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Job Search Paradox May 17, 2009

Posted by Tim Rodgers in job search, Management & leadership.
Tags: , ,

I’ve been in-transition for six months now, and as I apply for positions and discuss my qualifications with people, I run into a persistent paradox that I think will sound familiar. It has to do with the level of technical or domain expertise that’s truly necessary to succeed as a manager, particularly in a senior management role.

I believe that there’s a significant and fundamental change that occurs when a person transitions from an individual contributor position into a management position. I don’t believe it’s possible for a person to continue to be as technically-competent, or maintain their level of expertise after they become a manager, assuming they’re committed to success in their new role. There just aren’t enough hours in the day to practice the technical skills, and acquire knowledge to keep up with non-managers, while developing new skills in strategic planning and performance management and optimizing teams. Managers can’t be as technically competent as the strongest members of their team, and team performance actually suffers when managers try to wear both hats.

That being said, successful managers must have domain expertise, or the experience foundation and capacity to quickly acquire the relevant domain expertise. Managers need to have the knowledge to detect when their teams are drifting off course, or are in danger of driving off a cliff, and then use their positional power and technical credibility to apply corrective action.

If the new manager is an insider hired from within the ranks, it’s assumed that they already have the domain expertise. That sounds like a plus, but some organizations actively seek outsiders for various legitimate reasons (fresh perspective, no viable internal candidates).

So, how much domain expertise does an external candidate need to have, specifically for a management position? When I was a hiring manager, I wanted to hire people with underlying skills, such as the capacity to learn and ultimately re-define the job itself. No matter how you scope the job, it’s going to change. Wouldn’t it be better to bring someone into the organization who can help meet tomorrow’s challenges, not just today’s? For a senior management position, I’d prefer someone with a track record of adaptability and broad experiences over someone with a career focused on a specific technical domain or industry.



1. Generalized Experience vs. Domain Expertise « Managing in the 2000s - June 10, 2012

[…] have both. I’ve written about this a couple of times before (See Leopards and Chameleons and Job Search Paradox), but recent events have inspired me to re-visit the […]

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