Friday, August 26, 2005

Specialize, specialize, specialize 

Phil Miller follows up on my post yesterday about being yourself on the job. He and I share the job history of scatter-shooting the entire Job Openings for Economists looking for that first post. The problem is that you often end up in a job you don't necessarily fit well. Some people can sell themselves into positions they have no business being in. (Turns out his first post was as a forecaster, which happens to be what I was initially trained to do.)

Phil found that his comparative advantage was in part his willingness to work in the geography of the Midwest. My first break in international consulting was simply a willingness to work in Ukraine and be able to teach through a translator and get a message for researchers across to them. It was remarkably easy for me, just as Phil seems unfazed by high humidity.

I'm fortunate that SCSU was my first post because I found a good fit. I had absolutely no idea what my research interests were outside of macro and public choice. I even wandered a couple of years into sports economics, getting so far as a job offer from a Big 10 school as a sports finance guy. ("How did you turn that down?" you ask. Money ostensibly, but more just something in my head screaming "mistake!!!" God bless that voice; it has saved me more often than I care to admit. It remained silent when I agreed to go overseas.)

The advice I got from a dean long ago was "be known as THE expert in something, no matter how small. If you keep publishing, academia and the public will eventually find you." That ex-dean, who still lives near me, has a cigar out of my humidor any time he wants.

Find your comparative advantage -- that which you do better than you do anything else -- and specialize, specialize, specialize. You can trade for whatever else you need. It's not just the advice I give for international trade; it's an organizing principle for your own affairs.

Everyone has a niche. What's yours?