “get ahead” these days, particularly if you’re young and more-or-less starting out, or even if you’re stuck mid-career?

The Three Levers

My friend Michael Rosehart is a self-made millionaire who retired at aged 25. He talks about the fact that you have only three levers to pull on, paraphrased as:

  1. Earn More
  2. Spend Less
  3. Invest Better

If you want to maximize your freedom in life (my definition of “getting ahead”), then you must learn to pull these three levers to your maximum advantage. Doing so will lead you to a future overflowing with choices and freedom.

The Invest Better lever has a fairly minor impact when you don’t have a lot of money. In the early days, your investments will grow far faster through increased personal savings rate than through better investing. So it’s easiest to start out by focusing on the first two levers. But spending less is a topic for another day.

Stand Out to Earn More

So now I’d like to take a few minutes and talk about that first lever: Earn More. How do you do that if you’re young, still in or just out of school, and have little experience? Or what about if you’re a junior employee somewhere? What if you have no interest in entrepreneurship or real estate investing, but just want to work a steady salary job? (That was me a decade or so ago.)

Well, if you want to have the best employment opportunities, you need to stand out and get noticed.

I’m not talking about bragging and being the loudest person in the room. I’m talking about building your brand and building key experiences that you can use in your career marketing*.

*By career marketing, I’m talking about a whole collection of things, such as resumes, interviews, LinkedIn profiles, annual performance reviews, raise requests, networking opportunities, etc.

Build Your Brand

Building your brand is about deciding what you want to be known for, and then making it happen. Are you the person who says yes to everything, or no to everything? Are you the complainer or the go-getter? Do you make it your mission to make your boss’ and clients’ lives easier or more difficult? Do you follow through on what you say, give other people credit, and work well together, or are you that guy on the school project that everybody talks about with rolled eyes? Are you targeting servant leadership, tyrannical leadership, or the best follower you can be?

Maybe you don’t really know what you want your brand to be.

If that’s the case, take a look around your school, work, and community. Who do you admire? What characteristics and traits do they exhibit that you would like to copy and learn? You don’t have to be them, but you can certainly mimic their behaviours to be a little like them.

As an example, here’s the personal brand image that I’m trying to paint:

Positive. Optimistic. Responsive. Solid performance and follow-through without hand-holding (my word is my bond). Detail-oriented. Analytical. Planner. Team player. Removes roadblocks to allow others to do a better job. Builds up others. Customer-focused. Communicator. (And maybe some nerd for good measure…)

I think I’ve been reasonably successful so far, but of course I have my failings and shortcomings, too. We all do.

Do you notice how my (attempted?) brand is about who I am and how I work? I’ve left out specific detailed skillsets. Why? Because skillsets can be learned or acquired through training. My attitude and my mindset are the core. I can take that brand and apply it to new tasks, new technologies, and new ways of doing things.

If you are already employed at a place where you’d like to stay, then your work ethic, results and communication create your brand. Social media presence and networking activities create your brand. Extracurricular performance and community engagement create your brand. Career marketing and follow-through create your brand.

Seek Relevant and Unique Experience

But what if you’re looking to start a career? Or change employer? The new employer doesn’t know your brand. And if you tell them, why should they trust you? Well, that’s where specific experience comes into play. And that leads to the ability to stand out.

If you want to stand out from the crowd in a positive way, you need to do something different than the crowd. So ask yourself: What does “your crowd” do? Are they good students who study hard, but spend their free time hanging out with friends? Are your coworkers complaining about no promotions or raises, but just watch the clock all day? Do your peers spend hours in front of a screen “consuming” other people’s content?

So do something different.

Solar Car and Chris

Stick your hand up and take on a major project at work. Volunteer to do something extraordinary in the community. Join forces with other like-minded difference-seekers and impact our world in a meaningful way, either on the job or off.

Create a portfolio of unique but relevant experience and combine it with your personal brand to set yourself up to be noticed for future opportunities. Then you just have to follow through and earn that long-term trust.

In my case, the big difference thing I did to stand out in university was join the solar race car team. I was on the team for about 3 1/2 years and co-led it for one of those years. The skills and experience I gained played a direct role in landing a dream summer job on the research & develop team of a major automotive company, which in turn influenced my entire career path. My initiative and what I chose to do with it were major draws for the hiring manager.

Be careful, though: I’m not saying that standing out and building your personal brand is the panacea. But without it, your chances of success are far more limited.

Selfish Motivation?

One final note:

This entire article has been written from what could be construed as a selfish point of view: “What can you do to stand out so that you can get a better job.”

But if you think of it from the opposite perspective, you’ll actually enjoy life even more.

Once you’ve built up a habit of living out your brand and pursuing unique experiences that benefit others (whether paid or unpaid), you will likely notice a shift from “doing it to stand out” to “doing it to make the world a better place”. And when you realize that core internal shift in attitude, that is the real panacea and what will truly land you with options and opportunities to make the difference you now so longingly crave.

Pencil with ShadowYour Turn Now!

What is your brand? What cool experience(s) have you undertaken to stand out and improve the world?

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