Six Ways to Be Indispensable

How to Keep Off the Chopping Block in These Hard Times

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Alex Kniess Alex Kniess
In about four months I'll be graduating into the worst economy our country has seen in decades. I'll be fighting for jobs alongside not only my peers, but also more experienced advertisers who have been laid off. Admittedly, the future looks very bleak. The result is that all of us looking for work have kicked our efforts into overdrive. We spend hours everyday perfecting our portfolios, honing our skills and building our personal brands. But there is enough information out there on how to "make yourself stand out." What I want to know is what you do from there.

A question asked by fellow UO student Jacob Shilling on a recent trip to Wieden & Kennedy in Portland, Ore., has shed some light on what skills are needed in order to be indispensible. As inspired by recent grads representing most of W&K's major disciplines, here are six ways to move from foot-in-the-door prospect to you-can't-afford-to-fire-me change agent:

1. Be well rounded. Here I go again telling you to travel, but this one was reinforced by the recruiter in charge of your job offer, so pay attention. Expose yourself to unique situations that have forced you outside of your comfort zone. Possess a general thirst for life, knowledge and learning. Do all these things and the rest will follow.

2. Keep an open mind. This goes along with being well rounded, but it also means that you need to be aware that there is never one right way to do anything. Go into your first job stupid and allow yourself to soak up the experience, skills and knowledge from those around you. But remember that just because they have a formula for success, doesn't mean you can't innovate. After all, there is no one right way to do anything.

3. Be crazy proactive. This one is simple. You weren't hired to be told what to do, you were hired to innovate. But you can't innovate unless you actually do work, so take the jobs no one else wants and succeed where no one thought you could.

4. Master the digital domain. This should be a complete no-brainer by now, but if you aren't at the forefront of digital or emerging technologies, trends and skills, then you will very quickly become irrelevant. It's no longer an advantage to have a website or amass a large Twitter following -- it's an expectation.

5. Become an expert. Maybe you're the only "account person" who doesn't need to have a "creative" design your presentation. Or maybe you're the "creative" that can teach a class on financial analysis. Master a skill or become an expert at something that positions you as the go-to guy or gal that the agency didn't know they couldn't live without until you got there.

6. Have ideas no one else has. When it comes down to it, no matter how good your niche skills are, or how many Twitter followers you can rally, it will always come down to having great ideas. Although that may not seem very helpful, I consider it a reinforcement of the five prior mandates. If you are well-rounded, open to new things, crazy proactive and a master at emerging technologies, trends and culture, then the fresh ideas will flow. So don't start with trying to think of new ideas -- do the rest and the ideas will come.

So what do you think? How are you going to make yourself indispensable?

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