Be Essential

~ by Randy Wagner

What Does it Mean to “Be Essential?”

The simplest and most accurate career advice I have ever received is this: “Be essential.” That simple two-word phrase represents a fundamental truth about most things in our lives. It creates drive, offers a roadmap, and last but not least, provides employment opportunities. It is true on the first day of your career and will be just as true 30 years later.

How to Become an Essential Member of the Team

Most people start their career with only the faintest idea of where they want to go, not to mention where they actually end up. The most direct path to being essential is to do the work that your co-workers won’t do. That might mean taking more than your share of the work or selecting and completing the hardest tasks. It could be that a manager complains that a particular skill set is hard to find and you decide to step up and fill that gap. Once you know what is valued, it’s time to get the necessary skills to make yourself stand out. Some may require certification and come with a commensurate jump in salary but most skills can be learned online or with a mentor. The path will vary depending on what will make you essential in your organization. The good news is that, as long as the company survives, it will keep the essential ones—like you—around.

Differentiate Yourself from Others with a Unique Skillset

A path to become essential can present itself through an opportunity or just dumb luck, but you cannot become essential without putting the work in. If you want to be the person that others go to for execution, solutions, or advice, then you need to be willing to work late, get another degree or certification, or master an aspect of the business that no one else is willing to. Differentiate yourself so that your skillset is unique or at least difficult to reproduce. Stand above the crowd. That is what will provide you with the opportunities to take your career wherever you want it to go. As you move through your career, continue to find ways to be essential.

Being Essential Has Benefits

My wife, a Major in the US Army, is also fond of the “be essential” phrase. She strikes the point by asking who is the first to remove their gas masks after a chemical attack to see if it’s safe to breathe? It’s not the Generals. It’s not the highly skilled personnel. It is the least essential person. No matter what your job is, be essential at it. Whether it is to your organization, to a client, or just around the house, be the one they can’t do without.

Randy Wagner is Director of Quality Assurance for CastleBay Companies.  He has 20 years of consulting experience across private and public sectors, Guidewire InsuranceSuite, InsuranceNow, and Duck Creek, with specializations in quality assurance, project management, configuration management, and automation.