Jack of all trades, master of none?

Vienna, Austria – There are a few people who can do everything well, and are useful everywhere. They have a sound technical education, they have studied economics, they have worked in a large corporation, they have established their own business. They have organised a 3,000-head event, led a seven-star hotel and managed an industrial company’s corporate rebranding. In addition, they are qualified professional coaches, and they moderate energy congresses in their spare time.

No matter what they do, these “Jacks-of-all-trades” always work at the highest level and provide excellent results. Their lives are varied and dynamic. Continuity bores them, so they are always looking for something new. They usually say: “Once I've achieved something, I get bored with it. That’s when I need a new challenge in a new environment.”

What place is there for these “egg-laying, milk-bearing woolly sows” in the corporate world? Their versatility can scare off most traditional recruiters, who may rule them out immediately because it is not clear where they belong. Their resume is too colourful to fit a grey office environment, and unfortunately, when an interviewee says: “Place me somewhere, in any department – I can do anything!” the answer is usually “If you can do anything, then you can do nothing of substance.”

At the extreme ends of the spectrum, specialists are people who know more and more about fewer and fewer things until they know everything about nothing, while generalists are people who know less and less about more and more things until they know nothing about everything. Opinions are divided as to whether generalists or specialists are more in demand as employees. Although fashions and trends vary over the years, companies in fact need both generalists and specialists to function well. What is more important is that an employee has the right kind of knowledge for the current point in his career path.

As a rule, employees tend to be rather generalist at the beginning of their careers, and during the first five to ten years of employment, they start to specialise in a particular area. Employees who are interested in management then develop back to generalists again. For managers, the typical career path is therefore like an hourglass, with professional development and knowledge narrowing from generalist to specialist, then widening back to generalist.

If you consider yourself to be one of the “egg-laying, milk-bearing woolly sows,” take care in how you behave in a new work environment. Choose only one of your skills and introduce yourself as an expert in this field. You can then establish your other talents gradually, and enjoy the surprise of your business partners: “What, you mean you can also play piano and juggle?”

Conrad Pramböck is the Head of Compensation Consulting at Pedersen & Partners. Based in Vienna, Austria, he is responsible for consulting companies on all aspects of compensation, including providing companies with up-to-date market information on salary ranges and design of bonus systems across all industries and geographies. Prior to joining the firm, Mr. Pramböck held several senior positions in international consultancy firms. He started his career with a German Consultancy firm working in management consulting and later in the Compensation Consulting business unit based in Austria. For the following seven years he worked with one of the top Austrian Executive Search firms as the Head of Compensation Consulting. He was responsible for all international compensation consulting activities and developed and maintained an international compensation database in 40 countries.

Pedersen & Partners is a leading international Executive Search firm. We operate 56 wholly owned offices in 52 countries across Europe, the Middle East, Africa, Asia & the Americas. Our values Trust, Relationship and Professionalism apply to our interaction with clients as well as executives. More information about Pedersen & Partners is available at www.pedersenandpartners.com

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