What is an Expert? Perspective from an Independent Executive

independent executive

There’s a difference between the perception that you know something best, and the expertise of an independent executive

“I Can Do That” Versus “I Am an Expert” : Independent Executive

Being brought in as an independent executive can be very different from being hired as a full-time executive. Rather than a broad job description, there is usually a defined scope of work, set of deliverables, established timelines, and a specified end. You are brought in to either accomplish a goal, fix a challenging situation, or step into a specific role for a short period of time. All of these require a high level of expertise. Be cautious about extrapolating some experience to expertise. Having been a president of a company with responsibility for sales does not in itself qualify an executive to be an interim vice president of sales. The same applies to a CFO with HR reporting to him or her in the last two jobs. This alone does not qualify the executive as an expert in HR. As an interim, being a quick learner or having some foundation in an area is not enough. Be clear about what you are an expert at, and have multiple examples with which you can convey what you have accomplished before.

Expertise and skills sets are increasingly becoming one of the top criteria filters online for a reason. As you look through online marketplaces of all types, you will see “skill sets” or “expertise” as one of the top filters in any search. Companies looking to bring in outsourced talent need something specific to be accomplished. They want someone who is an expert in that area. Our rule of thumb is, if you can write a credible article or give a presentation to your peers on the topic, you can count yourself an expert, with the caveat that you have also done it repeatedly in practice as well. This should be consistent with your resume, your profiles, and your content. The more we have seen executives brand themselves with their expertise, the more successful they have been with referrals and opportunities. It is one of the best ways to differentiate yourself. Be cautious of trying to be the person who can do any and all engagements because you are a great “learner.” Companies do not bring in an independent executive to learn on the job. They bring them in so the company can learn from them.

Don’t Assume You Know Yourself Best

It is amazing how two people can be talking about the same thing, but describing it two different ways. Each person has his or her own perspective and will apply what you do to that perspective and their experiences. If you are basing the messaging of your brand solely on what you come up with on your own, you may be off the mark, given the importance of your referral network and potential client’s perspective. You want to describe what you can do for companies in the same or similar words that your potential clients would describe it. The best source to figure this out is past clients or colleagues with whom you have worked. The words you use and the point you are getting across should be phrased from their perspective. Be careful of focusing too much on what you want, and keep in mind what your potential clients need. David is an example of this disconnect.

David is a great all-around executive. He has a good background in both operations and technology. In his conversations with referral partners and potential clients, he talks about how he provides operational efficiencies and improved processes through technology. In his mind, this is the value he brings his clients. However, if you talk to one of his clients, the conversation would be more centered around how David stepped into an enterprise resource planning (ERP) implementation process that was going off-track. David was able to connect the needs of the business and all of its stakeholders with much-needed technology to help them do their jobs better. David helped join the operations of the business with the technology that was there to support its needs rather than letting the technology dictate how the company should function. David was speaking his language— what he did to help—rather than the client’s language—the problem he solved.

It is helpful to step back and stop thinking like an executive or a consultant and think more like a client. Put yourself in their shoes.


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