Catriona Standingford: How to stand out from the crowd


If you are considering going for a promotion, asking for a pay rise, or simply looking for a change of direction in your career, you may be wondering how to differentiate yourself from everyone else.

I am often asked for advice on how to ‘stand out from the crowd’ in terms of financial services qualifications, and what exams do I need to sit to set myself apart from my peers? This is a valid question to ask, but it seems some of the most basic skills are being ignored and opportunities lost to those who do not have them.

From my own experiences and conversations I have had with other employers I know reliability is one of the hardest criteria to fulfil. I have often wondered why it is so difficult to find reliable people who can adhere to deadlines, be upfront if they are struggling so that help can be put in place, and generally do a great job. You may be qualified to the hilt, but if you do not have these basic skills then you are an extremely difficult person to work with.

One major measure of reliability is the ability to meet deadlines. This is a major bug-bear for many employers. Historically, a deadline is “a line drawn around a prison beyond which prisoners were liable to be shot”. In other words: deadlines must be met, no questions asked. Today’s definition might be better put by some as “a line drawn around a prison which prisoners don’t need to pay attention to because it doesn’t really matter”. By all means, discuss a deadline if it is looking hard to reach but do not just treat it like any other date on the calendar. Organise yourself. Stand out from the crowd and meet that deadline.

Is reliability a skill that can be learnt? There are numerous courses available on time management which would certainly help with reliability. Some people are naturally great time-managers, but it is a skill that can be practised and improved on. If you can organise yourself and manage your time and task list well, then you are putting yourself ahead of many on the reliability scales.

Honesty is an attribute that can be overlooked. Both nature and nurture have some say in how honest we are as individuals, but we can also choose to change. There seems to be an increasing need to be seen to be right and look good at all times. Social media does not help with that, with the ability to publicly massage your ego or squash you down in a matter of seconds. Too many people feel they have to pretend to know everything. Being seen as knowing it all is more important than actually getting out there and finding your gaps.

I always say to people who work with me: “If I’ve not been clear or you are unsure about anything, just ask”. People find it so hard to ask if they are struggling because they think it makes them look stupid or incompetent. The way I see it, the opposite is true. If you ask, it proves you have the honesty and intelligence to recognise you need help – which results in a learning opportunity for everyone concerned. But if you just keep on struggling without asking for help, the chances are something is going to go wrong, which is bad for everyone concerned.

So when it comes down to it, it is relatively easy to be at the top of the pile. Prove you are reliable. Be honest. Ask for help when needed. Meet deadlines. Organise yourself. It is not all about qualifications. Be one of the few people who truly stand apart from the rest.

Catriona Standingford is managing director at Brand Financial Training