We all believe we’re really good at what we do. And we’d better be able to convey our special value to clients and hirers. Otherwise how will they find out?

When we discover a new company don’t you, as I do, head for the About page to see what sets them apart? And typically we are told confidently how they practice their craft the way it should be done – the implication being that no-one else has ever figured that out. “We love what we do,” they say. “We care passionately about quality. We listen to our clients. Our clients are happy.” About pages, and so many resumes, are full of worthy and unquestionable virtues.

But where this falls down is when everything claimed is indistinguishable from what everyone else in the field is claiming. Which is often.

Try this: take your name off the top and put a competitor’s name there. Could they be saying the same things?

Put yourself in the mind of a hirer who sees that everyone claims the same passion for excellence, blah blah. They are stymied. How to make a choice? The “passion for excellence” language has been neutralized. It’s reduced to being the price of entry. And then there are so many resumes where the language has simply been cut and pasted from the job specs. Guess how many other applicants thought of doing that!

Aha you say – they will look at our chronology (or portfolio or whatever) and immediately they’ll see that our department was bigger, our casting was better, how elegant our work is and so on. I am sorry to tell you this, but once you pass a certain level of professionalism, most hirers don’t see the nuances you see. They look at all this and your employer or client list and they go, “That’s nice – they can do what I need. But so can these 10 others, so how should I decide? How hard do I have to work to spot the real differences?”

So how can you help them make the decision to hit Reply or Contact? What do you know about what they are looking for? About who else they are looking at? About what is going on in the company? Try and intuit what your competitors are saying about themselves. How can you distinguish yourself if you don’t know what you are distinguishing yourself from?

In so many cases very talented people are wondering why their career is not doing better. Well the days of just “hang out a shingle and people will beat a path to you door” are over. Getting the attention of the right people depends on more than just waving your hand in the air, it involves understanding yourself and the ecosystem you work in so you can see how to set yourself apart and convey your specialness.

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