How To Become a Subject Matter Expert (Salary and Skills)

By Indeed Editorial Team

Published 27 September 2021

The Indeed Editorial Team comprises a diverse and talented team of writers, researchers and subject matter experts equipped with Indeed's data and insights to deliver useful tips to help guide your career journey.

Subject matter experts (SMEs) are in high demand in workplaces for their specialised knowledge in relevant fields. Due to their profound understanding of specific industries, jobs, work processes, legal regulations, markets, emerging technologies, machinery and equipment, they can provide guidance, resolve issues and help with business advancement. By reviewing the role and responsibilities of subject matter experts in workplaces, you can decide if the profession is right for you. In this article, we discuss how to become a subject matter expert and answer some common questions about this profession.

How to become a subject matter expert

You can become a subject matter expert by following these steps:

1. Gain knowledge on a subject

Subject experts in any field must have in-depth knowledge about it. You can gain the necessary competence by setting aside a few hours every day to study new things and gain new skills. Since it requires a lot of effort and time investment to become proficient in anything, it is advisable to choose a subject that deeply interests you and one that may also be in demand in the industry.

You can choose to learn by taking an in-person or online course or through dedicated self-study. The benefit of a formal educational program is that you can obtain a certification to show you have completed the course and passed competitive tests to confirm your newfound knowledge and skills. Most professional SMEs have advanced degrees in their field.

2. Get work experience

You need relevant and hands-on work experience to balance your formal or informal educational qualifications. To get this, you can do internships, freelance work, part-time work, full-time work and volunteer work in your specific field. You can also gain work experience by planning, managing and completing self-initiated projects.

By getting work experience in your field, you can better position yourself to understand the work requirements of the industry. You can get first-hand knowledge of the developments and shifts occurring in the industry and how these might impact its future.

3. Seek continuing education

Continuing education has become essential in most fields to enable professionals to keep up with rapid technological developments. Advanced technologies are changing the job scenario, and you may have to keep yourself continually updated to stay relevant as a subject matter expert. You can do this by taking new study courses, attending seminars, lectures and conferences, participating in discussions and debates with other subject experts, being active on professional networking sites and keeping up with trends and news on social media and other online channels.

4. Test your theories

As a subject matter expert, you must regularly think up innovative ideas and develop processes to get things done and benefit your organisation. At the same time, you must be able to prove and demonstrate your outcomes practically. For that, you can constantly test your theories and ensure that they are workable. For instance, if you have to reorganise a company department to make it more effective, you must first test your ideas on a small scale to see if they work and apply them on a larger scale only if they do.

5. Become an authority

To succeed as a subject matter expert, consider establishing yourself publically as an authority in your field. You can do that in several ways. For instance, you might set up an informative and regularly updated website or blog to make your opinions known to your target audience. You can offer advice and tips through a video channel and podcast.

You can position yourself as an industry thought leader by writing well-researched articles and columns on your subject for notable online and offline publications, sharing your views on social media and networking with industry leaders. By sharing your content through multiple channels, you can get your message across to more people and become better known in the industry.

6. Be authentic

While positioning yourself as an authority in your field, it is essential to make every effort to remain genuine and neutral. As a subject matter expert, you must express unbiased, honest and factually correct opinions on any topic. It is only by being accurate, authentic and informative that you can get people to trust you and accept you as a subject expert.

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What is a subject matter expert?

A subject matter expert is a professional consultant with in-depth knowledge of and extensive experience in specialised matters. Most SMEs have spent years studying and researching their specific subject and gaining a very high level of expertise in it. Moreover, they continue to keep themselves educated in it to acquire new information and skills.

They use the mastery of their subject to provide professional advice to private and public companies in their field. They help them to resolve issues, meet challenges and advance business interests. Subject matter experts can work in all fields but are likely to be more in demand in fast-developing sectors like education, healthcare, engineering, architecture, information technology, software development, human resources, marketing, public relations, finance, law and military.

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What qualifies as a subject matter expert?

To qualify as a subject matter expert, you must have in-depth and up-to-date knowledge about how to get things done in your field of specialisation. That may require you to put in years of formal study, acquire advanced degrees, participate in continuing education and gain extensive experience. Consider developing a good understanding of industry best practices and processes, including detailed information about technical methods, materials and equipment.

You may need to use your knowledge and experience to analyse the business activities, goals and client base of a company and make correct recommendations for improving infrastructure, becoming better organised, expanding operations and using equipment and resources effectively. Additionally, you may need to create performance processes, explain technical concepts, provide documentation, offer sales advice and assist the management as necessary.

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Is subject matter expert a good career?

Becoming a subject matter expert can be a good career move, as there is a growing demand for SMEs in different industries. With the right aptitude and attitude, you may be able to find many lucrative work opportunities as a permanent or visiting consultant. Although, it can take many years of focused study to gain the highly specialised knowledge that subject matter experts require. You must also continually monitor the industry, keep yourself updated on new developments, learn new skills and keep expanding your knowledge base.

It can be a challenging profession and one that may require you to take calculated risks in the advice and recommendations you make. You may also have to work hard and spend considerable time and effort to position yourself as a trustworthy, knowledgeable and professional expert in your field. As you become more well known and respected by your industry peers, you may become more valuable and indispensable to your organisation. That could lead to a better work environment and a higher salary.

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What is the salary of a subject matter expert?

The national average salary of a subject matter expert is ₹17,615 per month. The exact pay can vary as per the industry, employer, job position, skills, experience and location. Well-known and well-established subject matter experts can generally earn high salaries.

What are some SME scenarios?

The following subject matter experts scenarios may help you to understand what the work involves:

  • A company has SEO professionals with general expertise and requires an SME with specialised SEO knowledge. The subject matter expert may conduct an SEO audit to identify issues and create and implement a plan to improve organic search results.

  • A marketing company may hire a data management specialist to train their sales team to extract, format and analyse sales data. The data management SME can show them how to use the data to create quantitative reports.

  • A legal team may hire a subject matter expert in certain chemicals to provide expert testimony in court regarding their use or misuse in a specific context. The court may base its decision on the SME's opinion.

  • A publisher of medical journals may hire subject matter experts in specific diseases to contribute learned articles about them. These articles may provide doctors, nurses and other medical professionals with the necessary information to treat the diseases.

  • An IT company may hire an information technology SME to identify and fix technical problems, install new operating systems and applications, explain technical matters in simple terms and provide IT training to its staff.

  • A management company may hire a subject matter expert in leadership to make crucial organisation changes. The SME may provide leadership training to the company managers, offer behavioural insights and create strategies to improve the overall management.

Salary figures reflect data listed on Indeed Salaries at time of writing. Salaries may vary depending on the hiring organisation and a candidate's experience, academic background and location.

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