Ask any employer to describe the perfect employee and you'll probably get a similar answer. The perfect employee for most is someone who's highly knowledgeable about a given subject, who works well with others in the office, and who displays passion and ambition on the job. Ask any recruiter and you'll find that these characteristics are very difficult to find in the work force.
Establishing yourself as an expert can effectively address all three of these areas and dramatically increase your employability. Experts demonstrate a current and in-depth knowledge of a given subject area that they are very passionate about, while at the same time, work with many different companies and organizations.
Choosing the right niche
Becoming an industry expert can seem like an enormously daunting task. For instance, a software engineer would have a very hard time being an expert at every programming language. Instead, it's best to target a specific niche when establishing yourself as an expert. The result is less to learn and more limited direct competition.
Here are some tips to keep in mind when choosing a niche to pursue:
Smaller niche industries tend to be easier to target, but they should be large enough to be useful when finding a job.
Many people are already skilled at, or at least passionate about, something in their industry. Targeting that niche is often the best option.
Try to find secular industry trends and position yourself at the leading edge of those trends to capitalize on them and to set yourself apart from the crowd.
Let's take a look at an example: Suppose a financial planner is looking for greater recognition and decides to become an expert. Instead of trying to become an expert at financial planning in general, he or she could focus on a large and growing niche. Given the aging U.S. population and growing popularity of ETFs, fixed income ETFs may prove to be a great niche for him or her to pursue.
Learn everything you can
Once you've found the right niche, the next step is learning everything you can about the subject area. Your knowledge should encompass everything from an understanding of the fundamentals that you would learn in school to the latest trends affecting the industry, gleaned by following the latest blogs. For instance, a web designer should not only know how to design but also to follow the latest industry trends to stay on the cutting edge of his or her craft.
The knowledge can come from many sources:
Find the highest rated books in the niche on Amazon.com or through other booksellers and read them carefully. Or check them out at the local library.
Industry blogs provide a great way to keep on top of the latest industry trends and to discover where things are headed for free.
Researching online has never been easier, from Google Scholar to Wikipedia, making those websites great resources to learn more.
Many websites, from OCW at MIT to Udemy.com, offer free or paid online courses covering a wide variety of topics.
Online or in-person mentors can help hone your skills and assist you in learning more about the niche industry you're pursuing.
There's no secret to learning either. It's all about repetition and practice. If you're in a technical niche, such as programming, writing code and contributing it to the community is a great way to practice and build a reputation at the same time. Those in a non-technical niche can review reference material regularly or volunteer to gain valuable practice and experience.
Finally, if you're not a great writer or speaker, it's also a good idea to review the fundamentals in those areas, since they are commonly used in the easiest forms of distribution. Try to write in a conversational tone about topics you already love. Be sure to check all the facts, and make sure that the articles read and flow well.
Finding the good distribution
Once you've decided on a niche and absorbed a base of information, the next step in establishing yourself as an expert is to begin teaching what you know to others. The goal is to position yourself as a thought leader on the topic by both directly teaching others and by publishing reference materials accessible by anyone.
The best way to get started is by creating a professional blog, which means purchasing and hosting a custom web domain. Regularly writing high-quality blog content related to your niche is the first step in being published. Blogs let you practice writing, help you build a following and provide some writing samples to send to others down the road.
The next step is building a social network, both online and offline. Social networking websites, such as Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn, are great ways to get your content out to the world and start building connections. Some of the best connections are built in real life by finding events related to your niche on websites such as MeetUp.com or in the local community.
After building a base of content and making connections, you're ready to begin expanding your distribution a bit more.
Here are some ideas to get started:
Writing for others
Reach out to popular online or offline publications in your niche, and submit ideas for stories using your blog material as references. Starting small before moving onto larger publishers also helps improve the odds of success.
Many local events feature speakers on a given topic, which offers the perfect opportunity to establish yourself as an expert. Public speaking can be difficult at first but it gets easier (and even fun) with practice.
Helping others is a great way to practice a skill, make connections and establish yourself as an expert all at the same time. There are many opportunities for this both online and offline, depending on your target niche.
Publishing a book
The most difficult, but effective, way to become an expert is to publish a book on the topic. However, this process can take very long in terms of the actual writing and shopping around for the right publisher.
Building it into your schedule
The final step in establishing yourself as an expert is being consistent. In particular, it's important to keep an updated blog, stay in touch with contacts and consistently work on expanding your presence in your niche. Ultimately, maintaining these activities is what separates those who publish a few articles from those who are truly recognized as experts.
The key to consistency is building tasks into your schedule and developing a habit. While good habits can take a long time to build at first, they provide a long-term base that will greatly enhance your odds of becoming and remaining an expert.
Here's how to create a long-term habit:
Establish a time
Find a time each day that you can devote to writing and building connections. Often times, the easiest time is either early in the morning or late at night when there are no other activities typically scheduled.
Some people suggest it can take at least 30 days of activity to fully develop a habit. This means you must be absolutely consistent in committing to these activities at the same time each day.
Doing the same thing every day can be daunting, such as writing a book or sending out a certain number of tweets on Twitter. Instead, focus on variety each day to make it interesting and fresh. Don't do the same thing every day.
Using it on the job hunt
There are many different ways to use an expert status when looking for a job. Many times, prospective employers will contact you about new opportunities. The key is making your writing, speaking, contact information and resume readily available and accessible from all of your different points of contact.
Here are a few tips to keep in mind:
Maintain a resume
Maintaining an online resume on a professional blog is a great way to show anyone reading that you're available for hire. It also reduces the amount of work an employer needs to do before approaching you.
Write good bylines
Many publishers offer authors a byline or brief biography where they can describe themselves. Putting a link to a professional blog and resume is another great way to get the word out that you're available for hire.
Capitalizing on events
Many industry events attract recruiters looking for prospective employees. Try to talk to these people or even pitch your services at the end of any speaking engagements to identify those that are interested.
The bottom line
Establishing yourself as an expert is a great way to increase your employability and make a difference in your field. While accomplishing this is no easy task, it can be done by anyone willing to put in the effort to learn a subject, teach it to others, and actively spread the word.