Making Yourself Indispensable

A began writing this post in, roughly, August of 2011. I was still searching for a job, but had thought about my previous job experiences and still feel that the overall message is important. A major key to success is making yourself indispensable. Find something no one else can do and learn to do it well. Some of it is a bit rose-colored, but overall I feel the message still stands. That being said, let’s see what younger me had to say.

No one wants to get fired. Unless you’re a masochist, getting fired is one of the single-most awful experiences you’ll have in your life. Especially if it is unexpected. If you’re young and have no real pull in the company you’re working for, you could be first in line to go if budget cuts have to be made.

This post isn’t meant to scare you in any way, it’s intended to help you realize that the more you know, the more you entwine yourself in a company, the tougher you will be to fire.

The more you know, the harder it is to fire you

If you’re working in a large corporation there are always secrets to be found out. The closer you are to those at the top, the more secrets you’ll know. Exploit those secrets! Blackmail everyone!

Okay, that’s probably not a good idea, but it still stands that the more company information you hold in that head of yours (client info, niche know-how) the harder it is to toss you aside. Learn how each part of the company functions, how you can help that function run more smoothly, etc. When it comes time to trim the fat they’ll see how many parts you have your hands in and realize that removing you would create holes in several areas.

Baller dance moves also help.

More skill sets, more holes to fill.

Someone once explained client work to me like a dam with a bunch of holes. Everyone is assigned some holes to fill and slowly the water stops leaking through. The more holes you can fill the more valuable you become (sounds extremely dirty in retrospect). Some of the dam spots will be unreachable, but the larger the span of those cracks that you can get to, the more likely you are to be asked to fix them in the future.

Making yourself marketable

Remember in school how everyone told you that networking was key to getting a job? You may not agree, but in my experience it’s all about knowing people. Make a name for yourself. Whether it’s on Twitter spouting great knowledge in your field or going to Meetup groups or even blogging, get yourself out there. If you’re a shy person, ease into it, but give it a shot.

The more connections you have, the better off you will be. I can’t tell you how many times I asked someone to chat over coffee or lunch and they accepted. Ask how they got their start, what advice they have for people just starting. If they’ve agreed to meet with you, they’re not going to just be like “oh I didn’t realize you were going to ask so many questions. I’m out!” Successful people have become successful for a reason, so ask them. What’s the worst they can say.

Jack-of-all-trades, master of none.

When you’re starting out and looking for a career, it’s good to dip your toes into several pools. As an example, when I started at Ohio Norhtern, I signed up for a large amount of activities my Freshman year. I knew I wouldn’t be able to do all of them, but I went to each activity at least once and was able to figure out what I liked the best. Once you know what you want to do you can change your focus to that. The more trades you know, the more marketable you are, the more your stock rises.

Inversely, Techcrunch posted an article this called “How To Get A Job At A Startup If You Have No Skills.” Same principles applied, but for a different goal.

I’ve since come to think that this is not as true as I once thought. Yes it’s good to have many skills (goes back to being marketable), but I recommend finding a niche and becoming an “expert” in it. I use quotes because the day you think you’re an expert is the same day that you’re going to start failing. There is always someone better than you. That sounds bleak, but it’s true. Find that person that’s better than you and find out why. Then work to become as strong in those areas as they are.

Random Thoughts

Constant learner, early adopter, makes you less likely to be booted by a newer model.

Never stop learning. With all the resources out there you’ll never know everything.

Bottom line is: Work hard, learn as much as you can, be personable and fix that dam.

Similar thoughts were expressed by Mike Rowe to a fan after asking about the “right career.” It makes me laugh at my 2011 self with what my writing was like and how little I actually knew about what I was talking about. As they say “if you look back and don’t see mistakes, then you’ve not grown.” Grow on.

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John Hartley is a Director of Product Engineering at Beam Dental in Columbus, OH. With 5+ years of leadership experience he has worked in startups, agencies, and began his career as a freelance Front End Developer. Always looking to iterate, this blog is a place for him to share his knowledge as well as hone his craft, challenge assumptions, and build a strong base of leadership and management knowledge. Connect with him on LinkedIn

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