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Career advice to make yourself invaluable and bulletproof in a weak economy

career advice

You can look great doing the dirty work.
Madonna Circa 2010

Career Advice, make yourself bulletproof

Some of the best career advice I heard was years ago. This was early in my career and I wrote about it here.

Where the above advice was for me specifically, I just heard some of the best career advice that I think everyone, regardless of their experience level should hear.

I recently had lunch with a colleague/ex-co-worker, a CEO, and an intern.  An eclectic sounding group, but all interconnected.  I will refer to the colleague /ex-co-worker as “Legit Professional” or LP for short moving forward.

LP is a Sr. HR woman currently practicing HR for a fast-growing company of about 120 consultants that also makes the Best Place to Work Lists. She has recruiting, employee relations, T&D, and international experience. LP will always have a smile on her face and has a reputation for immediately putting people at ease and getting them engaged.

Intern: Amazing, 15-year-old woman who can handle herself in any group of 20 and 30-somethings. Already founded an Internet dog walking business with 8 contractors. Yes, I will probably be reporting to her in a few years.

The Million Dollar question

The CEO asked LP “What advice do you have for our intern?” LP turns her entire body to our intern, smiles, and without missing a beat says:

 “Do all the dirty work with a smile. Build a reputation for doing the jobs that no one else wants to do, and you will find yourself irreplaceable”.

In perfect Behavioral Interviewing form, LP then went on to give some specific examples of people who did this, what they did, and how they are successful today. All the three of us could do was nod our heads Bobble Head style in agreement with the simple logic of this sage wisdom.  Obi-Wan had spoken and the 3 Padawans were listening.

How many times have we all been asked the “What career advice do you have for me?” question? Even after thinking about it, I usually end up coming up with something very generic and forgettable. I thought this was brilliant. I thought this was just fricken spot on brilliant and I wouldn’t expect anything less from LP. But it wasn’t just “What,” she said, but “How,” she said it.  She turned her entire body to face our young learner, smiled graciously, and made everyone feel like she was our big sister. She was looking out for all of us.

Great advice for all levels

Initially, I thought this was perfect career advice for our intern because she is young in her career, heck, she doesn’t even have her driver’s license yet. This internship is her first “real job” and there isn’t very much she can be trained up for within a 2.5-month summer gig. She does have a single 2-month project but as the new gal on the block, there are some expectations that she will be doing some grunt work. This advice made immediate sense to me for the following reasons:

  • Most interns are given some general tasks and these tasks are usually the stuff that no one wants to do. But do these jobs well, do them with a smile, and yes; our intern will be invited back next summer.
  • At 15 years old, and going into her sophomore year at high school, our intern has about 7 more summers left before entering the real world after college. This advice will serve her well for the next 7 internships or summer jobs she takes as she gets through school.
  • 10 years into my career, I joined a startup. Money started to dry up and after a few months of squatting our janitorial services were cut. Yes, a co-worker and I emptied the garbage cans and cleaned the bathrooms. We made fun of it at the time. We weren’t exactly happy about it, but we found a way to make it “fun”.

The more I listened to this master/student exchange, the more I appreciated the advice.  Anyone can use this stuff at any stage in his or her career. Regardless of the experience level, there are jobs at every pay grade, (including the most senior levels) that no one wants to do.

Great advice in a tough economy

In this economy, many employees have been laid off. Companies are doing more work with fewer employees and minimal resources.  This leaves a lot of dirty work left that no one looks forward to doing. These jobs may be junior, tedious, or just take away from other P0 (Zero)  tasks.  It may be cleaning up the bathrooms or cleaning out the fridge.  It may also be something more emotionally difficult like running tough meetings, coaching someone who needs help, or publicly supporting a company decision.

Ultimately, your job is to make your manager’s job easierProactively taking care of shitty jobs will do just that.  Making your manager’s life easier will be a path to you becoming invaluable.

It isn’t great career advice just for those starting in their career, this is career advice that we can all hang our hat on.  This advice was worthy of the moniker Nasty.

As always, thanks, LP, you are a special one. 

See you at the after party,


nasty: an unreal maneuver of incredible technique, something that is ridiculously good, tricky and manipulative but with a result that can’t help but be admired, a phrase used to describe someone who is good at something. “He has a nasty forkball”.

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