Be an Expert: 5 Ways to Keep Up With Trends in Your Industry

Kaitlin Madden, CareerBuilder Writer
 

Being an expert in your field gives you a competitive edge whether you're searching for a new job, making a career change or attempting a swift climb up the corporate ladder.

"Experience without expertise means nothing," says Rich Horvath, president of the Strategic Thinking Institute[U1] . "Unless people are actively generating insights or learning about their work on a regular basis, they are simply not taking full advantage of their experience."

Fear not, though. You don't have to go for your Ph.D. to solidify your know-it-all status. Below is your yellow-brick road to  expertville.

1. Attend trade shows

Although not as popular as they once were due to their high costs, trade shows and conferences can be more than just an excuse for taking a trip to Las Vegas with co-workers.

Steve Ford, managing partner at OI Partners/FS&F, a global talent management firm, recommends trade shows for a number of reasons. "Trade shows are excellent for building on your industry knowledge because you can visit everyone's booth and see the latest trends and new products, and see who is well-established in the industry and who is entering," Ford says. "You will also be able to meet a number of people informally and chat for a few minutes, which is much easier than working to set up informational interviews."

2. Sign up for a webinar

Since you probably don't have the time or money to make the trek to every seminar about "The Next Big Thing in Your Industry," scan the Internet regularly for online seminars on topics related to your field. These "webinars" are usually inexpensive (less than $100) or free and are great sources of information. Many times, webinars will not only offer the opportunity to listen in, but will also provide a downloadable presentation that you can follow along with throughout the talk. Take notes on anything you find interesting and research it further when the webinar is over.

Beginners take note: According to Ford, webinars are most useful for people who already have background knowledge about their industry. "They don't give you the basics, and you can't ask very many questions," he says.

3. Follow industry professionals on Twitter

If you're unfamiliar with the micro-blogging site, run -- don't walk -- to Twitter.com and get involved. Once you have a handle on the site, you can search for companies or people you are interested in and follow their thoughts and musings -- so long as said thoughts are expressed in 140 characters or less. The required brevity of "tweets" makes Twitter the ultimate resource for those wishing to stay on top of their industry, without a huge time commitment.

Another great feature: Twitter lets you organize the accounts you follow into lists, so you can check in on particular groups of Twitter feeds. For example: Create one list for people who Tweet about consumer marketing, another for technology tweets and one for experts in your industry whom you admire.

4. Network online

Professional networking sites such as LinkedIn, Brightfuse and Ning are great ways to build relationships and join conversations about your career. Use your connections to find paths to people you'd like to network with and join groups related to your profession.

The sites also have valuable discussion forums on a wide range of topics prompted by member questions. Join in or ask a question of your own every once in awhile to maximize the value of online networking.   

5. Read trade publications and blogs

These days, everyone's a writer and all the world's a blog. Lucky for you, that means you're almost guaranteed to find a reputable blog or publication for your profession. Because blogs can be so easily updated, they are often a good place to look for breaking news and the latest trends in your field. Trade publications, on the other hand, often publish more in-depth industry studies and articles by experts. Check out Entrepreneur.com, which has a large database of e-versions of many trade publications that can be accessed for free.

Kaitlin Madden is a writer and blogger for CareerBuilder.com and its job blog, The Work Buzz. She researches and writes about job search strategy, career management, hiring trends and workplace issues.