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You're an Expert: 5 Steps to Building Expertise

April 19, 2018

Going to a job interview without doing your homework on the company and industry is a bad idea. The good news is that there are lots of ways you can prepare yourself, as we discuss in our guide 7 Steps to Landing a Job with Impact. But what if you could go into an interview as an expert in the field, able to offer fact-based opinions and even better, ask pointed, well-informed questions? With a bit of focused time and curiosity, you can. Here are five steps to get you started in establishing your expertise.

 

1. Do the research

Let’s say your chosen field is utility-scale solar. Read up on the basics of the technology, market size, price and growth trends, and the regulatory context. Get a sense of the history of the solar market and where it’s headed, both within the U.S. and globally. Understand the drivers and challenges that the market is facing now and is likely to face in the coming years. Be able to explain current trends, such as the factors leading to the dip in U.S. PV installations in 2017 over 2016 (see chart below). Create a list of the main companies in the sector, both in terms of competition for the type of company you want to work for, but also the dominant companies along the solar supply chain.

 

 

Use credible sources for your research, such as academic analysis, trade association reports and NGO white papers. If there are contentious issues in the sector, such as international trade regulation or state energy policy, understand both sides of the argument.

 

2. Identify thought leaders

As you do your research, keep an eye out for the key influencers in the field. These may be journalists, CEOs, academic experts or regulators. Harvard Business School’s Dorothy Leonard calls this identifying the best exemplars. Understand what they are saying about the future of your chosen field and take notes. You’ll want to reference these people in future conversations. Keep a log of articles, TED Talks, quotes, etc. that these thought leaders have produced. Reference these morsels in your own social media posts and conversations (see #5 below).

 

3. Conduct informational interviews

These may sound intimidating, but they are really just conversations. As part of building your professional network and gaining your expertise, get out there and talk with people working in the field. Start with the thought leaders you identified in #2 above and add to your list people at the companies you’d like to work for. See our Guide for more information on how to conduct informational interviews. Take notes and be sure to follow up. Ask your interviewees if they can suggest one other expert to talk to. Set a target of having at least ten of these conversations. The insights you gain will accelerate your path toward becoming an expert in the sector, and you will be building your network at the same time.

 

4. Volunteer at industry trade shows and conferences

Going to an industry conference is a fantastic learning and networking opportunity. While conferences can be expensive, organizers often offer free or discounted registration to volunteers. Look for trade associations’ annual and topical events in your region and find at least one to attend. The more the better. Attending a trade show is a great way to accomplish steps 1, 2 and 3 above. Staying with the utility-scale solar industry example, the Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA) website has a database of events across the country. For carbon professionals, the annual North American Carbon World conference is a great learning opportunity. See our recent post.

 

5. Join the conversation

As you build your expertise through the actions suggested above, use your voice and join the public discourse. Create your own blog, or post to LinkedIn and other social media. Contact some of the industry-specific media sources and pitch an article to them.

Following these steps won’t earn you a PhD, and there is no substitute for years of actual experience in the field. There are few shortcuts to Malcolm Gladwell’s (sometimes-disputed) 10,000 hour rule to becoming world-class at anything. But following these steps will give you a baseline; enough to have meaningful conversations with industry peers, enough to hold your own in an interview and, most of all, enough to ask the right questions.

 

 

 

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