Experts: The sure fire way to know if you have the real deal.

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During my eighteenth month stint generaling my own house remodel, I met and hired my share of experts. People who said they had a comprehensive and commanding skill set in a particular work description. Pretty straightforward right? You’d think so, but have you ever hired a expert and still been dissatisfied and disappointed in the work? Ever asked someone you considered an expert for advice and then later observed your aficionado doing the exact opposite?

I know I have. (More times than I’d like to admit.)

My on-the-job-site training gave me a fresh perspective. I learned that expert is a general term, like aviator, carpenter, editor. What I really needed were “gurus”–specialists in my specific area of interest. For example, I consider myself an expert in flying. Years of training, tons of hours in cockpits. Does that mean I’m an authority on anything with two wings?

Of course not. As a matter of fact my area of expertise within the massive aviation umbrella, however accomplished, would be considered very specialized, even narrow.

If someone interviewed me, the conversation might go like this:

“How many hours do you have?” Around 6500.

“In what kind of airplane?” Mostly Falcons and Lear Jets.

“Professional flight experience or more weekend warrior type of flying?” Mostly corporate experience; some commuter/charter and flight instructing early in my career.

If my answers were satisfactory, and the interviewer was going to physically get in a plane with me he/she might ask to see my credentials: My pilot license and/or medical.

An employer wanting to hire me, may require as part of the interview process that I go up in a plane and prove it. (As management did when I was going through the hiring process at Sears and Roebuck.)

In my mind, the first step in finding a bonafide expert is to search for a person who’s a pro in the skill that is unique to your project. (ie. If you need a demo pilot in Falcon Jet’s, I would qualify as your candidate. A remodeling subcontractor: Look for an individual or team whose size, scale and scope matched my remodel project. A free-lance editor: Find one who has edited in the genre I’m writing in.)

Next, is the vetting. When hiring, wether it’s a carpenter, painter, editor, PR person, mechanic, I typically ask people I know and trust for a references. Works great, which makes it a terrific second step.

Third, the interview. These days, screening is done online, via phone, text or Skype. But in my experience the best way to get a sense of someone’s professionalism is to meet up in person.(Body language is still the best known BS litmus test.)

Just like in my past job interviews, I’d ask see their work. In piloting, it could mean accounting for how many hours flown in the last 90 days and producing training records. In the construction trades: Visiting other homes they’ve worked on. Free-lance editing: Ask potential editors to review a novel page to get a sense of their style; to verify it’s a good fit.

All these steps are exercises to keep me on the right track. So why do I sometimes still get surprised and disappointed by the so called experts?Could it be because they have overstated their abilities or misrepresented themselves?


However, I choose to come from the vantage point that most people are doing their best. Reality is there are people who purposely mis-represent themselves. But in my experience, they are the minority not the majority of the pack.

The fact is, that when asked, the people I’m interviewing claim expert status because they truly believe themselves exceptional in their area of interest. And they probably are. But is there skill set a match to the task at hand?

What I know now is that every hiring misstep began because I didn’t ask the question to end all questions. “If your mother tells you she loves you, check it out.”

On the surface this philosophy seems harsh. I suspect journalism schools teach this catch phrase to impress upon budding writers how imperative it is to check your facts. (Pretty serious business–knowing whether or not your mom loves you, right?)

In the spirit of getting to the bottom of things, here’s what I’ve found as two sure-fire expert-match tests. Ask for references.(Emphasis on “s”.) None of whom are related to the interviewee or are close family friends. Check them. All of them. Be patient, wait to hear from every person listed on your expert’s witness list. (I’m amazed how often I call references only to hear, “Wow, geez, you’re the first person who has ever checked.”)

If the people listed are perpetually unavailable that tells me something. What the references say, their tone and what they don’t say, gives me even more insight.

But the true test is when I take the potential’s game plan and test it against research on the internet. If they tell me a certain tree grows well in full sun in Oklahoma, I check it out. If I’m steered to a book marketing strategy and platform, I’m online, comparing blogs and reader feedback; referencing what other successful author’s in industry have experienced.

Does this take time? Yes. Do I become better informed with each step. Definitely. In order to recognize a real expert, you have to invest and raise your own level of awareness.

“I don’t have time for that?” You may be thinking.

I used to feel the same. After a year-and-a-half of expensive house rework, an editor mismatch, and enduring the energy suck while deciding wether or not to fire them; I’d say the leg work on the front end far exceeds the frustration, deflation and ultimately, time wasted that comes with working with the wrong expert.

At the end of the work day, becoming a first-rate interviewer is the best way to avoid an expert mishap. E.L. Chappel author of Spirit Dance/Storm Chasers/Risk

Calibrating my expert-match meter

aka The Glamorous Wife.

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