The Career Don't You Should Always Do

gingerbread cookies with copper ...

Don't do this. Never do that. Don't wear this. Never wear that. Today's workers live in a world of formulas, rules, and cookie-cutter advice. That goes double if you're trying to land a job. Quadruple if you're over 40.

It's not that this follow-the-dots career guidance is bad. It's just that by obeying the "top five surefire rules" the only thing you can be sure of is that your resume, Linkedin profile, and online presence will resemble thousands of others. By staying neatly within the lines, at best you'll appear generic; at worst, you'll join the growing army of zombie job seekers, slotting in the same techniques again and again in this week's land-the-job-you-love template.

The reality? It takes guts to be yourself, to carve out your own unique positioning in this increasingly Shark Tank-y job market. It feels safer to toe the line, follow the rules, stay in the box, don't stick your neck out (see how easily those phrases pop up?). When we're afraid, as we are after endless applications, interviews, and networking events, we're more comfortable following the herd.

And yet ...

This is exactly the time when the smart job seeker zigs when everybody is zagging. This is when all those career don'ts should become absolute do's.

For Inspiration Only

Far be it from me to add to the frenzy of formulas out there. The list below is for inspiration only; ideas to spur you on to create the best version of your professional presence.

Zig when everybody's zagging: If the crowds of job seekers are staying diehard digital, take a cue from Jimmy Fallon. Write a thank you note. A real one with real stationery. Check out for some creative ways to make personalized postcards and letterhead.

Same goes for your resume or profile. While it's smart to use SEO-savvy keywords -- a job search is not the time to try to break in a new one -- the rest of your CV should zig. For example, on Linkedin, my profile headline includes the fact that I am a Packers fan. Not only is this unique and memorable, but I instantly connect with fellow fans. We have immediate common ground and a quick conversation-starter. #gopackgo

Yes, this takes moxie and a certain confidence in who you are. It probably won't work in some fields. But being human seldom backfires--unless my "people who looked at your profile" are all Da Bears fans.

What is your only?: What can you own? What is the one thing that only you can do? While there may be zillions of project managers, salespeople, and marcom pros, undoubtedly you do some part of your job differently. Better. Find it. Try this simple exercise:

I am the ONLY ......(type of biz) ....that does ....(what you do uniquely) ...for ....(audience/customers) that ....(emotional/functional benefit).

Signature style: At my first job in television, I worked with a station icon. Isabel Hoyt was a pioneer in countless ways--but what I remember most is that Isabel always wore a hat. She was famous for her endless array of chapeaux. She was also famous for her genuine graciousness and smarts. But in the business community, it was always "get me that woman in the hat!"

Is there something you can wear that will set you apart? Not in an off-putting, inauthentic or obviously staged way, but something memorable that enhances who you are? LinkedIn editor Katie Carroll is known for being "the resident ginger" because of her long red hair. The style, along with her ever-present Warby Parkers, fits her personality and reinforces her smart, sparky brand.

Is there a career don't you discovered you should always do? Tell us in the comments below.
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