By David Rose

The term greatness is tossed around like a vendor hawking icy cold beers during a daytime double header in July at the ballpark. To the thirsty baseball fan – at that moment – the vendor is his or her best buddy, chum, and pal. The vendor commands attention. The vendor is elevated to CY Young status. The fan, undoubtedly staring at the beads of condensation rolling down the side of the plastic cup with ridges, and salivating, passes a few bills hand to hand – fan to fan – to the vendor. The vendor is great, and so is that cold brew. It’s fleeting though. The vendor leaves and takes his greatness with him (until round 2 of course).

Greatness – as it relates to individuals – refers a natural ability to be better than all others at a particular skill, competence, or expertise. Greatness is what attracts us to our heroes. Greatness is something to aspire towards.

The reality of greatness in a competitive job market is a bit different. Some companies are looking to fill holes. Other companies know they have a need, but can’t seem to figure out how or when to bring on someone new. Still other companies try to buy as much time as possible to save money (short term) while risking the adverse effects that may come from being understaffed. This makes being a candidate for a job opportunity challenging.

It’s hard to distinguish – to show greatness – when you’re being lumped in with other people vying for the same role.

I recently consulted with a friend – someone whom I respect – about his job search. Our discussion related to how to best differentiate during a job search. My friend has a well written resume with all the bells and whistles – high level leadership experience, degrees, certifications, volunteerism…the works. He was preparing for what he had hoped would be his final round of interviews with a company that he was really interested in. This interview was his forth with the company and would be a presentation and panel interview. He would be the center of attention, fielding questions from people working in the department he was interviewing with, and others with whom he would work if he was selected for the position.

He’s fun and energetic, and wanted to convey that message to the panel. He wanted to be taken seriously, but he did not want to appear too rigid. He was wavering on whether to lighten the mood, or to play it conservative. He had an idea to use toy figurines as presentation aids, and leave behind items. His feeling was that it would support the message, “I don’t take myself too seriously”, and it would further validate the attributes he called out on his resume (Sense of Humor and the Ability to Recognize the Value of Fun). He felt using the toys would reiterate the message he wanted to deliver.

My first job out of college was as a radio DJ. I sent out dozens of resumes printed on orange paper. The cover letter was orange. The resume, and sample writing was also presented on orange paper. The last paper in the pack – also printed on orange paper – read, “Orange you glad you looked at this package?”

I also printed the same information on sandpaper. The last page read, “A little rough around the edges, but ready to go.”

The response was good. Everyone I interviewed with mentioned how my information stood out. One hiring manager laughed and told me he thought it was silly. Another person told me I had guts to send out a package that was so kitschy. The person who hired me told me she liked that I was trying to find a new way to connect with people.

It is a tough decision to step out of the box. Does one gamble when it comes to making an impression during the interviewing and hiring process? If no one else does it, does it make it a bad idea?

One thing is for sure, if you do something different than everyone else, you will be remembered. Whether that’s enough to land the job remains to be seen, but successful people do seem to have a knack for taking calculated risks and reaping the benefits.

My friend, by the way, elected not to incorporate the toys into his presentation. He conducted more research on the company, studied online reviews, and talked with someone he knew who currently works for the company. At the end of it all, he decided he just needed to be himself, and perform during the interview experience; no aid needed.

True career greatness is derived from more than background experience. It’s more than skills and competencies to be checked off a list. Great candidates have the right experience for sure, but they have the intangibles – humility and likability – oozing like syrup from a maple tree. Great candidates redefine molds, and they cannot be easily categorized.