Okay, indulge me for a second.  If you’re a professional on the prowl for new employment, please take out a piece of paper, and a pen, and quickly write down five reasons why you think you’d make someone a great employee.  Or if a writing implement eludes your grasp at the moment, no worries.  Just ponder the question briefly and come up with a few appropriate answers in your head.

What did you come up with?  Did your written (or mental) list sound anything roughly along these lines?

1)  I show up on time and always get my work done
2)  I’m a good problem-solver
3)  I’m very loyal
4)  I’m a fast learner
5)  I have high integrity
6)  I’m a hard worker
7)  I get along well with other employees
8)  I have lots of relevant skills and qualifications
9)  I’ve got a degree and/or some appropriate certifications
10)  I’m a team player

If these are the “greatness” qualities you’ve been trying to sell to potential employers in your interviews to date, good news!  Your sales pitch might have lots of exciting room for improvement.  Why?  Because from my perspective, all of the above qualities are actually the characteristics one would expect out of a good employee — or perhaps a very good employee, at best.  But a truly great employee?  I’m not so sure.  I think we can do better.  After all, I think it’s pretty safe to say that any employer (including you or me, or we were currently hiring) would expect, at the bare minimum, that any halfway-serious professional we’d bring on board would be knowledgeable about their field, show up on time, work hard, and get along well (for the most part) with the other people around the office.

Am I wrong about this?  Would anybody contend that such qualities truly rank in the category of “above and beyond” conduct?

So let’s raise the bar a bit.  Let’s contrast the above attitudes and behaviors against the potential claims that an absolutely STELLAR employee might make, if given the chance to convince an employer right now, in this tight market, to give them a shot at an open opportunity.  From what I’ve observed, you’d find such a candidate making statements roughly along the lines of:

1)  “If hired, I’ll give the new role 110%.  I’ll be the first person in the office and the last one to leave.”

2)  “No task is beneath me; tell me what you need me to do (within legal boundaries) and I’ll do it with a smile.”

3)  “Tell we what your expectations are for the person you hire in this role — and I’ll exceed them, every time.”

4)  “Payroll or cash flow problems?  No worries.  As long as it doesn’t become a pattern, I can hold my paycheck temporarily, if needed.”

5)  “What’s that?  We’re facing REAL cash flow problems?  Okay then.  Perhaps I can tighten my belt and take a little less money than we’d agreed upon — or give up some benefits if it would help the company weather the storm.”

6)  “I know you’re not hiring me in a sales role, per se, but I’ve built a strong network out there and will do my best to help drive some business and new accounts for the firm if at all possible.”

7)  “Need me to work late into the evenings, every now and then?  Or on weekends?  Not a problem.  I’ve got a change of clothes in the car and the pizza place on speed dial.”

8)  “What’s that, the company needs to acquire some new skills and expertise in a few areas?  Just point me in the right direction and I’ll start hitting the books!”

9)  (Every day) “Boss, what can I take off your plate?  How can I help?  What can I do to make your life easier?”

10)  “Here’s your coffee, just the way you like it with cream and two sugars…” (okay, perhaps this one is a little over the top!)

Now I can hear some of you now.  You think I’m crazy, exaggerating, or being facetious.  But I’m telling you, this is the kind of can-do mentality that organizations are dying to find these days in the employees they hire.  And sure, some of these statements are more appropriate for people seeking work in “support” positions versus top leadership positions, but the basic idea still holds true.  Employers aren’t your enemy.  They are your customer.  And all else being equal, as “consumers” of talent, they want to find people eager to impress and dying to go to work for them, just as (I’m sure) you’d welcome these qualities in anybody you hire to supply a service to you of some kind — be it gardening, plumbing, financial planning, or home remodeling.  The little things always count, whether it’s the waiter who always tops off your water glass or the contractor who always remembers to tidy up and sweep up the job site after they’re finished.

At the end of the day, displaying these extra-mile qualities has always been a tactic top professionals and successful service providers use to stand out from the crowd.  So why not embrace them — and leave the mediocrity to your competitors?