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Career Change Advice: Be a Subject Matter Expert

career change phil rosenberg skills Jan 07, 2010

by Phil Rosenberg

photo by Gerald

It’s not impossible to compete with industry vets, even if you’re coming from a different trade


Are you thinking about making a move from your traditional field? Branding yourself as a subject-matter expert can give you an edge.

If you’re competing with candidates who have experience within the industry or function, you’re going to need a way to distinguish yourself.

It’s simple: If you can apply your current skills effectively to compete against industry insiders, hiring managers will be more likely to take a chance on you. Meanwhile, demonstrating an investment of time and resources shows that you’re focused on the new path, not just an industry hopper.

Thanks to online tools, it’s easier than ever before to study up on a subject and demonstrate your mastery to prospective employers. In many fields, today’s career changer has options that take fewer resources and time than formal university reeducation.

Here are six steps to gain visibility in a new industry or function: 

Create your subject-matter expertise...

1. Determine who you want to be. Do the soul-searching and research first, to understand your transferrable skills and what your new career should be. Talk to friends, coaches, and career and industry experts.

2. Determine your subject-matter expertise. Identify your unique ability to solve a specific business problem. Note the words “unique” and “specific;” both qualities are essential if you want to differentiate yourself. By focusing on problems you are uniquely qualified to solve, you reduce reliance on industry or functional experience.

3. Focus on skills over industry and function. Even more important than transferable skills, what makes you unique? What value have you provided to employers – and which ones apply to your new career?

Distribute your subject-matter expertise...

4. Manage your online reputation. Do a Google search on yourself – what does it say? When it comes to managing your reputation online, many job seekers focus on keeping negative information off the Internet. However, shaping and creating your online reputation is even more important, especially to a career changer. You can build your reputation for subject-matter expertise by creating content under your name or citing the content of others on a blog or another online venue.

5. Establish an online portfolio. Hiring managers know that resumes only offer a limited view of a candidate’s performance on the job. Online portfolios include work examples, reports, spreadsheets, presentations, design, and projects that an employee has managed or developed, demonstrates transferable skills.

6. Create a ResuBlog. I’ve long been an advocate for something I call a ResuBlog: a blog that contains industry insights and information along with your resume. Your ResuBlog helps you establish industry expertise in your new career, by writing about it — or you can republish (with permission) industry articles that demonstrate your knowledge. A ResuBlog is a work product, demonstrating how the career changer thinks, showing your decision process and great ideas in comparison to other candidates.

Many jobs are unadvertised. You can be more effective in your career change by changing the paradigm. Find a problem that you are uniquely qualified to solve . . .a problem that needs a subject-matter expert — you. You can spot these problems when you’re networking, on job boards or doing industry research.

If you’re a candidate trying to compete in a new field, you’ve never had a better chance to build a new brand as a subject-matter expert. It takes some work to rebrand yourself, but even in today’s competitive job market you can compete against industry vets. There’s no pill you can take to reinvent yourself — these methods take work, time, and resources. However, in many careers it now takes significantly less work, time, and resources than going back to school for a formal degree.

How will you build your subject-matter expert brand?

Phil Rosenberg is President of reCareered, an executive career coaching service, helping great people discover new career paths and beat the challenges of modern job searches. Phil runs the Career Change Central group, recently named one of LinkedIn’s top groups that job seekers should join. An active blogger about career change, Phil’s articles are regularly republished by Business Week, The Wall Street Journal, CIO, FastCompany and dozens of job and recruiting sites. 


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