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6 Ways to Differentiate Yourself and Build a Standout Career

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You have a career-defining interview or presentation coming up that’ll require hefty preparation, knowledge, confidence and communication. And naturally, you’re wondering what you’re up against. Any competitive field calls for the need to differentiate yourself. But how?

A smile is the first step to influencing positive emotions in the world around you. Take it from orphan Annie, who belted, “You’re never fully dressed without a smile.” It’s your first step to nourishing a strong working relationship and making a powerful impression from the get-go.

No matter where you are in your career, these tips, tricks, secrets and one simple formula for success will get you on the way to making — and keeping — your mark in the business world:

1. Cultivate strong working relationships

The people you build and sustain a successful working relationship with have confidence you have their best interests at heart. They have faith you won’t harm or exploit them. To some, this may be reason enough to continue the relationship, regardless of what your competitors offer.

What qualities make for a successful working relationship? If you were reviewed by a customer, coworker or manager, the following words should come up: trust, respect, empathy, resilience, tenacity, perspective, integrity, accountability and competence.

People respond to someone who’s genuine rather than someone who persuades. (Click here to tweet this thought.) Consider the last time someone you trust and respect asked you to do something. You probably obliged, no questions asked.

2. Try a little bit of everything

A relaxing weekend is much needed from time to time, but when a big meeting is on the docket, arm yourself with stories. Sharing about how you piloted a plane across Lake Michigan for a long weekend with friends makes for an engaging conversation.

Of course, if the idea of cruising at 14,000 feet in a confined space makes your knees quiver, you can still try something small but new every week. Use these experiences and personal challenges to connect with a recruiter or potential client. Walk your listener through a problem you’ve encountered and how you overcame it to achieve results.

Every week gather with a few coworkers to practice telling these stories (don’t say “like” or “um”!). Not only will it boost confidence, but you could also use each other’s stories to find common ground.

3. Perfect your storytelling skills

Whether it’s for your next sales meeting or big interview, follow these essentials: come prepared, bring questions, initiate a strong handshake, practice your introduction and remember people’s names. Most importantly, show off your storytelling skills when the time is right.

Successful people like meeting fascinating new people. Storytelling is a great way to grab someone’s attention, build rapport and strengthen personal connections. If you do it well, telling a story captivates your listener and reveals common interests, all of which will encourage future interaction.

To be an expert storyteller, you must be gripping, persuasive and authoritative. Keep it short and to the point; have a beginning, middle and end; reveal a challenge you overcame; and use vivid detail and an animated tone. The goal is to leave your audience wanting more.

4. Predict the future

Don’t wait for your boss, client or coworker to realize what he or she needs from you. You’ll be serving a much larger business purpose if you empathize with their needs and make those predictions on your own. Going the extra mile is an appealing skill, and anticipating those needs — whether it’s for your boss, customer or colleague — will lead to success in any industry.

You’ll put yourself in a position of power by getting ahead of the curve. If you make someone’s job easier, they’ll never let you go.

When the opportunity arises, spend the majority of your time listening. Meeting with a potentially major client? Learn about his needs so you can align your next move with his biggest pain points.

Put yourself in his shoes: If you were him, what would you expect before your next meeting? What would make his job easier? Can you do something that’ll make him look good to his superiors?

5. Follow this formula for success

TED Talks speaker Shawn Achor — psychologist, CEO of Good Think, Inc. and terrific storyteller — teaches positive psychology (read: the connection between happiness and success).

He says most people believe this is the formula for success: How hard you work directly affects how successful you become, and how successful you become defines how happy you will be. Once you reach your personally defined goal post of success, you redefine what it means to be successful.

But Achor challenges you to reverse this formula.

Raising your level of positivity in the present releases the neurotransmitter dopamine, which makes you feel happy (good moods are contagious) and turns on different learning centers in your brain, allowing you to adapt to your surroundings in a different way.

“Your intelligence rises, your creativity rises, your energy levels rise,” says Achor. “In fact, every business outcome improves.”

6. Step up your writing and grammar skills

Texting, email and social media allow your writing and grammar skills to slip, not to mention Forbes recently alleged that professors no longer uphold the importance of writing in classes.

You’re familiar with the saying, “I judge you when you use poor grammar,” right? It couldn’t be truer. All it takes is one typo to distract your reader and devalue your hard work.

Heck, this guy won’t even hire you. “Good grammar makes good business sense,” he says. If you’re lax about distinguishing the difference between “their,” “they’re” and “there,” chances are you’ll be sloppy when it comes to other details.

A big presentation isn’t the place to underestimate the power of writing and grammar skills. After all, if you’re careless about representing your personal brand, why would anyone trust you to take care of theirs?

Amy Frye is the internal marketing coordinator at Coyote Logistics. Coyote has been widely recognized for its innovation, growth and strong culture and was named a four-­time Chicago Tribune Top Workplace and Brill Street’s Top Employer for Gen Y Emerging Talent in Chicago. Connect with Amy on Google+ or @amylovestotweet on Twitter.

Brazen powers real-time, online events for leading organizations around the world. Our lifestyle and career blog, Brazen Life, offers fun and edgy ideas for ambitious professionals navigating the changing world of work.