How To Be Remarkable At Work When Everyone Else Is Terrible

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Photo: Flickr Mauricio Balvanera

One aspect of professional life that transcends industries, companies, cultures and geography is the presence of crappy co-workers. Not people who are unlikable or annoying, but the people who just suck at their jobs.No doubt you’ve seen your share of the tell-tale signs — sloppy emails, thoughtless answers to questions, late all the time, awkward with clients, clearly coasting on the job — the list could go on forever.

You can only see so many of these guys before concluding that most people are terrible at what they do.

That might sound overly general, but consider that most people dislike their job and that one out of four people with a job plans to leave in the next year (some put this number at one out of three). If someone wants to leave their job amidst 9.1% unemployment, they probably dislike it enough to not care about their performance. It’s not exactly a stretch to think the majority of people doing a job they dislike will do it poorly.

Crappy colleagues and co-workers cause plenty of frustration, but they also create opportunities to stand out. Indeed, the presence of so many terrible people generally results in the absence of remarkable people. So how do we fill that void? How do we become remarkable? Doing just a few little things right will not only keep you out of the “terrible” bucket, but it will make you seem remarkable — in a good way.

It helps to first understand three types of Remarkable: the Good, the Bad, and the Ugly.

Probably the most obvious because the word remarkable tends to carry a positive connotation, the Good Remarkable people are reliable, competent and capable. They seem rare because, as explained above, most people are just not good at what they do.

The good remarkables are the people you can count on to meet deadlines, hit goals, deliver what’s expected, and demonstrate professionalism at every turn. In other words, they do what they say they are going to do.

Bad (or Unremarkable)
These are the people who fade into the background, never really screwing up, but never really doing anything good. They tend to go through the motions, stay out of trouble, but always do the minimum. Unremarkable people are not the worst people to have around, but they certainly aren’t the ones you want on your team.

The shockingly inept, seemingly incapable of doing their job well, probably indifferent, remarkable for how bad they are. Again, these people are everywhere and can really suck the life out of a team or project.

Obviously we all want to be Good Remarkable, and it actually doesn’t take much to get there. Just doing what you say you’re going to do, when you say you’re going to do it, is a great start, one that can put you ahead of most everyone else.

For example, when hiring web developers, I’ve really struggled to find someone that could communicate reliably via email. Think about how easy that is — returning an email, even if it’s to say, “Tim, I’m swamped right now but haven’t forgotten you. Here’s where we are in the project, can we talk later this week?”

Even if one developer is more talented than another, I will hire the reliable communicator 10 times out of 10, all because they do this one simple (but important) thing better. I know firms that have lost business because of poor communication, which is a shame because this is such low-hanging fruit.

Another way to stand out, unfortunately, is by delivering a quality product when you said you would deliver it. I say “unfortunately” because this is as rare as it is obvious! How often do you get a product — whether it’s a meal, widget, plan or service — that is hastily slapped together or carelessly executed? Just by doing what you said you would do, you can separate yourself from the vast majority of people who regularly cut corners or skimp on quality.

Now that we’ve been over the easy and obvious ways to stand out, check out one over-the-top example: HARO founder and new Vocus VP Peter Shankman sent out a tweet to Morton’s steakhouse — and this is how they reacted. If you don’t call this an over-the-top example of Good Remarkable, I just don’t know what to tell you.

So, after reading that most people are terrible at their jobs and considering different ways a person can be remarkable, which one are you?

Take a critical look at yourself and develop an honest professional assessment. If you fall into one of the Bad Remarkable categories, dig until you find out why.

Chances are it’s because you are missing a few really easy ways to stand out from most other people. Brainstorm how you can start standing out, and go from there. The positive feedback you’ll get, not to mention the improved reputation, will certainly provide the fuel to keep improving.

If “good help is hard to find,” doing the little stuff will make you Good Remarkable and, considering the quality of most other workers, make you an easy-to-find standout.

Tim Murphy is founder of, a free application tracking tool.

Brazen Life is a lifestyle and career blog for ambitious young professionals. Hosted by Brazen Careerist, we offer edgy and fun ideas for navigating the changing world of work — this isn’t your parents’ career-advice blog. Be Brazen.

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