Resume word of the day: “Expert”

I've already told you how important the right key words are in terms of getting your resume/bio/blog found by a recruiter. But lately I've been thinking about what some of those words mean during the interview process. <Taking off my Microsoft hat>

Today's "Resume Word of the Day" is "Expert" (OK, I am not going to do this daily, but it was fun to type that)...

For some reason, when someone has put the word "expert" on their resume, it really draws my attention...I guess it's the potential mix of knowledge and ego that makes me wonder what the deal is. Especially since it's such a subjective term. So my advice to you is understand why you are using the term and then use it rarely and with caution. Here's why:

1) It's better to quantify your expertise than claim it. For example, you may be recognized in your industry for something specifically. You may want to quantify this expertise by explaining the conferences you speak at and the results you have driven in that space. This turns a subjective claim into something real. And makes you look humble in the process.

2) You don't know who is on the other side of the interview table. Is it possible that this person knows more about the subject than you do? Is it possible they have a different idea of what an "expert" means (not necessarily mastery of a skill, but industry-wide prominence as an authority). If so, they are going to drill you big-time in the interview and the result might not be good. Unless you know who you are going to be interviewing with and their background, I probably wouldn't take the risk.

3) Exceptions: when you are one of a few noted and published authorities on the topic. I'm thinking Warren Bennis on leadership, Joe Paterno on coaching college football (OK, don't argue...think back a while).

I recall a situation where I interviewed a candidate that claimed to be an expert in a space I know very well. I had to question him thoroughly about this area of expertise and was disappointed that he didn't "blow me away" with his answers. Claiming expert status sets an incredibly high bar. And few jobs require someone to be an "expert".

And it also brings the ego of the interviewer into play. If you say you are an expert, they just have to figure out if they know more than you. It's a temptation they can't resist. And this isn't really a very good place to go in the interview, in my opinion. Not saying it's right...just human nature.

Comments (13)

  1. Ilya says:

    But isn’t it a main goal of resume to draw recruiter’s attention from the pile of others? According to your 3rd paragraph this "expert" thing will do it just fine. Certainly it should be covered with real expertise and experience but this is a different story.

    Correct me if I’m wrong but the major disadvantage of using "expert" is nobody will trust it. Actual experts do not send resumes looking for a job, their are invited. And none of them (at least those I met myself) calls themselves "expert".

  2. Ilya says:

    their=they. Silly typo 🙂

  3. jeff mccombs says:

    Excellent comments. I have in mind that everyone I will hire needs to be an expert in an area of required knowledge/functionality or display the talent necessary to become an expert. However, if I don’t know the person and see the word "expert" spattered around the resume I will more than likely approach the person skeptically… and who wants that? Only a genuine expert would appreciate that challenge in an interview.

    So… I agree. Put the term "expert" in with caution. You had better be an expert in the eyes of the interviewer (and Heather has commented on that problem), or it will be a very brief and fruitless interview.

  4. Howard Hoy says:

    I can’t help but add my comments as well. I completely agree with Heather and Jeff. I have performed many technical interviews where applicants claim to be "Experts" and don’t come to the interview prepared to back up those claims. If you add the word "Expert" to your resume, then you better be prepared to show off why you are an "Expert".

    I am The Expert – Howard Hoy

  5. jeff mccombs says:

    Hmm.. type "I am the Expert" on a bunch of different search engines, and the previous post author comes up.

  6. Heather says:

    Ilya-point is to draw attention in a good way though. Not a skeptical way. Anyway, it won’t draw my attention "to" the resume, it draws my attention "on" the resume (when I am already looking at it). You make good points about what actual experts do. I think they probably have resumes but don’t need to use them in the same way as us mortals.

    Jeff/Howard…isn’t it funny how often the self-proclaimed "experts" disappoint us in an interview?

  7. Howard Hoy says:

    heather – So many I couldn’t count.

  8. Raj Patel says:

    I read your article with some interest.

    While I would consider myself at the other end of the scale – more a generalist than specialist I still find peoples (particularly in HR and Recruiting) inability to see potential as a major failing. Granted slotting someone into a role isn’t easy but often job specs allow little or no room to be trained for a particular role – how can anyone become an ‘expert’ without being given a break ?

    Being a self taught expert in most cases isn’t going to fly as well as proven on the job experiance. Where do Senior IT Business Analysts come from if there are no openings for Junior Analysts ?

    I guess I’m a firm believer in almost anyone can do almost anything given the chance and appropriate peer mentoring. In many cases I think an organisation becomes healthier by injecting a variety of different people with different backgrounds into jobs.

    Again this is from an ‘average joe’ perspective rather than an ‘expert’ perspective.

  9. Heather says:

    Raj-I think you are bringing up a subject that is different than what I was posting on. I was not saying that we don’t hire for potential. Anyway, you shared your view on hiring for potential, so let me share my view as someone responsible for hiring. To some extent, every time we hire, we hire for potential. We evaluate whether we think someone will learn and grow in our environment and move on to different (or bigger) things. That is inherent in the hiring process. We assess it with every single candidate. If you don’t have long term potential, you could fit the job, but not get hired here.

    Having said that, there are certain minimum skills OR experience requirements for every job. We simply don’t have the resources to train every new employee on all aspects of their job. So they do have to come in the door with certain skills and it’s up to us to determine which skills those are and how to prioritize them. There’s a difference between skills and experience though and we know that. But keep in mind that the combination is golden. Experience is skill put to the test in a practical way.

    Assuming that we have 2 candidates that both have long term potential (they are smart, they know how to get stuff done…which are talents, not experience, by the way), but one has a closer match to the required skills for the job, based on how those skills were prioritized, that person gets hired. It’s simple market dynamics. As a recruiter, it’s my job to find the best candidate possible for the job and for MS.

    As a candidate, my recommendation would be that you focus on what the skills are that you don’t have that keep you from getting the job of your choosing and work on developing them. It’s how I got here so I know it works. As long as companies are about running effectively and efficiently (and making money for stockholders) and Staffing departments are about making the best hires possible, I don’t think you’ll see hiring authorities passing up a closely matched candidates for their position to hire SOLELY on potential (I’ve blogged about this before…there are resources and risks involved). Hiring on potential AND skill is pretty much where it’s at.

  10. Heather says:

    OK, I am going to probably do something controversial here, but I am going to delete the last post from Suzanne. Sorry Suzanne. I’m all for people participating in the conversation and adding a little plug as well, but I’d like to keep away from full-on advertisements. That’s not really why I am here and I don’t think it’s why people are reading my blog. Opinions, yes. Advertisements, no. Sorry.

  11. balaji says:

    But some companies ask candidates to fill in applications in corpoarte website for positions. In which they ask for expertise graded from 1 to 5. 5 being Guru, 4 being Expert, 3 being Advanced, 2 being Internediate and 1 being Novice in various areas. What does this mean? If many candidates click 4, will they be interviewed, rather than the really knowledgable one that’s modest??

  12. Suzanne says:

    Hi Heather- sorry if I posted the wrong way. My sincere apologies.

  13. Marvin Green says:

    Someone once said – The more I know, the more I don’t know.

    So my opinion is that there are no "Experts", even if they may know more then you, it doesn’t make them an expert.

    Expert = Shameless self promoation and ego.

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