• Jay Hicks

5 Steps to Becoming a Subject Matter Expert



On social media recently, a friend of mine posted about a family of potbelly pigs needing to find a new home. She was quite serious. Finding humor where the was none, I stopped short of ribbing her post. What did I almost say? “Pork belly futures have not been traded since 2011!” Alas, pig jokes are just not humorous anymore. Anyway, it is true, traders lost interest in this commodity a few years back, and pork belly futures went the way of the dinosaur on the Chicago Mercantile Exchange (CME).


While trying to avoid a strange social media entanglement with a friend, I began to think about the similarity between trading commodities and the job market. The futures market occasionally drops commodities, with the job market being just as fickle; often rejecting candidates that fail to remain current and up-to-date.


Knowledge vs. Skills


Most of us are knowledge workers who have learned a great deal about an occupation over our lifetime. However, knowledge changes much more rapidly than skills. Therefore, we must take accountability for our own personal development and subsequent professional placement. Unfortunately, knowledge workers are dropped from the job market daily if they lose their viability.


Finding a job can be very difficult when you lack up-to-date training, knowledge and certifications. During our careers, we must reinvent ourselves. We must try to change and morph as technology naturally progresses. Most will revitalize and re-energize — learn something new and different, enabling viability. However, this takes effort. Some need more schooling and a new degree. Others need training and certifications. Bottom line: we will become obsolete if we do not reinvent ourselves every three to five years.


Some of us are experts at this process. It can be very rewarding to remain current and perform the hands-on work associated with being a Subject Matter Expert (SME). SMEs know that knowledge, technologies and paradigms change. Successful long-term SMEs are solutions experts, remaining up-to-date on specifics. The SMEs that stay current on the latest trend and jump on the next wave of knowledge or technological change are often rewarded handsomely. The best SMEs are great communicators of the knowledge they have obtained and radiate a personality of cooperation and congeniality.


As described in The Transitioning Military IT Professional, to remain a viable, there are five steps a SME continually performs.

  1. Research (or better yet, create) the next hot trend or movement.

  2. Study the trend! Visualize how the trend is going to impact and change you, your field and your organization’s capability.

  3. Professionally move in the direction of the trend through study and training.

  4. Gain early certification in newly developing technology.

  5. Be willing to step up and lead. The valued SME has studied and knows the new capability better than anyone else in the organization.

  6. Then - start over!



Do not be afraid to share the knowledge you have gained. Inform, advise and educate others. This will not only lead to recognition as the resident SME in that specialized function, but also increases your value as a mentor.


The one thing you cannot do is wait on opportunity. Rather than become a pork belly in the job market, get out in front of the next wave. Success occurs when your preparation collides with opportunity.


Wishing you a lucrative military transition.





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