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The Lost Art of Doing More Than Expected

As a soon-to-be or already graduated job-seeker, among the things most on your mind is likely how to stand out in a sea of other highly qualified job candidates . You know that skills are paramount, as is steady performance in school and great references. Previous experience in your field—paid or unpaid—is definitely a bonus. But—you may be wondering what else you can do to get noticed in a stack of resumes and line of interviewees.

There is one thing.

Exceeding expectations.

Certain attributes are a little more difficult to enumerate in a job application, but are held in highest regard in the process of hiring. One of those traits, the drive to go above and beyond, is arguably the most coveted a potential employer could seek in an employee. And, in today’s instant gratification, self-centered world, it’s a skill that is becoming increasingly difficult to find. As Charles M. Schwab once said:

All successful employers are stalking men who will do the unusual, men who think, men who attract attention by performing more than is expected of them.
Charles Schwab

So, what can you do to sharpen this trait and convey it to potential employers? We’ve compiled a few tips to help you on your way.

Always meet expectations.

This may seem to go without saying, but you’d be surprised how few employees truly understand the value of following through on their commitments. Regardless of how menial the task, be the employee who ALWAYS gets the job done well, on time, within budget. Not going one step beyond that, you will still stand out to your superiors as the person who can be counted on to follow through. Make sure that you communicate your drive to consistently deliver in your cover letter, application, and interview.

Focus on achievements, not rewards.

True joy isn’t found in being recognized and rewarded for your achievements. Satisfaction and joy come from a job well done. From taking a pile of lumber and nails and building a solid foundation that will stand the test of time. Or assessing a long-standing process and discovering ways to improve efficiency to save time, money, and energy down the road.

If you live your life focused on the praise you earn from others, you are bound to be disappointed.

But, if you set out to do your very best at every task set before you, and you accomplish it, you’ll attain lasting fulfillment that no one can take away. You’ll find yourself naturally driven to exceed expectations, just to achieve that feeling of a job well done.

Think outside the box, step out of the crowd.

Staying safe in the crowd won’t get you far in life. Successful leaders learn early on that you must be willing to put yourself out there—think outside the box—to make real change. Don’t be afraid to ask questions. Lots of questions! Try doing things differently than they’ve been done before. Examine processes, situations, problems and past solutions, and use your own judgment to determine if there is a better way.

This attitude takes courage, and may not always make you popular with those who prefer the status quo. But those hiring managers and supervisors notice the self-starters, the workers who ask questions, think for themselves, and seek to create solutions. Take the time to demonstrate your solution-oriented approach through examples in your resume and during interviews.

Respect is earned one day at a time.

Don’t expect that your hard work will be noticed overnight. The benefits of exceeding expectations may come slowly at first. But, because your sense of satisfaction isn’t based on others’ opinion of you, you can end each work day knowing that you did your absolute best work, regardless of what others think.

Over time, you will earn the respect and trust of your coworkers and leadership, and you will find yourself entrusted with projects of more value, and responsibilities that will constantly challenge and improve you. Self-respect should be your primary motivator…the respect of your peers and leaders will follow. This will leave you with a pool of quality references willing to attest to your discipline, reliability, and value as an employee.

Be fully invested.

You can’t exceed, or even meet, expectations if you’re not clear on what’s expected. Make sure that you approach every task and project with renewed vigor, and be invested in success from the outset. Understand what is expected first, then make assessments on what you can do to improve upon that. Asking intelligent questions is the best way to accomplish this. Do your research, figure out what you need to know, then ask! Tailor your work to the situation. Look for avenues to improve your process or delivery. Then find ways to deliver more than was asked of you.

Embrace a mindset of improvement.

When each project, launch, or presentation is over, seek feedback so you can discover areas you might improve in the future. In other words, you should be in a constant state of improvement. There is no point in which you reach “perfection” and no longer need to try. You should always be seeking to do better than the last time, to produce more than in the past. This is the type of performance that stands out in a resume and interview, and ultimately leads to hire—and promotion.

Updated September 26, 2022.

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