Whether you're applying to college or an MBA program, or simply trying to give your career a much-needed boost, the key to success comes from being indispensible. Forster-Thomas founder Evan Forster explains why.

Last week, Sammy B.—an ex-college bound, inner-city high-school student of mine—literally arrived on my doorstep, out of the blue, with almost no money and five days away from having no place to live. Sam is 20 now. He went to college in Memphis for a short while in 2008 before having to leave school due to bone marrow cancer and, in the spring of 2010, a bone marrow transplant.

So there he was on my office doorstep asking for a job. But what, in fact, did Sam actually have to offer? His skills as a Starbucks barista? His brief encounter with a Target pricing gun? Or, at the risk of being harsh, his tale of woe? The answer, to be honest, is that he had almost nothing to offer, not even a can-do attitude despite his fight against cancer.

Do you have a can-do attitude? And have you shared it in your essays? I soon realized I needed to infuse some of this attitude in Sammy. I was happy to help him out with some “neither a borrower nor a lender be” money, but after I set him up with a place to say at a youth hostel, he didn’t seem to do much of anything but play that old familiar tune, "Oh, poor me"--fighting with his friends, arguing with his aunt, all on the heels of asking me for a job.

So I made a suggestion: “Sammy, stop being a victim! Call Roberto, our office manager, and offer to help him free of charge. Be so good at lightening his daily office load—answering phones, making appointments, running errands before he is even asked, and reorganizing the entire storage and kitchen area—that Roberto has no other choice but to go to bat for you and demand that Forster-Thomas hires you in some capacity. Otherwise, you’re either just another guy looking for a job in a bad market, or the poor bastard looking for a handout. Become the guy who is indispensable. Create a role that doesn’t exist.”

The key to success is being indispensable. Be someone who people absolutely have to have around, someone who will make a difference in other people’s lives—no matter what.

Let me give you an example. When Justin Marshall first came to us, he was one of 300 people who applied for the role of a Forster-Thomas MBA Essay Coach. Through a winnowing down process involving writing samples and role-playing (seriously), he was hired. And he became great at it.

Over the past few years, he surpassed “great” and became indispensable. In addition to becoming our lead essay coach, he now leads seminars and trains new coaches. This happened because he offered himself up as someone who could do all these things, and actually did it without even telling us it was happening. Within a single year, he was not only working with MBA candidates but expanded his practice to MFA film candidates, thanks to his expertise in film directing, writing and producing.

He also began working with us to help us produce our video blogs. He saw the ones we were creating (and boy, were they lacking), and offered to help with lighting and sound. They may not be awesome, but they’re a hell of a lot better thanks to him. And then, as we began to hire other consultants, he began mentoring them about how to respond to clients who are concerned about, for example, the Harvard accomplishments question. He did this without asking.

What was in it for him? It’s simple: his efforts made Forster-Thomas better. He didn’t get (or ask for) extra pay or other perqs. But an interesting thing happened: making Forster-Thomas better brought us more clients. More clients meant we needed more manpower—and who better to fill that need than our newly-found, demonstrably committed, unofficially titled top coach, Justin Marshall. Then came the extra money, prestige, power, and fame (have you seen those Mary Poppins commercials all over New York City?)

Sammys of the world, are you getting the point? The Justins of the world make themselves indispensable. So, if you are applying to college or graduate school, think about what will make you or has made you indispensable—that key leadership ingredient. And include it in your essays!

I’d like to say that Sam made himself indispensible. That remains to be seen. Victims have a way of remaining victims. But I will say this. Sam is turning a corner. As of the end of writing this blog, Roberto has informed me that Sam called. Apparently, he’s got some time on his hands, and will be coming in to help Roberto and Forster-Thomas out, and hopefully, to become indispensable. If he does, I promise you, we’ll find money to hire him, even in a down economy. That’s what being indispensable is all about.

--Auntie Evan