The big raise. The promotion you’ve been after. The new job that accelerates your career’s momentum. These may be in your sights, but the fact is, everyone is after those same things.
Which begs the question, how do you differentiate yourself from your peers?
Everyone’s career is different, and it’s hard to make blanket statements about the exact skills that will be necessary to make an individual stand out in their industry. But over the course of a long and varied career, I’ve noticed several broad traits that high-performing employees tend to have. These aren’t specific skills that are applicable to one aspect of a job–they’re high-level abilities that set certain people apart from the crowd.
The good thing is, none of these traits are innate. They’re all learnable if you take the time to examine how they work and what you need to do to incorporate them into your life.
These are the three characteristics you can use to stand out from the crowd, even in the most competitive industries:
1. Transforming Knowledge Into Expertise
The ability to transform knowledge is a dead giveaway for employees with potential.
When I say transform knowledge, I’m talking about an ability to take some type of received information, digest it, and synthesize it into something new. For example, if a team goes to a conference and hears a lecture they really enjoy, for some, that might be the end of it. But the type of person that stands out won’t leave it at that. She’ll type up a summary of the speaker’s points and send it to colleagues who may be interested.
By creating something new with the information you receive, you’re internalizing it and gaining greater insight.
The method doesn’t really matter, either. It could be a presentation, an essay, or even a deliberate conversation with someone else that transforms the knowledge into a new model. That habit is crucial, though, because it shows a readiness to learn, grow, and find hidden connections.
2. Building A Cognitive Surplus
Everyone likes a hard worker. Bosses know these employees put in the time to get the job done, even going above and beyond the call of duty.
However, there does come a point when people may begin to wonder why this person always appears to be working so hard, for such extended periods of time. And that can actually be detrimental because the person who performs at a high level in a relaxed manner looks much more professional than the person who has to spend all night in the office.
They also have time to build up a cognitive surplus–the and mind space to work on complex problems or practice new skills. In fact, this behavior probably led to the level of skill where they can look so relaxed.
If you’re always working overtime and devoting all your conscious thought to your daily tasks, you’re actually missing out on opportunities to grow and stand out from the crowd. But if you can take the baseline set of skills you need for your job–Excel, SAS, Powerpoint, and beyond–and make them second nature, you’ll free up time to increase your mastery in different areas.
That cognitive surplus is what allows you to learn new skills, improve your existing abilities, and set yourself apart from other talented employees.
3. Developing A Kick
Some people naturally tend to finish strong. They know when they need that extra effort to get across the finish line or bring a project to completion. They know when they need their kick to close a deal.
Those people stand out.
This is what I like to call the “Law of Increasing Effort.” The closer you get to the finish line, the more effort you need to cross it. In fact, the last 20% of an endeavor often takes as much work as the original 80%.
You may have heard this term if you’re a runner–it’s called the “kick.”
Luckily, anyone can develop a kick. All it takes is a determination to put yourself in new and unfamiliar situations. Why? Because each situation is a step to new and more difficult projects, where the finish line is even harder to reach. As you succeed, you’ll begin to build a kind of career momentum. New projects aren’t as nerve-wracking or difficult because you’ve been in that uncertain realm before.
You know that all it takes is determination and a strong kick to see you to the end.
And being someone who finishes things–the type of person who wills them to completion–is exactly the type of trait that makes you stand out.