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Mentoring Expertise: What Does it Take to be an Expert in Your Field?

Becoming an expert in any given field takes commitment, determination and more importantly – time.  Research shows that it will take the average person between ten and seventeen years of dedication, practice and experience to become considered an expert in one’s field. Very few professional accomplishments happen overnight.  A person cannot simply step into a profession and immediately be considered an expert.

Career management expert Caela Farren (author of Who’s Running Your Career?) describes the steps toward mastery and what employees should be capable of accomplishing at each level and what is needed to help them master the expertise of their profession:

ApprenticeAn apprentice is someone who is just starting his or her career or learning a trade.  The apprentice requires a great deal of time and dedication to building his or her knowledge base and will benefit from frequent coaching and feedback on complex tasks and projects.  The supervisor can provide guidance until enough experience and knowledge has been passed along thus allowing the apprentice to advance to the next skill level.

ContributorContributors are capable of tackling sophisticated issues within their field and can offer the appropriate solutions to complex problems and should be determining what skills or competencies are necessary to progress in their organization. They should also be taking on stretch assignments outside their comfort zone such as participating in higher level projects that will give them an opportunity to showcase a skill or ability.

MentorMentors are relied upon to set the example and guide contributors and apprentices within the organization.  They are sought after by all within the organization to solve complex problems beyond the limited capability of the contributors or apprentices.  They also can provide new insight and knowledge for the less experienced professional.

LeaderLeaders are completely self-sufficient and are the driving force of innovation and the development of the next generation of leaders. They are known organizationally and industry wide for their expertise, character and competence.  They are strategic thinkers and have a clear vision and specific plans for carrying out the organization’s mission.

Understanding the degrees of development for each step toward mastery (set forth above) is critical to building the next generation of leaders.  While experience and time are vital, how you use that time and impart that experience will make the difference and maybe even accelerate the process!


Oftentimes, your goal as mentoree is to become a master within a field, industry or organization that you care about. Understanding the degrees of development for each stage of your career will help you to shape your mentoring plans and activities. . Depending on which stage you are at in your career, consider the following questions to ask your mentor at your next mentoring meeting: