Most people find it difficult to locate a job they really enjoy — if you’ve found a career you love, congratulations! Keeping yourself up to date on cutting-edge issues, building a network, and learning from your fellow practitioners will go a long way to cementing your status as an expert professional.
Every profession has different rules governing who counts as a member of that profession, and who is considered an ‘expert’. For engineers, doctors, and the like, where a mistake can cost lives or millions of dollars, the barrier to entry involves rigorous tests and usually years of specialized education. After you pass the exams, you’re certified or licensed as a professional.
In other cases, the requirements are not nearly as strict. Anyone, for example, can call themselves a barber — what determines who makes it and who doesn’t is whether their clients keep coming back. Yet even in these unregulated professions, there’s still a certain ‘pecking order’ from experts to mass-market providers.
As a professional, how can you rise from the status of wet-behind-the-ears beginner to recognized experts? Here are some tips that will help.
Build a Professional Network
Building a wide-ranging international network is key to staying abreast of the latest news in your field. Moreover, your network will feed you opportunities and expose you ideas you’d never otherwise experience.
Since you’ll never know everything, respect your fellow professionals. Take every opportunity you get to collaborate with them and pick their brains.
If there’s a professional society in your field, become a member and participate in the meetings. Alternately, form a discussion group with other people you work with, and meet over lunch to talk about recent experiences.
You needn’t limit yourself to networking locally, either. Reach out to professionals and potential clients abroad. This will be easier if you already have inquiries coming from those areas, or a visible connection to the countries. Having your website available in the local language will help here. Website translation is fast and inexpensive, and the benefits are too numerous to list. (You can get more information on web translation here).
You may be working on a regular basis, but it’s still worth while occasionally to go back to school. There are always opportunities to increase your knowledge base and diversify your skills. This could be everything from business courses that help you run your business better, to professional education courses that let you take on work you’d previously refused.
Continuing professional education does not just teach you a few extra skills. In the process, you’ll meet other professionals in your field and get to know them, and you’ll have a valuable perspective on how the profession as a whole is evolving.
No industry is static. You’ll only be able to excel if you have access to the latest information on your industry, telling you about the latest innovations and how they affect your position. Keep yourself in the loop with all means at your disposal.
Contrary to popular belief, mentor relationships are not necessarily formalized ‘master and apprentice’ type situations. A mentor relationship can be as formal or as casual as you like, and many mentoring situations aren’t even recognized as such.
A mentor is simply a more experienced individual in your profession with whom you have a one on one relationship, through which they guide and teach you from their experience. In some cases, this may be via older leaders or employees at your workplace whom you can ask to meet for lunch on a regular basis.
In other cases, you might simply make a habit of listening to seminars or podcasts from experts in your field who wouldn’t be available for one-on-one coaching. This approach can still be effective, though — by coming to understand how they approach the profession, you can apply their techniques in your own work.
Whether you’re looking to become a professional in a given field or whether you want to rise to the top of your current field, the route is roughly the same. You want to soak up as much useful information and knowledge as you can, while developing good relationships with the professionals around you.
As tempting as it is to view your fellow professionals as ‘competition’, in most cases this is not strictly true. Many markets have more clients than there are professionals to serve them. Even when the competition is fierce, though, it’s often still in everybody’s interest to share information… just don’t expect your fellow professionals to give you their trade secrets.