I used to work for a small newsletter marketing company. We specialized in doing just one task: making email newsletters for clients, start to finish. We had the design and writing skill to do a variety of other projects (print ads, web ads, web design, etc.), but by honing in on one specific segment we were declared experts in that segment.

And the strangest thing happened: we'd have clients ask for help with things we never even told them we could do.

I've applied this same basic premise to my own personal career. The idea is this: if you differentiate yourself in just one key area, you make yourself that much more marketable in every area of your job segment. (This concept was discussed to some extent in this MarketingProfs blog.) 

In IT, the danger of being the "jack of all trades" is greater than most fields. Especially in small businesses, IT pros are expected to do a variety of different "techy" tasks because the company employees don't know who else to turn to. (I like to tell my brother, "You're an engineer, figure it out" to any life circumstance as a joke. The same could be said for, "You're a computer guy, fix my problem.")

So what can you do? Obviously, snubbing your nose at needy employees and family members and saying, "Sorry, I'm just a ____ expert" is not a solution. But little by little, you can make yourself an expert at something with these steps:

  1. Determine what segment of IT you are most interested in. If you don't really have a preference, pick a growing field. (Check out Paul Thurrott's piece on a few trends for 2011 to start.)
  2. Start aligning yourself with other experts in this segment by following them on Twitter, guest blogging on relevant sites, etc. Begin to build a reputation in your niche. (To get started, use www.search.twitter.com to find individuals tweeting about your relevant topic. Start conversations, post about similar topics, and study the latest trends in your space.)
  3. Alter your resume, LinkedIn profile, website or blog, and any other personal branding to clearly focus on your niche.
  4. Earn additional certifications or participate in Microsoft virtual labs to sharpen your skills.

Whether you're looking for a job now or are happily employed at the time, you'll be grateful in the future when you have a specific segment to focus your job search and career trajectory. You'll apply for fewer jobs, receive more interviews, and will likely be propositioned for a job at some point on LinkedIn or another site simply because you've packed your personal profiles with relevant keywords on a specific topic.

Follow Brian Reinholz on Twitter @breinholz. 

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