Even though the job market is still very strong, it continues to shift towards certain skills, including automation, coding, artificial intelligence, high tech manufacturing, health care, and other technical fields. While in general specializing or becoming an expert in something has always been valuable to career development and will often lead to a higher income according to many experts, it is probably becoming even more important due to the changing needs of employers as well as the focus on technical skills in today’s economy. Personally, I have always taken this concept of specialization to heart.
There have been studies completed by multiple organizations, including Katie Bardaro at Payscale.com, that indicate that if you become more competent within your current role, and specialize in a small number of critical skills, that this could lead to up to a 20% higher income if you work for a corporation. Experts, including those at Payscale and Pricewaterhouse Cooper among others, emphasize that increasing your aptitude within a certain skill is extremely beneficial to career development.
While specializing in an activity, and ideally being one of the best at it is an incredible accomplishment, it can be even more rewarding to be the best at something that is more unique or that fills a niche. As an example, it is not always valuable to specialize at a task that maybe is “saturated” with other people or is limited by organizational opportunities. In other words, even if you are the best “government bureaucrat” or specialize in a certain field within the government, the upside is still limited as there are salary limitations/pay scales in place. Or if you specialize in an activity that thousands of other people do, it can be hard to stand out from the crowd and reap the rewards.
However even if you fall into one of those categories that seem to be “swamped” by others, you can sometimes still find a niche to specialize in. As maybe you work in a large organization or corporation and it is sometimes hard to stand out. Do your best to find something (even if it seems like a small thing) that can be done better, and try to specialize or just improve in that activity to address the unmet need. Attend job training, learn, and continue to strive to get better.
While there are any number of different skills you can specialize in, one of the keys is to find a way to differentiate yourself and stand out. As an example of this, if you are an IT professional and see that technology is causing a high demand for a certain skills set, such as Machine Learning per Pricewaterhouse Cooper, look into what that involves. If you determine that very few people have that skill than that may be worthwhile to pursue. Learn as much as possible about it, and immerse yourself in the activity.
The concept of specializing can also be applicable to anyone who is starting a business as well. You can specialize in any number of activities, such as optimizing websites, coming up with a unique food product, SAS artificial intelligence, inventing a new unique product, or many others. However, starting a business can be very challenging, so it is always recommended to find some type of niche to target at first. Then you can build out from there.
Specializing can also apply to anyone who is currently in the corporate world. My own experiences in working at corporation(s) showed that there are various needs in a company that often go unfilled or are not done very efficiently. If you can identify those within your organization and then start to gain the skills to specialize in addressing the unmet need then you make your career progression go so much faster and/or increase your income.
How do you specialize?
Some experts, such as Malcom Gladwell who wrote the book Outliers, indicated you need to spend at minimum 10,000 hours on a certain activity to start becoming good at it. He indicates you need to immerse yourself in it, read up on the activity, educate yourself, and “practice”. There are also suggestions on how to specialize from Inc. as well as any number of other sources.
I think I discovered at a very early age a key driver of success is repetition, practice, and focus. Not sure I learned it by luck or just by my personality. I learned that getting up every day and having the discipline to focus on a small number of activities can lead to someone becoming a specialist, or even elite, at a certain task. While the focus and commitment may have made me “awkward” in school and while growing up, those traits helped me later in life.
The concept of repetition, learning, and striving to be the best even paid dividends to me in my teenage years when I created as well as coded a software program for scheduling workers at Wegmans, which was my employer at the time. The concept has also greatly benefited me in the creation of my business, in which I have specialized on a limited number of website activities. This specialization, and the results of it as well as recognition from the community, has now lead to me being an expert at in the business and in the field.
The book took Outliers took a look at the life of many extremely successful people. While some of the profiles in Outliers are not relatable as they are so extreme (i.e. Bill Gates, the Beatles, etc.) the concept of repetition, practice, dedication, and specialization holds true for anyone who wants to be the best at an activity. It can lead to career growth and much more.
Becoming elite is not just about working hard, or harder than others. While that is a part of it, it also involves taking a certain amount of joy in what you do, specializing and becoming a master at something. It is the action of practicing and competing against yourself, to challenge yourself to get better each day to strive to become the best. With the repetition can come an intuitive feel for the activity. For those that work in a company and reach that level, it can lead to improve career prospects as well as financial benefits, per Payscale. Not only that, the process can be exciting at the same time.