Establishing yourself as a functional expert in your niche or industry comes with a variety of benefits. Securing this position in an organization gives you the advantage of negotiating better. However, it’s worth noting that becoming a functional expert is no walk in the park.
A functional expert is defined as someone with extensive expertise in one particular area or subject. They are hired by an organization for their knowledge base and are valued for it as well.
In this article, we hope to elaborate on what it means to be a functional expert in today’s market. You will also learn specific ways to build your knowledge base and expertise to get hired as a functional expert. Finally, we’ll touch on the benefits (and reasons) businesses hire such experts.
What Is A Functional Expert?
In essence, a functional expert is an employee or consultant that is hired for their very niche expertise. They are not a jack of all trades—instead, they specialized in one subject and one subject only.
This could mean that a function expert can know everything there is to know about a specific product line, a service, or a subject matter pertinent to the business. Generally, functional experts work in the HR department. They are tasked with:
- policy development
- solving problems
- employee hiring
Examples Of Functional Experts
As industries advance, we can find functional experts in every line of work, not just HR. Here are a few examples we see in contemporary companies:
Often the IT team needs to hire a professional that is particularly versed in one operating system or program. For example, this would be a person brought in to upgrade the company’s computers. They would also need to train existing staff in the new OS.
Sometimes businesses may realize that their current personnel needs more training to perform their responsibilities better. Training specialists are functional experts that are brought in to handle this task because of their extensive knowledge in the specific subject matter that the person needs training in. They are able to pass on their highly valued skills and improve functionality of existing employees.
We’ve mentioned robotics and its role in the capital goods field (as well as other manufacturing processes). Robotics experts are those people who are responsible for handling solely the robotics aspects of a manufacturing line because they are especially knowledgeable in the field.
Bringing in a marketing consultant is a common tactic used by various organizations. This is useful when trying to expand the market share of a business or introduce a new product line. While most organizations have a marketing team onboard, they may require more expertise for certain functions.
As an organization grows, the challenges of developing and applying policy changes. While many businesses prefer to apply standard industry policies to their organizational structure, it may be more beneficial to take a more customized approach. A policymaker with functional expertise can tailor policies to fit the business goals and long-term vision of an organization.
Another major challenge that an organization faces as it grows larger is the issue of managing its workforce. HR consultants possess knowledge that is helpful in hiring, training and managing employees of a large workforce. They are also able to remedy any existing problems with communication in the workplace.
Job Description For Functional Experts
Because functional experts can work in a variety of different fields, there isn’t any specific job description for such a position. However, we can expect some basic similarities. Experts are generally tasked with:
- Using their knowledge base to improve existing systems and business functions.
- Identifying problems and presenting solutions.
- Building a framework for a business to continue growing.
- Simplifying and streamlining existing processes.
- Finding innovative and contemporary solutions to industry-wide problems.
Perks That Come With The Job
Why would someone consider becoming a functional expert? Being hired for your expertise comes with a lot of perks—and we don’t mean great insurance. If you are an independent contractor that is hired often as a functional expert or a consultant, then you are building your brand.
In essence, you will be showcasing how you are an authority figure in your industry. Instead of looking for jobs, people will come looking for you. In other words, your job hunting days will be over.
Additionally, becoming a functional expert means being valued for your in-depth knowledge in your niche. That gives you the negotiating power when making a deal with a potential employer or anyone else you are working with.
Many people are able to build a branding strategy based on their extensive knowledge base. They may create content in different ways that depend on audiences trusting that they are authority figures. They may be onboarded on a temporary or more permanent basis by businesses wishing to take advantage of their extensive knowledge. In essence, functional experts are irreplaceable. Their role in modern-day business functions is necessary and often urgent.
How To Become A Functional Expert
Establishing yourself as a thought leader in your chosen industry is no piece of cake. There is a long road of hard work that goes into becoming a functional expert. All of that work translates to the value that businesses put into your expertise.
There are a number of ways to go about becoming a functional expert, and they do not necessarily involve formal education. Here are a few ways you can build your expertise.
Formal Education: Traditional Learning
Most of us are told that the only way to get a job is to get a degree. That simply isn’t true. While there are many fields that require formal education for entry-level jobs, there are still many career paths that do not necessarily require you to go college.
That being said, universities and colleges usually do a good job of education. They are the traditional method of learning and accruing the necessary knowledge base that you will need to become an expert in your topic of choice.
However, we cannot stress it enough that:
A university degree without the relevant work experience and drive to learn is worthless.
Thousands of MBA graduates (Masters of Business Administration) go into the real business world after graduation. When push comes to shove, many of them discover that running a business in real life isn’t what it was on paper.
You will need to have the passion, drive, and determination to learn and establish your expertise if you ever want to be considered an expert in your field. Remember that a certificate or a degree is only a paper and without real knowledge it is irrelevant. Too many people get jobs because they have accrued certifications relevant to their field. Their expertise looks good on paper but fails to exceed industry standards when push comes to shove.
Work Experience: Deeper Understanding
The best knowledge and applicable expertise come from actually working in your chosen field. After all, you wouldn’t trust someone to fix your car if they had all the degrees in the world unless you saw that they got their hands dirty and did the job.
Real-life experiences are a huge part of a functional expert’s knowledge base, and the only way to build that is to spend the actual time working in the industry. This may take a long time but it pays off in the end. Many people begin their careers as unpaid interns in hopes of accruing enough work experience.
Try to push the boundaries of your job and work as much as you can in your field. Join projects, take up extra tasks—anything to give you more experience. Over time, people will trust you more because of your extensive experience. Try to keep your work activities limited to a narrow niche in order to become a more specific expert.
Functional Vs. Accorded Expert
We feel that it is important to make a distinction between a functional and an accorded expert. While both are experts in their own right, they both face challenges in establishing expertise in today’s marketplace.
A functional expert generally has enough work experience that their knowledge in their niche industry is extensive. They can apply their skills and knowledge in a variety of situations and can take a hands-on approach to solving problems.
Accorded experts are those people that have been awarded a certificate or accreditation of some sort to prove their expertise. That is, a third party (university, college, organization, etc.) can vouch for them. To further elaborate, these are people who have certification from a large (trusted) organization that states they have the necessary knowledge to establish their expertise in the field. For example, they have a Ph.D. in a relevant subject.
The problem arises when functional experts are not accorded, and when accorded experts are not functional.
In other words, you need both the work experience and the accreditation to prove it if you truly want to be considered a leader in your field.
What should you do if you are a functional expert with no accreditation? It’s best to start signing up for some courses or formal education of some kind. Any type of accreditation will help cement your position as an authority figure in your niche.
If you do not have the funds for formal education, online courses on websites such as Skillshare and Udemy are a valid alternative. More and more businesses are recognizing that not all expertise can be gained through formal education pathways. Soon, online education may be all that is needed to support relevant experience.
What should you do if you are an accorded expert with no experience? The answer is pretty simple—get some functional experience. Apply for a few entry-level jobs and integrate into your industry. Even if you have to settle for an unpaid internship, any experience is better than no experience.
Keep in mind that internships and entry-level jobs should only be stepping stones in your career path. You should maintain the same drive and determination that put you on a career path if you want to continue. Growing within your industry means pushing for more, and never settling. It’s a long road but it is worth it in the end.
Four Levels of Expertise
One very crucial concept that businesses often get wrong is the function expertise cannot be passed on from one department to another. What does this mean? This means that if you hired someone as an HR consultant, you cannot move them to the marketing department. Nothing fruitful will come out of it.
This is a mistake that most businesses make when hiring people. They find that one team member is excelling in their department. Then, when they need to improve the ROI in another department, they move that team member. Soon, the employer finds that the team member is not as productive in their new department. That is usually because they are only experts in one field, and their knowledge does not translate to other fields.
Generally speaking, there are four levels of expertise: procedural, functional, adaptive, and generative. We’ll take a look at each of these types of experts below.
Procedural Experts Know The ‘How’
Beginners in an industry quickly learn the basic procedures required to perform relevant business functions. This is the first type of expertise that people acquire during on-the-job training and internships.
There is some value in hiring people who are procedural experts—people with experience in doing a specific job that needs to be done. However, these aren’t true experts per se. Consider this a stepping stone on your way to becoming a more valued team member and then an expert in your field.
Functional Experts Have Deep Knowledge
Over time, as you experience a variety of situations you will have more understanding of the functional aspects of the industry you are in. Functional experts gain their knowledge from experiencing the industry in more ways than one. They’ve been employees and employers. They’ve seen every side of every problem the industry faces.
These experts gain functional skills through their extensive experience. The skills are then used to solve real-time problems that organizations face.
Adaptive Experts Can Train Others
Once you reach a certain level of expertise you should be able to apply your knowledge in teaching others to be more functional at their jobs. An adaptive expert should be able to adapt their skills and knowledge to apply them in training others.
They should be able to adapt their skills and knowledge according to the person they are training. This level of expertise is usually seen in educators—teachers, professors, etc. However, some training specialists are adaptive experts as well.
Generative Experts Are Innovative
The highest level of expertise is that of innovatives and thought leaders in an industry. These are people like Steve Jobs, Elon Musk, and Mark Zuckerberg. They have become so entrenched in the knowledge of their subject matter that they are able to expand it with new ideas.
Generative experts are capable of using their ideas to change the industry they are in. Their thorough understanding of the subject matter of their choice goes beyond knowledge and into creativity. Often these are the people that most other experts look up to, and becoming a generative expert takes more than time and determination. Some may consider this a talent or a natural knack for how things run.
Reasons Businesses Value Functional Expertise
Now that we’ve reviewed the ins and outs of functional expertise, let’s take a look at the business’ point of view. Why would businesses hire a functional expert? There are many benefits to onboarding someone with the relevant expertise.In fact, there are more than a few situations where they become the only logical solution. Here are a few advantages of hiring a function expert:
- Reduced risks. An expert already has all the hands-on knowledge required to get the relevant job done with minimal risks. For example, when bringing in an IT expert to upgrade an OS. They should be able to do so without damaging hardware or incurring any data loss. There are no rookie mistakes with experts.
- Access to better skills. Typically, experts and consultants are outsourced. Hiring them means introducing a skillset that is not currently part of the existing team member’s technical abilities. Consultants allow business to access their highly valued skills temporarily.
- Boost team morale. Onboarding a well-respected consultant not only benefits the business. It also gives existing team members the chance to advance their careers by improving their skills. By giving them the opportunity to learn from leaders in the industry, employers can motivate team members to work harder. It also fosters loyalty to the organization.
- Long-term improvements. Even long after a functional consultant has left an organization, the impact of onboarding them is evident. The long-term improvements from training sessions, policy changes, and other changes are a huge benefit to the organization.
As you can see, the benefits that a business gets from hiring functional experts cannot be overlooked. If you have the chance to become a functional expert in your field, you will be a highly valued addition to any team. For businesses, hiring a consultant can allow your business to reach new heights and give a fresh perspective on how to run things.
Disadvantages Of Hiring Functional Experts
Despite the (many) aforementioned advantages that a business gets from hiring functional experts, there are still some disadvantages. It is crucial to take into consideration the various drawbacks as well.
The most common problem that businesses face when hiring functional experts is that they are often egoistic. This means that hiring two experts in the same field (or similar fields) can result in clashes and a bad work environment if not done carefully.
Our advice to anyone who tries to establish themselves as an authority figure or function expert in their field: Be humble. A little bit of humility goes a long way and it can even aid in increasing your knowledge base. Even if you believe you have enough experience in your field, somebody else might have gone through situations that you haven’t.
For businesses hiring experts, it’s always best to keep only one team member with expertise in a field. This helps avoid debates and counterproductive arguments.
Functional experts possess exceptional skills and knowledge in a very specific subject matter relating to their field. They are highly valued individuals that bring many benefits to an organization. Businesses hire functional consultants for a variety of reasons. Often, they are able to bring unique solutions to difficult problems that an organization is facing. Here are the key takeaways:
- Functional experts have deep knowledge in a single field.
- Functional expertise is a result of a combination of education and experience.
- Accreditation is important in cementing the expertise of a functional consultant.
- Businesses need functional consultants to solve a variety of industry problems.
- There are four types of expertise, functional being the most useful in a business environment. Thought leaders are also functional experts.