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“You are unrepeatable.   There is a magic about you that is all your own.”

If you are in a search for your next better job, stop.  Go back and read the lead sentence again. It could make a world of difference in your current and future job searches.  All you have to do is to believe that this axiom from D.M. Dell, a non-violent social activist, is true, and then take action.

But while Dell’s powerful words may be supremely true, the “then take action” part is where most people trip themselves up.

Believe it or not, even in a hyper-competitive job market, where there are significantly more applicants than there are job openings, job applicants look around to see what everyone else is doing, what they are saying and even wearing, and then they try to copy them.  OK, the wardrobe reference is in most cases one bridge too far but there is ample evidence that applicants end up being just like the people they want to beat out for that great job. They are reluctant to differentiate themselves from their competitors by drawing on their unique, unrepeatable magic

“It just seems so unseemly to promote yourself in that way,” one very talented executive told me.  He is a remarkable young man with a solid record of performance but he is like so many others who, in interviews, work overtime to put on their best corporate face and answer the questions in their best corporate voice, leaving their unique storylines on the cutting room floor. Why?  They do not want to get out in front with a style and story that might draw attention, that might put them in the spotlight, even though in a very competitive job search that is exactly where they should want to be.

The reason for their reluctance?  For some candidates it is their strongly instilled family values against bragging or self-promotion.  For some diversity candidates, it may be because they do not want to highlight their cultural or possible lifestyle differences with the interviewer. Which is true, diversity experts tell me, but a shame nonetheless since those aspects of the story are a part of who they are as a leader. 

So, while I am a big believer in the power of using stories for competitive differentiation, I admit that for some applicants, there can be a concern about the downside.  This is why executives who are struggling with their job search should seek professional advice.  It doesn’t have to be from a career coach like me. It could be a mentor who understands these types of issues, or a friend in the career guidance business who will share some insight.  The point is, do not sit back and do nothing.  The market is only going to become more competitive as business models change and as layoffs occur.

The rules of looking for a job are changing.  For a great many executives it is hard to adapt to the necessary personal brand building and self-promotion when you have spent your whole life trying hard to be part of a team.  But, given the structural outlook for certain industries like retail, healthcare and publishing, for example, it is a change that must be made.