How to Become Indispensable By Pepper de Callier

At one time or another every young, ambitious professional dreams of becoming so sought after, so recognized for their ability, that they become indispensable—their contribution is so valuable that people, especially people in power with the ability to impact their future career path and their earning potential, find it difficult to imagine what things would be like without them. It’s not intelligence, connections, appearance, or talent that makes one indispensable.  It’s a combination of common sense, observation skills, and some old-fashioned hard work.  There’s no magic to it.  I think anyone who is capable of holding down a job for more than a year can become indispensable. And, I’ll let you in on a little secret.  When you become indispensable to someone of integrity and honor, it’s like turbo charging your career.

Let me share a true story with you to illustrate my point.   Many years ago I was a junior consultant in theLos Angelesoffice of one of the world’s largest and most respected retained executive search firms.  I was trying to build a practice in a very, very competitive environment.  Unfortunately, the competition was not coming from other search firms as much as from within my own firm.  Those of you who have ever worked in a large professional services firm may be able to relate to my experience.  Anyway, the way you learn how to become a consultant in most large consulting firms is to work under a senior consultant who teaches you how things should be done.  Now, in most executive search firms, the way to keep your job is to be good at what you do.  But, the way you build a career is to become indispensable.  Here’s how to do it.

I was not assigned to a specific consultant.  I was working with four or five senior consultants on a project, or as-needed-basis.  I was good at what I did, as were most of my peers, but I wasn’t indispensable.  Then, for some reason (I wish I could say it was because I was so smart and I had a plan, but I’m not and I didn’t) I began to notice certain things about senior consultant behavior.  I noticed that they never had enough time.  I noticed that most of them hated detail work like writing reports.  And, I noticed that some of even the most successful ones were not all that organized.  Basically, my job was to identify potential candidates through research and then pass the names along to the consultants for them to follow up with, e.g., call the candidate, pitch the opportunity to the candidate, assess the candidate’s qualifications and level of interest, do a face-to-face interview with the candidate, write up a detailed report of the candidate’s qualifications, interest and fit for the position and then present that report to the client.

For the senior consultant to do the follow-up properly it took a lot of time.  And in a big firm, in order to stay a senior consultant, you need to do this follow-up with a lot of candidates in order to produce enough of them to fill enough positions to generate enough revenue so you can “make your numbers”, which is search speak for “keep your job”.

One day the most senior consultant in our office asked me to work on a project for him.  It was a pretty straight-forward search, nothing particularly creative or earth-shaking.  However, I tried something new.  Instead of just giving him a list of names that I had done the research on, I did a mini-interview with these potential candidates and then I wrote up a report on each one—a report that would be identical to the one he’d have to write if he moved the candidate forward.  When I took my list of five candidate names into him along with my “report” on them, I thought he was going to fall off his chair.  By doing what I did I had saved him a lot of time and given him a head-start on writing the report, which I knew he hated to do.  Well, then we began to experiment with just how much I could do that would either save him time or have me doing the things he hated to do.  The bottom line was this: from then on he would not work with anyone else but me.  I was the only one he would come to.  We became a formidable team.  He became the most productive consultant in the office and at the same time had the highest quality rating and I became indispensable to his practice.  What happened?  Well, as time went by, he gave me more and more to do, I had to train someone to be “our” junior consultant to do what I had been doing and then, with his help, I built an international practice--all because I was determined to become indispensable. 

What opportunities are there for you to become indispensable where you’re working right now?

Good luck on your way up!

About the Author: Pepper de Callier is one of the most respected senior executive coaches and authorities on leadership in Europe. Learn more about him at

Follow Pepper on YouTube: A new inspirational video message is posted every Monday - Common Sense Wisdom: Thoughts to Live By. 

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