Career Development

How to Become a Subject Matter Expert

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Subject matter experts, also known as SMEs, are people who have studied a skill extensively enough to teach others. Businesses seek out subject matter experts to be part of their team or to consult on a project in their specialty when the internal team does not have the correct training. Learn more about subject matter experts and how they choose a highly specialized subject that will keep their skills in high demand.

What is a subject matter expert?

A subject matter expert is a person who has extensive skills and knowledge in a specific area and can provide advice to others working with that topic. Although subject matter experts can focus on any topic, they are commonly found in technical fields such as information technology. Subject matter experts have a proven resume of involvement with their subject and an ability to accurately explain aspects of that subject to others or provide reliable assistance on a project. Subject matter experts can work as a regular part of one team or as a consultant on various projects.

What are the benefits of becoming a subject matter expert?

Becoming a subject matter expert in one particular area over a period of time can make you a valuable resource to others. Gaining extensive qualifications and training can result in a higher salary or a promotion that allows you to spend more time on the parts of your job that interest you most. Once you become a subject matter expert, you can educate others and work on complex projects with confidence in your knowledge. Another benefit of becoming a subject matter expert is that you will likely gain the respect of your peers and employees.

How to become a subject matter expert

Use these steps as a guide to becoming a subject matter expert in any field:

1. First, select a subject that interests you

In order to become a subject matter expert, you will first need to select a subject that interests you and has many opportunities to specialize. Research the qualifications that the top experts in that subject have earned, and consider if you are willing to commit to a similar effort. If you are hoping to make a career out of becoming a subject matter expert, choose a topic that is frequently in high demand. Many subject matter experts work in the specialized fields of technology, law, engineering and customer support.

2. Second, focus on earning an advanced degree and continuing your education

Most subject matter experts pursue one or more advanced degrees such as a master’s or a doctorate. Gaining the appropriate education and contributing to academic research while in school can help you begin to earn a reputation in your field. Earn the required degrees to work in your field and continue to study the subject. While studying your subject in an academic environment, you should also take advantage of opportunities to publish research or attend conferences.

3. Third, research the field and follow its trends

In order to become an expert, you need to have a good understanding of the research that others have published on your topic. Read books and articles on the history and application of your subject. Understanding what others have said about your topic can help you think of new contributions. Consistently reading new research can make you a reliable source of knowledge in your field.

4. Then, earn certifications

In addition to earning a traditional education, you can take certification tests and classes to become more qualified in your subject. Certifications are often accepted as proof that you have a certain level of knowledge or skill. Many professional associations offer training and certification programs that prove your high standard of work. Earning certifications has the added benefit of building your resume in your subject area.

5. Next, mentor others

To begin practicing as a subject matter expert, learn how to teach your knowledge to others. Mentoring people who are interested in your field can inspire you to consider your topic from different perspectives. Ask the individuals whom you mentor how they learn best and what you can do better as a teacher and guide. Mentoring others can involve teaching classes or writing explanatory articles for an audience, two methods that also add to your reputation.

6. Finally, offer your consulting services on the topic

Once you are confident in explaining your subject matter to others, you can begin offering consultations in that subject or searching for a position that allows you to pursue that topic. Advertise your skills to people who work with your subject. Eventually, your reputation and publications on the subject should encourage others to reach out for your advice.

Examples of subject matter experts

Subject matter experts can have a variety of different titles, including:

  • Chief Data Analyst
  • Senior Civil Engineer
  • Training Manager
  • Political Historian
  • Operating System Specialist
  • Investment Consultant
  • Manufacturing Advisor

Becoming a subject matter expert often requires years of study and training. Often, the most senior employee in a department is considered by their team to be a subject matter expert. In order to become an expert in a professional subject, you must create an impressive resume and career path. Subject matter experts must continue to prove their expertise by being active in their field.

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