THE BLOG

Why Millennials Need to Stand Out (or What I'd Say in a Commencement Speech)

04/06/2015 04:26 pm ET | Updated Jun 06, 2015

After throwing back a few burritos and donning her sport coat, Dorie Clark got back to work. With a calendar chock-full of interviews, she set out to uncover how successful experts became the go-to leaders in their field.

There's a lot of noise in the world today and it's getting harder and harder to stand out, says Dorie in her new book Stand Out, "so I wanted to really find out how someone who wants to become known as an expert could stand out."

It wasn't too long ago that Dorie herself fought to stand out while reinventing her career. Closing in on 30 years old, Dorie had run the gamut of positions, ranging from a spokeswoman for a presidential campaign to directing a non-profit.

Dorie wanted to consult full-time and become a writer and speaker on an international level. To do that, she learned how to go from begging event organizers to allow her to speak for free to getting paid to speak all over the world -- including giving talks at Google, the World Bank and Harvard.

To stand out, says Dorie, it's best to file down what it is that you're good at. To do this, take a look at your realm of expertise and then choose the most focused part of it.

Becoming an expert in something so focused allows someone to take advantage of what mega-companies cannot. It allows someone to first become a big fish in a small pond.

If starting out a podcast, for instance, it'd be better to focus all episodes on something specific. Omar Zenhom, the founder of the $100 MBA, saw a window when he wanted to launch a new podcast. There's plenty of podcasts out there interviewing experts who talk about creating webinars once in a while, so Omar saw a crack in the mountain of business podcasts and focused in on it, creating a podcast that focused solely on webinars.

So, why is this especially important for millennials? To start, students today are going through a traditional school system that teaches old world skills in hopes to prepare students for jobs that are yet be created.

Employers are looking less for a full-time employee with a certain knowledge set and more for someone who can solve a problem no one else on the team can solve.

Ayelet Baron goes a step further and argues that in the future of work there will be far less full-time jobs. The majority of workers will be independent contractors with a focused skill set who have a list of clients they work for.

Millennials then will have to either be entrepreneurs or at least think like an entrepreneur. They need to be comfortable thinking outside of the box and outside of a multiple choice answer.

The school system isn't designed to help students think creatively. Thankfully, more and more teachers create lessons that help students think conceptually. The system may not be set up to help students find their genius, but at least there are teachers stepping in to curve the school design.

3 Tips to Stand Out

1. The Side Project

If you're working a full-time job or are still in school, start up a side project that dives further into your respective field. For example, as an English teacher I was curious to find out the modern skills I needed to prepare my students for so I started writing and podcasting. Eventually that led to getting noticed by The Huffington Post along with growing thousands of listeners at The Traveling Cup. And I just got asked to do my first speaking gig!

College students in particular should really have a side project that demonstrates experience in the field. You don't need a professor to tell you how to start something. Start it and then use the classes to help enhance your project.

Side Note: This is essentially what most of the people we idolize in our society have done: Zuckerberg, Jobs, Branson and even John Mayer. They started doing what they wanted to do while in college. Their hard work paid off and they ended up leaving academia after it became unnecessary.

2. Build a Community

This could be starting up a Facebook group or a local Meet Up.

Don't worry about numbers at first. In fact, Kevin Kelly argues that all it takes is 1000 diehard fans to make an affordable living off a side project. With 1000 diehard fans, Kevin argues, these people will easily spend $100 a year on your work. That's $100k annually.

Michael Roderick does something really cool with his community. Instead of just a networking meet up, he arranges a scavenger hunt where people hunt for information from each other. It's more fun and connects people in a way that feels more like you're at a party than a meet up. It does require quite a bit of planning on the back end, but the hard work has paid off for Michael.

3. The 30 Minute Free Consultation

When Dorie was just starting out, she consulted for a few clients for free. Her payment was in the form of a referral later on if she did really great work -- which she did every time. If that's not possible because you're working a full-time job, consider offering free 30 minute consultations like Scott Oldford and Mike Ambassador Bruny have done to rapidly grow their platforms.

Scott just moved to Toronto and owns his own marketing firm. Every Wednesday, he opens up his calendar for free 30-minute sessions.

You probably met Mike at Social Media Marketing World in San Diego in 2015. He was the master connector, arranging connections with Spider-Man-like sense.

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What about you? How do you stand out? What is your main frustration with standing out?