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The Difference that Makes the Difference

Chances are good you’re not a comedian. Not a professional one, anyway. On the other hand …

Imagine yourself in a conversation with a potential client or an important customer.

Or talking with a hiring manager about that open position that seems like a perfect fit. Or picture yourself talking to the higher-up who might promote you and increase your pay in the process.

We use different language when we talk about those experiences. Sales conversation, job interview, performance review. And yet, in a way, they’re all auditions.

That’s why we might all pick up some wisdom from a guy who’s run a lot of auditions.

Consider the creator and executive producer of Saturday Night Live.

Lorne Michaels has been running the hit show on NBC since its debut in October 1975. In nearly fifty years, he’s discovered—and nurtured—dozens of phenomenal performers.

Most of us couldn’t be called comedians or actors, or maybe even performers. And yet, we can learn something from Michaels’s approach to picking the right people for the work. People like Dan Aykroyd, Gilda Radner, Eddie Murphy, Tina Fey, and Chris Rock.

“Mostly, you’re looking for whatever that spark is that says it’s original,” Michaels told NYT’s Deal Book. “It’s just an instinct that the way their mind works, something more interesting is going to happen.”

SNL’s breakout stars over the years, and for that matter, even the show’s lower-profile cast members … they’re not like every other comedian doing open-mic nights at some club in Kalamazoo.

There’s something about them. “A spark,” as Michaels said, that makes them more interesting.

That goes for us too.

Whether we’re looking for our next client, a new or better full-time position, or the internship that will launch our career, we’re better off not to swim in a sea of sameness.

Our resume might match up well with dozens of highly qualified others, but that resume alone won’t get us the gig.

No. When they choose us, it’s because something makes us stand out; we’re a little bit different from all those equally well-qualified candidates. We have a spark … and the spark shows.

When a client asked for a bio last week, I sent one that began “Catherine Johns guides executives and entrepreneurs to craft a clear, compelling message and deliver it with confidence, charisma, and maybe a quirk.”

I’ll confess to second thoughts about that last bit. You know me. It’s undeniably true, of course. My anthem, after all, is Irreverent Impact.

Still, I had a moment of thinking, “Quirk?” “Quirk?” What if these consumer package goods R&D people and their marketing partners aren’t much interested in quirks?

Well. The Lorne Michaels interview was reassuring.

Michaels is clearly on to something when it comes to hiring talent for Saturday Night Live. And yes, his wisdom applies in so many other arenas. Most people don’t want the same old same old, no matter who they’re hiring. Or what skills and talents they’re looking for.

They want a spark. Are you giving them one?

I’m going to guess you have the goods when it comes to qualifications. That’s just table stakes. To win the game, you need to go a little farther.

Stop hiding what makes you different from others.

Cast off the camouflage.

Let your light shine.

And yes, show us your spark.