When college students are trying to turn their degree into a job, they often spend time trying to decide on a career path. It’s usually fairly short-term thinking on how to find a job that will pay the bills, pay back the student loans, and allow you to move out of your parents’ basement.
One of the best pieces of advice I received in my career was from a mentor of mine (who was also a graduate of the same college, now well into his career) who told me this: “Select a career that you are passionate about. Learn all you can, get certified, get credentialed. Then drill down into a specialty within that career. Then drill down into a specialty within that career. Then do it again to become someone who is truly unique in your field. You will own that space.”
His advice was essentially keep specializing until you find a niche in which you are world class. It doesn’t happen overnight and it doesn’t happen at a high level nor in a broad way. It requires specialization. And specialization within a specialization.
Here are the three steps to becoming world class in your career:
- Choose a general career path and become an expert at that first level
- Choose a specialty within your career path and become an expert at that second level
- Choose a specialty within that specialty and become world class, literally one out of a million or even ten million
As an example, at the first level, you may be passionate about math and drilling deep into the numbers. One of the career paths (there are many) that use math and numbers is Accounting. You go into public accounting and become a CPA. Then, at a second level, you decide to go into Corporate Tax Accounting. Again, you work to become an expert in corporate tax. Then, in the third step (which is the step most people do not take), you further specialize into Corporate Tax in the Aerospace sector, becoming an expert in your niche. You consult, write papers, speak at conferences, maybe even write a book. You become the recognized expert in your field. You become world class.
To be more specific, it may not be a 1-2-3, depending on the career. For some broader careers, it may require four or even five steps of specialization. Or, for some careers, as few as two. I have a friend who entered the field of marine biology (a relatively small field at step one) and did his doctoral thesis on a species of fish that no one else had studied to that level. So at age 30, he become the de facto world class expert on that species of fish.
How do you know when you’ve reached world class in your career? When you are asked to write and/or speak as the subject matter expert (SME) on a particular topic. When you are one of less than 20 people in the world with your level of knowledge on a subject. If you do the math, that’s actually one in over 300 million. That’s truly unique and that is world class.