Developing Your Career


Know—and Differentiate—Thyself

By Charlotte Lee on May 20, 2015

If you’re going to have even the slimmest chance of standing out in a crowded marketplace, it’s essential you have a solid understanding of who you are, what you do well, and how to brand and differentiate yourself.

On the most basic level, differentiation is your ability to be memorable. And memorable is hire-able. Think about it this way: After you’ve had your interviews and walked out of the room, what will people remember? They’ll remember that the procurement guy was a former Navy officer, that the banker with the blond hair is fluent in Madarin, that Roger was a Rhodes Scholar, Aisha is a designer (but a lawyer by training), Rob is an Eagle Scout, Karen is an MBA, CFA and CPA, and Peter is a Master Black Belt in Six Sigma. These are all great differentiators—making these candidates unique and stand out from the crowd. And that’s a good thing, given that this is a buyer’s market, where employers can frankly get exactly whom and what they want in an employee.

So what will people remember about you? The things that make you memorable—the things that make you uniquely “you” and define your personal brand. Your personal brand is made up of three distinct components, which, together, I call your inventory.

  • Your skill set. Identifying your skill set is pretty easy. Come up with a detailed list of everything you actually do—all of your skills. Do you manage people, analyze data, reduce costs, streamline processes, generate revenue, develop strategies, or market products? Great, write it down. And don’t limit yourself to this list, so think about all of your skills—even those you may not think are business related.
  • Your operating style. To help you describe the way you work, ask yourself these questions: are you collaborative or dictatorial? Do you work better alone or on a team? How do others perceive you—whether they are junior or senior to you? What would your last boss say about you? What do you think you’re known for? Are you the go-to person?  Are you a problem-solver?
  • Your personal style. While this component of your brand is deceptively simple, many have a hard time identifying it. Are you formal or informal? Conservative or a risk-taker? Extroverted or introverted?  The old HR adage goes like this, “can do, will do, fit.” This is the “fit” part. Companies want someone who’ll mesh seamlessly with their existing structure and culture.

Overall, your brand should reflect a distinctive combination of skill sets or something unique about you that the company you’re interviewing with needs or will find compelling. You don’t know what may stand out, so be prepared to share a few things that with help you connect and set you apart.


Charlotte A. Lee is a Senior Vice President with Lee Hecht Harrison, the largest outplacement firm in the world. She coaches senior executives from all industries with a focus on financial services, legal, pharma and consumer.  This article is adapted from her book, “Bring a Dead Mouse: The Secret to Finding Your Perfect Job,” published by B.A.D. Mouse Publishing, Inc. in 2014. Visit For career insights and advice, connect with Charlotte on LinkedIn.

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