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Expertise: Is It Your Ticket To Bigger and Better Things?

Expertise: Is It Your Ticket To Bigger and Better Things?

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    Being an expert isn’t always as beneficial to your career as you might hope: some companies target their expert employees during layoffs in favor of employees still learning the ropes. It isn’t because those employees are necessarily assets — it’s just that they’re cheaper. Either way, though, it makes you question how worthwhile your expertise really is.

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    If you take a look at companies that get rid of their experts, though, they are never better off. Sure, a company can cut its payroll quickly by getting rid of some of its highest paid employees — but there is usually a reason that an employee has earned such a salary. It can take months to get a newer employee up to the performance level of a missing expert, assuming it’s possible at all. At least a few balls will get dropped and it’s likely that a few clients will be disappointed. In the mean time, you can use your expertise as a way to move on to bigger and better things.

    Expertise Opens Doors

    Even during a hiring freeze, many companies will find a way to bring the right expert on to their team. And if business is going well — depending on your field of expertise, you may be able to name your own terms. No matter what industry you work in, you’ll get a better deal over all if you’re an expert. You have to make your abilities work for you, of course: most resumes don’t convey true brilliance any more than they prove that a person really is an expert in a field.

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    Instead, prospective employers — or clients, if you’re ready to take your expertise solo — need to be able to easily find out about your impressive abilities. You can toot your own horn a bit, but it’s better if they find out about just how great you are from parties with less interest in the end result. In an ideal world, running an online search for your expertise would return your name. An employer mentioning that they need an expert in your field would hear your name from all of their friends and colleagues. Everyone would know your name right off the bat.

    Unfortunately, things aren’t quite that simple. In most industries there are thousands of experts and only one or two are known by absolutely everyone involved. It’s only more complicated if a prospective employer isn’t actually involved in your particular field — if, for instance, a company needs IT personnel but actually sells clothing. Name recognition just isn’t going to get the job done.

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    What you need is recognition for your expertise. When someone says your name, they should immediately add “the sales expert” or “the contract expert” or whatever your area of specialty might be. If you can’t be in the top ten search results for your field, your field should be in the top ten results for your name. It may not get you an immediate consulting job or immediately convince a hiring manager, but after a web search or a reference backs up your expertise, you’ll be on your way to that bigger and better thing.

    Getting Recognition For Your Expertise

    Relatively speaking, becoming an expert is easy: you read, you go to classes, you try out new things and so forth. Getting known as the go-to guy or gal, though, is a bit harder. In a sense, you have to advertise your expertise. And while getting known can be a little more complicated than becoming an expert — there are so many ways to go about it — it’s worth doing right.

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    Lately, blogging has been described as a great way to get credit for your expertise — after all, if you write about a topic regularly, you’ll get recognition for knowing your stuff, right? It’s an arguable point. If you put in a lot of time and effort on a blog, you can really show off your expertise. But you have to spend an incredible amount of time on it: the ROI on that kind of work is just not good enough to rely on blogging to establish your expertise. Writing an article for a trade publication will do a better job — the fact that an editor has to agree that you know your stuff can make it a much better indicator of your expertise. The same goes for getting quoted as an expert source in a magazine article, on the nightly news or anywhere you can reach. An added bonus is that you won’t have to work nearly as hard to make sure that a magazine article shows up in the search results for your name as you would to promote your own blog.

    Here are just a handful of ideas that can get you a little recognition as an expert:

    • Respond to requests for information from journalists on HARO
    • Volunteer your expert services for a non-profit
    • Give a talk at a conference — and if you can apply your field to another industry’s conference, go for it!
    • Offer a guest post to a blog
    • Submit an article to a trade magazine
    • Present to local organizations, like the Chamber of Commerce

    All of these options work equally well whether you act as your employer’s expert, you run your own business or you’re looking for a new opportunity to use your expertise. But there are a million more — if you have one to add, let me know in the comments!

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    Last Updated on August 20, 2019

    Becoming Self-Taught (The How-To Guide)

    Becoming Self-Taught (The How-To Guide)

    Most of the skills I use to make a living are skills I’ve learned on my own: Web design, desktop publishing, marketing, personal productivity skills, even teaching! And most of what I know about science, politics, computers, art, guitar-playing, world history, writing, and a dozen other topics, I’ve picked up outside of any formal education.

    This is not to toot my own horn at all; if you stop to think about it, much of what you know how to do you’ve picked up on your own. But we rarely think about the process of becoming self-taught. This is too bad, because often, we shy away from things we don’t know how to do without stopping to think about how we might learn it — in many cases, fairly easily.

    The way you approach the world around you dictates to a great degree whether you will find learning something new easy or hard. Learning comes easily to people who have developed:

    Curiosity

    Being curious means you look forward to learning new things and are troubled by gaps in your understanding of the world. New words and ideas are received as challenges and the work of understanding them is embraced.

    People who lack curiosity see learning new things as a chore — or worse, as beyond their capacities.

    Patience

    Depending on the complexity of a topic, learning something new can take a long time. And it’s bound to be frustrating as you grapple with new terminologies, new models, and apparently irrelevant information.

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    When you are learning something by yourself, there is nobody to control the flow of information, to make sure you move from basic knowledge to intermediate and finally advanced concepts.

    Patience with your topic, and more importantly with yourself is crucial — there’s no field of knowledge that someone in the world hasn’t managed to learn, starting from exactly where you are.

    A Feeling for Connectedness

    This is the hardest talent to cultivate, and is where most people flounder when approaching a new topic.

    A new body of knowledge is always easiest to learn if you can figure out the way it connects to what you already know. For years, I struggled with calculus in college until one day, my chemistry professor demonstrated how to do half-life calculations using integrals. From then on, calculus came much easier, because I had made a connection between a concept I understood well (the chemistry of half-lifes) and a field I had always struggled in (higher maths).

    The more you look for and pay attention to the connections between different fields, the more readily your mind will be able to latch onto new concepts.

    With a learning attitude in place, working your way into a new topic is simply a matter of research, practice, networking, and scheduling:

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    1. Research

    Of course, the most important step in learning something new is actually finding out stuff about it. I tend to go through three distinct phases when I’m teaching myself a new topic:

    Learning the Basics

    Start as all things start today: Google it! Somehow people managed to learn before Google ( I learned HTML when Altavista was the best we got!) but nowadays a well-formed search on Google will get you a wealth of information on any topic in seconds.

    Surfing Wikipedia articles is a great way to get a basic grounding in a new field, too — and usually the Wikipedia entry for your search term will be on the first page of your Google search.

    What I look for is basic information and then the work of experts — blogs by researchers in a field, forums about a topic, organizational websites, magazines. I subscribe to a bunch of RSS feeds to keep up with new material as it’s posted, I print out articles to read in-depth later, and I look for the names of top authors or top books in the field.

    Hitting the Books

    Once I have a good outline of a field of knowledge, I hit the library. I look up the key names and titles I came across online, and then scan the shelves around those titles for other books that look interesting.

    Then, I go to the children’s section of the library and look up the same call numbers — a good overview for teens is probably going to be clearer, more concise, and more geared towards learning than many adult books.

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    Long-Term Reference

    While I’m reading my stack of books from the library, I start keeping my eyes out for books I will want to give a permanent place on my shelves. I check online and brick-and-mortar bookstores, but also search thrift stores, used bookstores, library book sales, garage sales, wherever I happen to find myself in the presence of books.

    My goal is a collection of reference manuals and top books that I will come back to either to answer thorny questions or to refresh my knowledge as I put new skills into practice. And to do this cheaply and quickly.

    2. Practice

    Putting new knowledges into practice helps us develop better understandings now and remember more later. Although a lot of books offer exercises and self-tests, I prefer to jump right in and build something: a website, an essay, a desk, whatever.

    A great way to put any new body of knowledge into action is to start a blog on it — put it out there for the world to see and comment on.

    Just don’t lock your learning up in your head where nobody ever sees how much you know about something, and you never see how much you still don’t know.

    3. Network

    One of the most powerful sources of knowledge and understanding in my life have been the social networks I have become embedded in over the years — the websites I write on, the LISTSERV I belong to, the people I talk with and present alongside at conferences, my colleagues in the department where I studied and the department where I now teach, and so on.

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    These networks are crucial to extending my knowledge in areas I am already involved, and for referring me to contacts in areas where I have no prior experience. Joining an email list, emailing someone working in the field, asking colleagues for recommendations, all are useful ways of getting a foothold in a new field.

    Networking also allows you to test your newly-acquired knowledge against others’ understandings, giving you a chance to grow and further develop.

    4. Schedule

    For anything more complex than a simple overview, it pays to schedule time to commit to learning. Having the books on the shelf, the top websites bookmarked, and a string of contacts does no good if you don’t give yourself time to focus on reading, digesting, and implementing your knowledge.

    Give yourself a deadline, even if there is no externally imposed time limit, and work out a schedule to reach that deadline.

    Final Thoughts

    In a sense, even formal education is a form of self-guided learning — in the end, a teacher can only suggest and encourage a path to learning, at best cutting out some of the work of finding reliable sources to learn from.

    If you’re already working, or have a range of interests beside the purely academic, formal instruction may be too inconvenient or too expensive to undertake. That doesn’t mean you have to set aside the possibility of learning, though; history is full of self-taught successes.

    At its best, even a formal education is meant to prepare you for a life of self-guided learning; with the power of the Internet and the mass media at our disposal, there’s really no reason not to follow your muse wherever it may lead.

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    Featured photo credit: Priscilla Du Preez via unsplash.com

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