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Subject Matter Experts Rule!

Today's employers hire Subject Matter Experts to solve problems. Managers and executives might not like this, but the day of the Generalist is over.

Now that it's easy to completely customize and individualize a resume to demonstrate Subject Matter Expertise, why would a hiring manager give a second glance at a general resume that didn't exactly match requirements?

Leadership and management skills are no longer searched for skills. Sure, they are still valued, but these skills are now assumed, and validated during an interview – if you get that interview. At the same time, technology life cycles have shortened, and employee turnover has increased. Employers have reacted by hiring problem solvers to make an immediate impact with minimal training or ramp-up time – Subject Matter Experts . Distinctions between contractors and W2 employees have blurred, as more workers embrace advantages of project work. Hiring managers started seeking full time employees to solve problems that consultants solve…for less cost.

Back in the days of paper resumes, sometime between the Declaration of Independence and the year 2000, the common knowledge was to write resumes as generalists. Especially for management level professionals, the "rule of thumb" was to write resumes to appeal to a broad audience, as a generalist.

The reason made sense at the time…resumes were printed on paper then. Your resume HAD to appeal to a broad audience, because it was static. The only way you COULD change it was by changing the cover letter.

But that changed around 2000. Right around the new millennium, job boards exploded, and overtook printed ads. When job boards exploded, HR departments and recruiters responded, by implementing pre-screens that increased efficiency of searches, and enabled hiring managers to micro-target candidate searches. Hiring managers changed their expectations, and expected exact fits…Subject Matter Experts.

And cover letters stopped being considered as part of a search…why look at the cover letter, when a candidate could easily customize their resume?

So, all you generalist managers out there….How will you change your job search strategies to respond?

If you’d like more information, a free 30 minute resume consultation, or some advice about your career transition, just email your resume to reCareered at

Phil Rosenberg
President, reCareered & Rainmakers Global

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  • Jay Tatum

    For those dinosaurs like me out there that only know one way to do the resume, cover letter, and excell at leadership and management skills, the Subject Matter Expert resume is the new social science construct of reality. I agree with you that many companies are looking for the SME but I doubt the HR departments in a great many companies are working off the new platform completely. Old habits die hard and while the HR software that reads resumes is a great help for the HR managers in their departments, I suspect that one of the reasons they are so overwhelmed with respondents is precisely what you seem to imply - the HR systems received more generalist resumes than SME resumes.
    In his book, "Sacred Cows Make Gourmet Burgers," 21st Century Strategiest Bill Easum suggested over a decade ago that continuing to do business the way it's always been done (valuing the sacred cows) would lead to the decline of that enterprise, thus making Gourmet Burgers of the Sacred Cows. Now Easum was writing to the Church in the late 20th Century, but the value of what he suggests is precisely the point you make.
    I wonder, though, whether you are up to some light-hearted
    ribbing about what you propose. I, for one, have complete confidence in the human condition. I can imagine a time when the need for SMEs becomes so concentrated that the need for such specificity will consume the business world to the point of imploding upon it's self. While I didn't really exegete the totality of your post, the implications for the business sector is to become so specialized with SMEs that one of a couple of things could popentially occur. One, the division of labor within the focus areas will become too cost prohibitive to drill to deep; Two, the duration of employment gives new meaning to At Will employment because of competition and/or the intensity of the focus area; and Three, the exponential appeal of the SMEs will reach critical mass and stablize at the third or fourth level of specialization. Each of these approaches the point of what you suggest in a similar way and if our American business history is a good indicator of past performances impact on present and future performance, I'd just point to the thousands of craft and trade unions that have developed in response to the need for specialization. Or better yet, take a look at the federal government's X-18 for human resources and what is happening within the further specializations of job descriptions and KSAs.
    Like I said above, I have complete confidence in the human condition. Ultimately, self-differentiation has its limits and the integrity of an organization is always challenged to find the appropriate balance between those who can do it all and those who can only provided limited subject matter expertise (limited in the sense of further division of labor).
    I appreciate your insight into the topic and have to say that as a Subject Matter Expert myself (smile, I'm a cleric, :>)), it will be an interesting day in American business and the free enterprise system when the Subject Matter Experts Rule. I would be remiss if I didn't say that I am more of a cynic than a skeptic so I can't wait to see what they do to/with the economy! I just hope it doesn't become a committee or task force. Thanks.

  • Phil Rosenberg

    Ed, Thanks for adding to the conversation. Sounds like you look for subject matter expertise, but identify broad leadership skills during the interview process. Agreed that business today has little tolerance for wasting time with BS.

  • Edward Sussman

    Phil -- I still try to hire people with the temperament to be generalists but with the background of a specialist in some discipline. So, if I need a GM for a division, I don't look for someone who has run the same exact sort of company. But I do want someone who has shown mastery of detail doing something relevant to the position. People like this get work done instead of wasting time bullshitting. That's my job.

  • Anonymous

    Excellent advice, Phil. I can see how things have changed. A lot of people haven't twigged yet, from the resumes I see.

  • Joseph Allan

    Excellent advice, Phil. I can see how things have changed. A lot of people haven't twigged yet, from the resumes I see.