How to stand out from the pack

This story was first published on January 21, 2013. 

The small jar of Keen's Mustard on my desk made me smile. What a simple, clever idea, I thought.

It was sent to me by an applicant for an entry-level role 20 years ago and still sticks in my mind, such was its impact. Alongside the mustard and its accompanying letter was a stack of more than 100 envelopes waiting to be opened.

I opened the envelope containing the mustard first because it stood out. It sat in the middle of my desk in my line of sight as I set upon the task of choosing a short-list for the role. I was looking for an editorial assistant. No prior experience was required, just a certain level of education. Roles like that are actually the biggest gamble because there is often very little in the way of relevant skills to separate the candidates.

My Keen's Mustard candidate was the first name added to my list of interviewees because she made sure she got herself noticed. Her letter stated she was as keen as mustard for the role.

Without an impressive employment history, starters need to think harder about distinguishing themselves. I interviewed a half dozen people for the job and the one who worked hard to impress me upfront was also the one who arrived bright and buzzy for the interview. When all interviews were done she was the one I kept going back to in my thoughts. I hired her and within a decade Megan Morton had built a reputation as one of the country's leading home stylists. After a few years as my assistant Megan had developed a network of contacts that would enable her to pursue her dream.

The next time I worked with Megan was when I took on the editorship of Sunday Life at Fairfax. I contracted Megan to transform the home pages of the magazine. It was incredible to see how far her career had come. She was in demand as a freelancer but perhaps through loyalty agreed to fit my needs in to her work schedule. She was working around the clock for virtually every home magazine in the country. And with every story Megan continued to work with the single goal of offering the reader something special that would delight them. She also made me feel as though her work for me was the most important of her career. Megan had lost none of the character and determination that resulted in her initial hiring to a junior role.

When you are trying to break into your industry of choice you need to think outside the box to be noticed as Megan did. Once you gain a foothold in your career your work can assist you in standing out. But in some cases your impressive skills and experience may not be enough to get you to the top. In my experience those who know how to impress early also understand what it takes to remain visible. For everyone else, standing out from the pack needs to become part of your career strategy.

Is there a stand-out strategy that has worked for you? Or is visibility in the workplace something you struggle with?

Marina Go

Marina Go is the former GM of Hearst-Bauer, publisher of Harper's Bazaar, ELLE and Cosmopolitan. She is chair of the Wests Tigers, a director of ASX-listed The Autosports Group, Odyssey House, McGrath Foundation and a member of the advisory boards of the Walkley Foundation, The Remarkables Group and Women's Agenda. She has an MBA from The AGSM and is a member of the AICD. Her new book is Break Through: 20 Success Strategies for Female Leaders

Twitter: @marinasgo 

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