(even if you’re a Generalist)

As I discussed in earlier articles, branding yourself as a generalist doesn’t work in today’s search driven market of job shortages and mass competition.

Today’s employers don’t even hire generalists for jobs requiring a generalist. Employers hire subject matter expertise first, then choose the subject matter expert who also has the best ability to adapt to new situations (discovered during the interview).

So what should you do if you’re a generalist?

If your career consists of wearing many hats, you run into special job search problems today. Fortunately there are a number of ways to brand yourself as a subject matter expert, even if you’re a generalist.

Here’s 8 ways to brand yourself as a SME:

  1. Self-perception: Part of it just comes down to your own self-perception. If you perceive yourself as a generalist, it will be difficult to convince a hiring manager of your subject matter expertise. Choose a few of the things you do better than anyone else, assuming they are marketable (I’m not sure there are many jobs that demand expertise in burping the alphabet), these are your subject matter expertises.
  2. Focus: You don’t have to explain every moment you were at work – your resume isn’t a time card. Instead, focus on the specific things included in your work that relate to your subject matter expertise. You can include the hundreds of other things you did at points of your resume that get less reader attention.
  3. Selectivity: Choose 2-3 subject matter expertises, not 10+. Not even The Most Interesting Man In The World is an expert at 10 different things. He was an SME of just a few things at a time … over a very long time (He once ran a marathon because it was on his way home). Stay thirsty, my friends …
  4. Selectivity, part 2: Consider leaving items off your resume that don’t support the subject matter expertise you chose. So if you’re a subject matter expert in call centers, do you think it will help your branding by including the details of your first job out of college, selling copiers door-to-door? Listing the position makes sense, but listing the details shows that you put similar emphasis on that first job as your most recent job, 20 years later and 4 management levels higher. It just doesn’t make sense, yet many job seekers just don’t know a better way.
  5. Emphasis: Emphasize the specific achievements that support your subject matter expertise. De-emphasize (or leave off completely) the other tasks involved with your job that don’t relate to the SME you’re focusing on.
  6. Recency: Choose a subject matter expertise that’s reasonably recent. This doesn’t mean that it has to be your most recent job, but you’ll have a tough time convincing anyone that you’re an expert in something you did 20 years ago. Employers realize that someone who is doing the same job right now will remember far more, will be up to date, and probably won’t require any training or ramp up time. If you’re trying to sell experience you had 20 years ago, you will need to get current on the job function/industry and probably require re-training and ramp-up time … making you a poor choice from an employers’ point of view. For example, I’m a CPA, but you wouldn’t want me to do your taxes – I haven’t done taxes since the ’80’s.
  7. Resume Real Estate: If you want to emphasize something further back than your most recent job, you’ll want to use your resume’s real estate to help draw attention to the experience you want the reader to focus on … and draw attention away from less relevant experience. Readers will naturally give more attention to the largest chunks of your resume. This means to expand the footprint of your most relevant experience, while shrinking the footprint of your less relevant experience. Most candidates don’t write their resumes this way, giving the largest amount of real estate to recent work, whether relevant to the reader … or not.
  8. Consistency: Make sure that the branding you choose for your resume is consistent with the branding you choose for your social media profiles. This means that if you’re a subject matter expert in tiddlywinks on your resume, you don’t want to brand yourself as a generalist or as a ping pong subject matter expert on Social Media. Over 90% of employers check social media profiles prior to making an offer and one of the main things they are looking for is consistency.

You aren’t forced into a brand … you create it.

So why feel like you’re forced into branding yourself as a subject matter expert when you can select a portion of your overall experience to use as your brand?

… It’s all in how you choose to present yourself.