#AskAsh – 004 – How to become an Indispensable Engineer
What are your best tips for safeguarding your job, but also rise to the top to score your dream position?
As a recent graduate, I have this fear that if the economy turns or my company starts doing poorly that I’ll be the first one cut. What can you do to be indispensable at work?
Erica, New York
We’ve all been there. We spend months working to land a job, and then suddenly we have to shift our focus to actually keeping the job! Although anything could happen (that’s life), there are some straightforward things you can be doing to become an indispensable engineer is fairly simple.
My best advice for being indispensable at work is to start by building a broad skill base but a niche focus. Sound conflicting? Let me explain….1
With my chemical engineering skills, I focused on just one aspect of chemical engineering at my company – cycle chemistry. While there were several applications I could have pursued, by focusing on just this one, I was able to rapidly become an expert in the field.
Within 3 years of graduating, I was promoted to cycle chemistry subject matter expert at my F500 company. Two years later, I was promoted to manager of the team of subject matter experts.
This expertise allowed me to be the go-to person in the company for all things cycle chemistry. It also provided earned me recognition from industry organizations, with requests for presentations at international conferences on behalf of my company.
Having a broad skill set allows you to provide value to the company in a number of ways – not just in your niche. Skills such as adaptability, communication, and leadership are applicable, and often critical, to various roles.
While chemical engineering is a technical field, having a broad skill base, including “soft” skills has been essential to my success. Senior leadership often appointed me to cross functional teams based on my professional and leadership skills.
Apply Your Skills and Knowledge
Here is where so many engineers go wrong – soaking up information like a sponge only, but never applying it to make a difference. If you are not making a difference with your knowledge and skills, then what is the point in having them?
Sometimes applying your skills will make a difference by streamlining a process to make it easier for others. Other times, the application of your knowledge may revolutionize the way your industry approaches a problem in your niche.
Whether your impact is disruptive or iterative, if you are applying your skills and knowledge in a way that adds value to your organization, you will be seen as indispensable.
Keep It Up
Once you’ve demonstrated your ability to add value through applying your niche knowledge with your broad skills, you have to keep doing that. Sitting back and riding the wave of your previous accolades will only get you so far. You have to continuously add value to your organization.
Also, you have to continuously grow your knowledge and skills. What is impressive for a second year employee is expected of a ten year veteran. Stay up-to-date with industry trends, especially in your go-to niche. Develop and hone your skills to make an even bigger impact.
If, day after day, you demonstrate the value you add to your organization, you will build a reputation for it. And that, my engineering friend, will not only make you indispensable but also make you a prime candidate for future opportunities.
Obsessed with engineering impact,
P.S. – Want to network with other indispensable engineers? Join our private Facebook Group – Engineers with Impact.
P.P.S. – As always, this advice is for this person’s specific circumstances based on the information provided to me. While it is solid general guidance for everyone, please use caution and sound judgment in applying it to your situation.