You’ve spent most of your early life learning how to fit in. It’s a process called socialization –- we all want to belong, we all want to be a part of something, we all want to be accepted at some level. It’s a basic human need.
Now, all of a sudden you find yourself in a situation where you want a certain job. The problem is, so does everybody else.
You've done pretty well so far. But for the first time in your life, you have to learn how to stand out. One way to do this is to highlight your characteristics and traits that will help you land the job of your dreams.
And I’m not talking about the skills you’d normally see on a résumé. In fact, you’ve most likely assembled a résumé that spotlights everything you have learned and done. But what does it say about things such as the qualities that define you? That make you unique?
I’m a behavioral scientist, and the more I watch, the more I have learned that those abilities you mastered in school—programming or accounting, marketing or medicine—are not the only factors you need to worry about in landing that offer letter and, even more important, starting a satisfying and successful career. There are also those intangible things that define you and could work to your advantage if you only knew what employers really need.
Every company and position is unique and, as such, you should be looking to emphasize things specific to that mold. Those who are able to do that will be successful at the company and will be able to make a difference.
Here’s another way to think about this. All the hard work you put into learning the requisite skills needed to land your dream job are really just the tickets to admission. They may get you into the gym, but they won’t always get you a spot on a team.
If you want that interview to result in a job, you may want to seize the opportunity to showcase the characteristics that truly distinguish you from the crowd, and play to what it takes to do well in that job.
As part of my work, I examine Big Data, specifically as it pertains to the workforce. Essentially we work with companies to study what employees are saying, whether it’s through surveys, assessments or discussions on social media sites. We help determine what kind of information that businesses can use to better engage teams, and to get employees motivated and committed to staying longer.
This data also uncovers the main characteristics that make people successful in different types of jobs. What we’ve learned may surprise you.
We’ve all been told that certain jobs require certain characteristics in order to succeed in the workplace. These general assumptions have become accepted truths; they’re practically folklore.
For instance, you need an outgoing, friendly personality to be a good salesperson. The best teachers are the best maintain to strict control of the classroom. I could go on all day, but you get the point.
Now, what if I tell you these "accepted" characteristics may not be the best indicator of success at work?
Let’s take a look at teachers. The general assumption about teachers is that their top challenge is maintaining discipline in the classroom, so the thinking goes the best teachers are the smart disciplinarians who have a strong desire to be in control. But in fact, the best teachers don’t talk much about discipline. They’re strong suit is building relationships, motivating their students, getting kids involved in new things and getting them to learn about things they once didn’t care about. Many teachers don’t focus on discipline problems nearly as much as you think because they simply don’t need to.
Consider salespeople. The popular belief is that the most important characteristics for this group to have is an outgoing, gregarious personality. Well, the truth of the matter is that outgoing and gregarious people are that way because they need to feel liked by everyone. As a matter of fact, salespeople hear the word "no" a lot more than "yes." Many times, in sales roles, people who want to be liked have a difficult time dealing with all the rejection sellers have to endure.
In reality, the most important characteristic for salespeople is to have courage. Courage can be seen in the ability to handle rejection and keep going, by persuading people to accept their point of view, or by leading customers down a path that they feel is right. That’s where determination and courage come into play.
So you need to think twice about what characteristics you emphasize when you’re hunting for a job. One of the worst mistakes you can make is to downplay a strength by misjudging what it takes to be successful. So how do you avoid that? Talk to people, especially those in a similar line of work, and figure out what makes them effective. Research potential companies you want to work for and discover what makes people successful there.
And as you prepare to take your next career move, step outside your résumé and your skills, and into you—the person. Do you highlight your characteristics that make you rise above other applicants? It may be what helps you find a perfect match and vaults you into the job that will be most fulfilling to you.
—Bill Erickson is executive vice president of Smarter Workforce for Kenexa, an IBM Company. He has more than 25 years of experience in employee survey research, leadership consulting and development, and employee assessment.