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Carve Out a Niche For Yourself

I once worked with a colleague who made it a great personal skill to find out stuff about customers that we couldn't. It seemed he always knew the names of their children, where they went on vacation, their birthdays—and their spouses—their favorite music and restaurants, and consequently if you had to deal with a particular customer you went to Mike and asked, politely and humbly, if he could give you some little titbit that would get you well in with the customer. Mike had carved out a niche for himself. No one asked him to become a walking encyclopedia of customer likes and dislikes. It wasn't part of his job description. It took a lot of work and unseen effort. And it was a very valuable asset. It didn't take long for the Regional Director to hear of this extra effort Mike had put in and his rise up the corporate ladder was swift, meteoric, unprecedented. That's all it took. I say "all," it was in fact a lot of work and immensely clever.

Carving out a niche means spotting a useful area that no one else has spotted. It might be as simple as being great at spreadsheets or report writing. It might be, like Mike, knowing something no one else does. It might be being brilliant with scheduling or budgets or understanding the system. Make sure you don't make yourself indispensable or this rule backfires.

Carving out a niche for yourself often takes you out of the normal range of office activities. You get to move around more, be out of the office more often without having to explain to anyone where you are or what you are doing. This makes you stand out from the herd, gives you independence and a superior quality. I once volunteered to edit the company newsletter—bearing in mind the previous rule—and could wander about between our seven branches at will. Obviously, I always made sure my work was done on time and supremely well.

Carving out a niche for yourself frequently means you get noticed by people other than your boss—other people's bosses. These bosses get together and they talk. If they bring your name up it will be in a good way—"I see Rich has been busy doing some really original market analysis." This makes it difficult for your boss not to promote you if they want to win their peer group approval. If the other bosses think you are a good idea then your boss really has to go along with it.

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