Have you got the career X-Factor?

Judges on U.S. TV show the X-Factor: (L-R) Paula Abdul, Simon Cowell and Nicole Scherzinger.

Story highlights

  • The most successful companies and people have a unique "X-Factor" says business school professor
  • "People around you often see the potential you do not," he says
  • Know yourself and be yourself to unleash your X-Factor, says one recruitment consultant
What's your X-Factor? It's an unlikely question to get at your next job interview, but it may be just what the recruiter is looking for.
"The most successful companies and people of today are those who manage to tap into their X-Factor, their uniqueness; that skill or quality that makes them special," says Copenhagen Business School professor Flemming Poulfelt.
In his latest book, "Return on Strategy: How to Achieve it" Poulfelt and his co-authors examine how companies can reap maximum benefit by using their unique X-Factor as a strategy.
"We question the typical recipe game -- the notion that there is one formula for success such as put out by traditional management research," says Poulfelt.
On the contrary, he says the X-Factor universe is populated by mold breakers like Apple, Google and Ryan Air, who have what it takes to stand out in an increasingly global and competitive environment. "They think differently and they operate outside the box," he says.
The idea of an X-Factor as the winning gene is as true for people as it is for businesses, says Poulfelt, noting individuals like Mozart, Steve Jobs and Bill Gates -- who all managed to tap into a unique skill or quality to stand out from the crowd.
Peter Hills, owner of the UK-based recruitment company Untapped Potential, agrees, saying more companies are looking for that unique aspect in their employees.
"Most of the companies that are breaking ground and moving forward are doing it because they are managing to engage their employees and get their ideas," says Hills.
"If you ask 12 people in a room to do a two-minute introduction, what will happen is that whoever goes first sets the pace. If you start talking about family first, everyone else will do that. But then there is that person who goes to the front and says, 'I'm going to talk about something different.' That eccentric nature may well be an X-Factor."
Experts agree that some of the common qualities these people and companies exhibit -- such as creativity, innovation, and out of the box thinking -- are more important then ever. But having the X-Factor does not necessarily require you to step to the front of the room. The X-Factor is indefinable, uniquely your own, and according to Hills, something we all have.
So, here is some expert advice on how you can ensure your X-Factor sees the light of day.
Unleash your X-Factor in the right environment
"Make sure you go to a company you really want to work for," says Hills. "Most job seekers use the spray, or shotgun, effect and hope the job comes off, but you have to match the whole person, from values to personality, skills, and attitudes to the company. Then you will have a far higher success rate."
Danny Heaton, a marketing manager with UK based Craghoppers, and with Bear Grylls, was placed by Hills' recruiting company and says: "The right fit is absolutely key. If I had gone to a company with a very corporate structure I would do dreadful. It would chip away at my confidence and I would never be successful."
Identify your hidden superpowers
Get an outside perspective, says Poulfelt. "Do a 360 on yourself. Ask your surroundings what they see as a possible X-Factor or special contribution from you. People around you often see the potential you do not. Good leaders will see just that -- your potential," he says.
He suggests also paying special attention in crisis situations that push you to think differently about things. "How people react when they are challenged can bring something to the surface," says Poulfelt. "Perhaps there is something different in the way they do things, or the way they think about a situation."
Know Thyself
"Align your values and strengths with what you do and who you work for, and you can truly make a difference and be very successful," says Iain Thomson, managing director of UK-company Ultraframe. He has used what Hills describes as a "360-degree" approach to hiring employees, taking into account factors like an employee's personality, skills and work method -- to ensure they fit into a company's culture and overall needs.
That, says Hills, is why being authentic is important. "You will not get the right fit pretending to be something or someone you are not," he says.
Thomson agrees. "The key to that is real self awareness," he says. "You have to know yourself to be yourself. You have to be able to identify and play to your strengths. EQ (emotional intelligence) is the new IQ."
And while Poulfelt agrees that both EQ and IQ are important, the real trick, he says, is to unleash the potential in your XQ -- your X-Factor.
Go the X-tra mile
The X-Factor means going that extra mile," says Hills. "You will see this even in small ways, like someone going out of their way to get someone else a cup of tea."
"These are people who have that extra determination, focus, passion, attitude and helpfulness, that makes the difference. It is the difference between getting the gold and getting the silver," he says.