Summary List Placement
We’re living in an age where anyone can call themselves an “expert.” But that doesn’t always translate to being perceived as one.
Those who are truly respected in their industries often possess a unique skill or perspective — they know how to provide value to the people that they want to serve.
Some people rise to industry prominence because of external circumstances. But for most people, getting to a high level in their field requires strategic planning, time, and patience. As career coaches and executives shared with Business Insider, it’s not an overnight journey.
Here’s what they believe it takes to be the go-to expert in your field, at your company, or in your role.
Be interested in and committed to learning more about your area of expertise
Being passionate doesn’t always translate to expertise, but it can go a long way.
Francine Parham, who runs a consultancy that helps women advance in their careers, said that you need to be curious about your chosen field and continuously learning. You have to talk to people about what’s happening in your industry and familiarize yourself with what other experts are doing and saying, Parham added. She recommended reading books and articles and finding time when you can listen to podcasts that cover your area of expertise, like when you’re exercising.
Caroline Ceniza-Levine, career change expert and founder of Six-Figure Start, recommended that people ask themselves the following questions to uncover their potential expertise:
- What do I know?
- What do I enjoy?
- Who do I like to serve?
- What do I already have in my background that lends itself to this problem?
Be open to considering other people’s points of view
Part of continuously learning about an area of expertise includes incorporating the opinions and perspectives of others. This might mean sharing their work on social media and citing their research and perspectives in your own work or professional conversations.
“I like to know that others have the ability to influence or shape your thinking, and that you’re inclusive from a consideration standpoint,” Parham said. She added that this kind of approach signals credibility because it tells her that the person has the ability to be introspective.
“I like to always hear that you’ve done your homework,” she said. “No one has the absolute answer. If it’s always ‘me me me,’ then I think that you don’t know what you’re talking about.”
Have a consistent message and understand how to deliver it to your audience
Industry experts know the importance of crafting a consistent message. But they also understand that the delivery is just as important. Experts know who they’re serving and cater their message to those people.
“You don’t need to know everything about everything when you focus in on what you want to help and the information that establishes your expertise in specific areas to specific people,” said communication coach Madeline Schwarz.
Ceniza-Levine added that it’s crucial to think about who you want to appeal to.
For example, if you’re trying to brand yourself as an industry expert in a bid to secure a leadership position, you need to get in front of recruiters and decision-makers in your industry. That might require you to build relationships with executive search firms and heads of departments of companies.
On the other hand, if you’re a marketing executive trying to brand yourself as a consultant to the public, Ceniza-Levine said, “then it’s your peers who really have to deem you a marketing expert.” In that case, you should focus your energy on publishing your work in mainstream media outlets and niche publications.
Be adaptable and evolve with change
While experts need to have a consistent message, they also know that the world is constantly changing. Josh Withers, founder and general manager of True Search North America — a global search firm that focuses on leadership and executive talent — said that for experts to maintain the trust of their audience they have to be able to adapt.
“It’s that continuity to staying on top of the trends and the shifts and not being — in some cases — beholden to the views you had previously,” Withers said.
Parham said that when an expert wants to make a fundamental change to their message, they need to communicate that change and the rationale behind it. “Opinions evolve, perspectives change,” Parham said. “It’s okay as long as people can follow your rational thinking, and it’s anchored in truth and your ability to have an impact on this topic.”
Back up your claims of expertise with evidence of good work
Real experts do more than publish articles and comment on social media. They can back up their assertions with a body of good work and experience.
“The wannabes are people that say, ‘You can make a million dollars’ and they’ve never made a million dollars themselves,” Parham said. Whether it’s a specific qualification, work experience, or a physical project that speaks to your expertise, it’s crucial to have evidence that shows why people should come to you for insights. For example, one shouldn’t brand themselves as a journalism expert “if they’ve never written for anyone,” Parham said. “You have to be who you say you are.”
“At some point, you have to deliver your expertise and back it up with data,” Ceniza-Levine said. It’s also essential to identify when your expertise doesn’t lie in a specific area. “Don’t promise things that you can’t deliver,” she said.
Pick a specific (and narrow) niche
Withers and Parham acknowledged that while social media and the internet have made it easier for people to distribute their message, they’ve also made it more difficult for people to distinguish themselves through the noise.
One way to stand out is to pick a narrow specialty. Withers said that the only way to become an expert is to “add insights into the conversation.” When you’re just starting to do that, he added, the idea that you’ll be able to do that at a broad level seems overly optimistic.
“If you’re not trying to be everything to everyone, that’s where you can stand out in a crowded market,” Schwarz said.
Ceniza-Levine added, “The more specific you can be, the more reach you’re going to have. It’s easier to remember the specific than it is the general.”
Focus on building relationships with the people that matter
In some ways, becoming an industry expert is about “being in the right place at the right time,” Withers said. For some people, that might come through working for a top company in their space and making a significant contribution that earns praise and attention. For others, it’s about strategically connecting with people who matter in that sector.
Withers said that you could start by commenting on what they post on social media. “You probably need to start interacting with people who have more credibility than you,” Withers said. “If you’re adding to the conversation, then those people are likely to re-engage back.”
COVID-19 might have made physical networking more challenging, but according to Ceniza-Levine, it provides an excellent opportunity to cultivate our professional relationships. As she pointed out, “it’s easier to network now because people are at home, you know they’re in one place, and people like to connect with people.”
How to become known as the go-to expert in your field by everyone in your network