To really stand out from the crowd and propel your career, you need to be known as an expert in something that sets you apart from everyone else. A typical dictionary definition of “expert” uses phrases such as “an area of specialized skill or knowledge” or being “considered an authority” on a given topic. How would you define your expertise? Would other people consider you an expert in some area at work?
Your expertise does not necessarily equal your job title. If I’m an accountant, I hopefully have a good general knowledge of accounting principles, but my expertise may be in a particular accounting discipline (audit or tax for example), in a particular software package, or in a particular industry (financial services, retail, etc.). Having a general skill set is good, but having a specialized expertise within a general skill set or domain is extremely beneficial and helps you become recognized as an expert and a highly valued resource.
If you can’t clearly define your area(s) of expertise, here are two suggestions on ways to clarify it.
- Reflect On Your Past Experience. Ask yourself the following questions: What kinds of things do I really enjoy doing? What keeps me interested in my work? What we like to do is often an indication of something we’re really good at doing, and could become great at doing. Another indication may be to ask ourselves this question: In what areas do others consistently ask for my help or advice?
- Ask Others for Their Input. Ask people who know you well (and also those who don’t know you as well) about what they see as your area(s) of expertise. Find out what they think you bring to your job, a project, or to the company. You aren’t asking for general feedback on “strengths and weaknesses,” but rather more specific content or process knowledge areas that they value or recognize. You’ll learn a lot by the answers you receive—if the responses are vague or fluffy, that tells you that your expertise is not well defined. If you get consistent, specific answers from a wide variety of different people, then this creates a pretty clear picture of how others define your expertise.
Once you’ve identified your expertise, it’s important to figure out how to really leverage it for your career success. Consider the following:
- Determine the Relevance. Determine what areas of your expertise are most relevant to your current job and your company. Also consider your longer-range career plans. Build your expertise in areas that really matter to the business. Being an expert in an outdated technology or legacy system or process will not further your career.
- Keep Learning. Even if you think you already know more on a given topic than anybody else, I will guarantee that someone knows more than you do. Be relentless in studying your field. No one knows it all. Create a plan to keep up to date and expand your learning—read, attend conferences, take a course, network with and learn from other widely recognized experts in your field.
- Publicize Your Expertise. Find a way to publicize and let others know about your expertise. This is a tricky one; you don’t want to come across as a “know it all,” but there are ways you can share your knowledge that will be a real benefit to others. For example, do you get asked the same questions over and over? You could create a guide or “tip sheet” to help answer people’s routine questions. Do you have ideas about how to improve a process or system that has been causing problems? You could create and share a presentation on your ideas or write an article for an internal newsletter or other publication.
Building your reputation as an expert in a particular technical skill, body of knowledge, technology or in a specific process or system will help you develop your brand image and differentiate you from your peers.