Job seekers have to make a decision, whether they recognize it or not.

Do you play it safe or stand out and be one-of-a-kind?

Advice tends to fall squarely into one category or the other – and both sides think that they are right. On one hand, you hear that you have to follow directions perfectly to even get considered… on the other hand, you hear about people who have broken all the rules and managed to score their dream job anyways.

When you stand out, you often alienate companies, who give you a strong NO! But, you also get the attention of other companies — who are more likely to give you a strong yes!

When you play it safe, you are less likely to get a strong no — but are also less likely to get any attention in the first place…

So, how do you know which one is the best choice for you?

Five Questions To Determine if You Should Play It Safe or Stand Out

Question One: Are your skills in high demand?

This is the most important question of them all. If you have a rare skill set, or one that is in very high demand (Big Data Statistician is a great example), then you will generally have more success by playing it safe. This is because you are already standing out with your skill set.

If you have relatively general skills and experience – or are a “jill of all trades” it is extremely important for you to find ways to stand out. This is because your skills and experience are not enough to differentiate you from the masses on their own. You’ll also probably will be competing against a larger pool of applicants (because of the less refined skills). And, when there are more applicants, it is more effective to take risks and stand out.

Question Two: Does your target company have a strong culture?

Some companies have strong cultures. Banks tend to be conservative and place high value on education and connections. Silicon valley start-ups tend to be laid back and place a high value on initiative.

Does the company you are applying for have a strong culture? If you were to stand out, would it be in line with that culture or against it?

If standing out is in line with that culture – do it (like, getting a personal referral at a bank or dedicating your unemployment time to open source software for Silicon Valley).

If standing out goes against the culture – don’t do it, play it safe. (And, ask yourself: do you really want to work there?)

If you can’t discern a strong culture, then base standing out on the other four questions here.

Question Three: Do you have specific needs from a company?

I worked with a client who, above everything else, needed to be in a growing and evolving company to be happy and successful. Even though, with her experience, she could have gotten offers in many different types of companies, she chose to stand out and brand herself strongly around growth and innovation, as she knew that she needed that to be happy.

If there are things that you know that you need from your work, it’s a great idea to use those driving forces to project your brand. (note: I’m not talking about needs are not work oriented, like flexibility, time off or work-life balance.)

Question Four: Is the position you are applying for advertised?

When you apply for an advertised position, the number of applicants SKYROCKETS. This is especially true if you found it on a large job board.

When there are more applicants, getting the attention of a hiring manager is harder — so, even though it may result in some no’s, it’s a better strategy to stand out and get the attention than it is to play it safe and never get considered.

The more people you think are applying, the more likely you should decide to take the chance and stand out!

Question Five: Is the position perfect?

The more you want the position, the more you should take the chance and stand out.

It’s true. Although it may sound counter-intuitive, you are more likely to get positions when you stand out and, if you think it will be perfect, it’s far more likely that your standing-out-brand will attract the-right-kind-of-attention. When you get attention, you are far more likely to get hired.

Congratulations! You now know whether or not it makes more sense for you to play-it-safe or stand-out when applying for a job.