Its amazing, there are literally thousands of self proclaimed experts, but actually finding one in the wild is about as exciting as spotting a unicorn.  While unicorns are fairly easy to identify when you see one, this isn’t really the case with experts. In a world of so-called experts, how do you define an expert? How do you know if the person your thinking of working with is a hack or really able to be an expert for you?

Its not an easy question to answer, but I thought it would be worthy to discuss what makes an expert so special and how they differ from other professionals in their field. While I typically discuss social media, and these expert requirements certainly apply to finding a social media expert, they aren’t limited to social media experts. If you’re looking to talk to an expert, think about these things before moving forward.

An expert never stops learning:

To be an expert is to be an outstanding student, a natural curiosity. They actively spend time reading and thinking. That means that an expert invests time to improve his/her own skill set to benefit his/her projects, programs and clients. Its worth asking an expert how they keep up with changes, how much time they spend learning. But its even more than that, an expert shares. Why is this important? Because when a person learns information, the single best way to incorporate that knowledge is to share it. That’s why so many people who are considered experts are also speakers and bloggers, writers.  They know the secret to continued thought leadership is to share. They also know that by sharing, they engender conversations, comments and ideas which help them flesh out their ideas and opinions, which takes us back to the fact that most experts are outstanding students.

An expert has had learning experiences and even (gasp!) failures.

If you aren’t taking chances, then you’ve never had a failure. Experts take a risk now and then and they learn from the experience. Finding an expert means finding someone who will discuss what they’ve learned and what they would do differently next time. While experts may not use the language of “failure”, they certainly use the language of “learning lessons”. Show me someone who has never failed and I’ll show you either a noob or a boob.  No expert is perfect and if they can’t find learning lessons in past programs or clients, then they really aren’t asking the right questions.

Experts will ask probing questions.

Asking questions is the very basis to success. Some of those questions will require the client to dig deep to find the most honest answer. Asking questions about your business, your clients, your goals, these are all the kinds of questions that an expert should ask. But if your expert isn’t asking you deep questions, then you’re probably not dealing with an expert. Its the job of the expert to ask these questions so he/she knows how they can help you.  If you aren’t comfortable sharing the answers with your expert, ask them to sign an NDA, an expert won’t mind. An expert will want to get to the deepest part of the challenge and will want to do so quickly.

Experts value your time. And theirs.

An expert isn’t likely to ask you to go to coffee just to chat, and you shouldn’t ask an expert to do that either. Experts are busy people because the business of learning and sharing never stops. While that doesn’t mean an expert doesn’t have a life outside of work, its unlikely that an expert will spend his working hours lounging around at a Starbucks. An expert has typically spent hours honing their craft and you can’t learn everything they know simply by having a cup of coffee with them anyway. An expert won’t waste your time talking about him/herself on an intro meeting instead an expert will spend the time getting to know you, your business challenges and goals.  But more than that, an expert will be able to ask you the right questions and propose a solution efficiently. They also won’t be the cheapest person you speak with and that’s because they invest in you, your project and outcomes. You can hire less expensive people, but you can also go to a horse ranch if you want to see a horse. The unicorn is a rare breed and so is the expert. Working with them will save you frustration and time.

Photo: Creative Commons

Psst: while we’re at it, here’s an article I wrote earlier this year about outsourcing that still holds true: What you should and shouldn’t outsource.