I coach a lot of people who are interested in making the transition into a new industry, department, or role, and I often hear insecurities around their level of expertise. They say they need to go back to school and get a Masters degree, that they’ll need to intern to gain real-life experience, and that they don’t know enough to even have a conversation with someone working in the field.
9 times out of 10, I’d say they’re wrong. Of course there are cases where you do need to build up your expertise – medicine, law, engineering. But many, many jobs in business don’t need the level of subject matter knowledge that you might think.
Let’s take an example that I was discussing with a client just yesterday. We were talking about a potential career path focused on diversity within a corporate environment. My client has tons of relevant experience, although she’s never worked in a diversity team and she hasn’t spent much time in the private sector. I happen to know the diversity world especially well myself (I was Global Head for three years), and having hired and managed a number of people for that work, I’d say the need for expertise is totally overstated. Of course it’s nice if someone knows a lot about women’s leadership programs, or how to ensure an inclusive environment for people with disabilities. But some core (and totally transferable) skills are way more important in my books.
First is a total passion for the topic. If you LOVE the subject, you’re going to learn about it as it naturally interests and draws you in.
Second is your ability to communicate and manage stakeholders. Yes, corporate jargon, I know but super important. No matter how good a project looks on paper, you need to win people over – getting their time, energy, and support. If you don’t focus on bringing people in, or don’t know how to do it, your success is going to be drastically limited.
Third, I always look for people who are resourceful. I don’t expect you to have the answers, but I do expect you to look for them in a smart way – whether that’s via the intranet, Google, discussions with colleagues, learning about best practice, etc. It’s relatively easy to execute on whatever you’re told to do. The next level is figuring out what to do in the first place.
So the next time you’re daydreaming about a different career and feel like you don’t have the chops, remember we’re talking about corporate practicioner jobs, not professorships.
Ever worked with someone who was a real expert and yet was totally ineffective in their job? Let me know in the comments below.