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Building Broad Knowledge and Deep Expertise: The T-Shaped Professional

Building Broad Knowledge and Deep Expertise: The T-Shaped Professional

In any walk of life, it’s great to know a little about a lot of things. At the same time, it’s great to truly master a single craft. Balancing these two approaches is a winning philosophy for developing your career. 

If you were to map out this approach to professional development for a marketing or sales professional, it would look something like this: 

  • Broad knowledge in a wide range of skills: paid ads, SEO, social media, email marketing, qualifying leads, objection handling, and so on. This is a long list.
  • Deep expertise in one skill. For me, that’s writing. 

Display this visually, and you see where the name T-Shaped professional comes from. 

In the years I’ve followed this approach, it’s served me well. And if you’re a little lost or at a crossroads in your career, maybe it could serve you well too. So, what are the benefits of following this approach, and what’s the best way to get started? 

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Why Follow This Approach?

Listen, you don’t know me. And I’m certainly not some fancy leadership development coach with a ton of experience. So why should you take this approach to developing your career?

First of all, it’s an approach used by some of the top companies in the world. McKinsey uses this strategy to identify and develop talent. So does IDEO. It’s not just me. Anyway, here are a few of the benefits:

  • Focus on What You’re Good At: when you have a clear understanding of where your strengths lie, you can spend more time there. That helps you master your craft faster, deliver better work to your clients and teammates, and ultimately become a more valuable professional. 
  • Provide Additional (Often Unexpected) Value: people often hire you for one reason––whether that’s because you’re a great writer or a master video editor. When they need someone with a different skill set, finding and hiring a new person can be a daunting task. That’s when you step in. A great writer who knows how to run social media? A video editor who knows their way around YouTube ads? Both are great, complementary skills to have. 
  • Knowing Your Limits: while you know where you can chip in with a little piece of extra value, being a T-shaped professional also requires you to be cognizant of where your limits lie. If someone wants a major commitment in some discipline that’s not your core focus, it’s probably not a good idea for you to do that. In practice, the whole “fake it till you make it” schtick doesn’t work very well. 
  • It’s Fun: nobody wants to spend all day doing something they suck at. Being good at what you do is not only a valuable economic skill, it makes for a much more pleasant working life. Knocking out great deliverables one after the other makes you much happier than struggling through a difficult task and turning in something mediocre. 

These are just a few of the benefits––the reality is that they’ll be different for every person. So, how can you get started on this journey to becoming a T-shaped professional? Let’s take a closer look. 

Start Broad, Then Focus on One Area

If you’re early in your career, you might not yet have found particular skills that you’re either really good at or enjoy working on. That’s fine––take some time to explore different areas before choosing one craft to dive deeper into. 

Building knowledge of a lot of different areas makes it important for you to be committed to constantly learning and improving on a wide range of different skills. There are a few ways you can do this:

  • Seek out knowledge: read books, listen to podcasts, or sign up for emails from the Hire a Writer blog––whatever your learning style is, you should be constantly on the lookout for new knowledge that can help you improve your skills. 
  • Work with different businesses: if you want to learn a bunch of different skills, work with businesses in different industries. You’ll learn a lot about not only that industry, but also the unique strategies and tactics used by different types of businesses. 
  • Surround yourself with people that are smarter than you: this is a big one. You want to surround yourself with people that you look up to. As you work with them, you’ll learn a lot––not only in terms of hard skills but also in the way these people conduct themselves. 
  • Practice: the best way to get good at something is to do it, over and over again. Want to get better at running Google Ads? Go do it. Want to become a better writer? Go write a couple of hundred blogs. 

Choosing Where to Go Deep In One Skill

Once you’ve experienced a wide range of skills, you need to start thinking about identifying the one area where you want to go deep. This is a big decision, and you shouldn’t take it lightly––it’s literally what you’re going to spend the rest of your career doing. 

Here are a few tests your chosen skill should pass:

  1. Are you good at it?
  2. Will people pay you well for it?
  3. Do you enjoy doing it?

If the answer to all three of these questions is yes, go ahead and start down the long road to becoming a master of your craft. 

It’s a long journey, one that will take years or even decades to complete. But along the way, you’ll level up, getting better week by week and taking your career to new heights.


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