Are you an expert? Or do you have experience?
Or do you really just have time on station doing what you’ve done for the past several years?
Let’s go to the Google machine* for some definitions.
Expert: Used as a noun is a person who has a comprehensive and authoritative knowledge of a skill in a particular area.
Used as an adjective is having or involving authoritative knowledge.
Experience: Used as a noun is practical contact with and observation of facts or events.
Used as a verb to encounter or undergo (an event or occurrence).
Which are you?
Expertise or experience?
Many declare their expertise prematurely or without demonstrating substance or social proof. In my research of defense executives, it was common to hear, “I’ve been in defense for over 20 years,” when I asked them about their experience. For some, this number included time on active duty. For others, it included being in the same industry role for the past five years with no change in responsibility and no new credentials.
Experience requires a level of reflection such that an individual absorbs the lessons, learns from them, and at least considers whether an adjustment is called for. For example, if we simply attend a professional seminar, that doesn’t necessarily mean we learned something (the proverbial certificate of attendance).
If we were responsible for a spectacular sales year or a spectacularly poor sales year, did we learn and adjust for the next iteration? If we only look forward, we miss the reflection experience requires to become part of our eventual expertise.
The importance of social proof
Being an expert and having comprehensive and authoritative knowledge implies that one can demonstrate that expertise in the form of outcomes. Social proof allows outcomes to be observable to you and others and is used as a point of reference when someone speaks of your expertise.
Becoming a consultant requires less technical certification than states require of a nail technician or barber. One simply hangs a shingle and declares they are in business.
Consultants quickly learn that to gain clients, they must demonstrate their expertise through examples of their work or through the referrals of others to their work. Demonstrating authoritative knowledge also suggests that an expert is leading thought within their area of expertise. Thought leadership can be demonstrated in lots of ways with writing, speech, or participation in industry events and colloquia, for example.
I observe that many in the defense industry are experts, yet they fail to demonstrate their expertise consistently in their actions and words.
Think about it. How do you describe what you do when asked?
Do you say something like, “I do BD for ACME,” “I’m in public sector sales for a robotics company,” or “I sell dual-use widgets?”
Do your words align with what you do or with what you aspire for your company or others?
If you want to be seen as an expert, you’ll need to carry yourself as one and make an effort to make sure others know what you do and are capable of doing.
What’s my expertise?
I help companies succeed in Washington, DC using tools of influence to create access and success.
My mission is to help Washington outsiders gain equal access to decision-makers and the decision process responsible for their sales.
Just Google me.
*Google derives word definitions from Oxford languages, https://languages.oup.com/google-dictionary-en/.