Being a jack of many trades

Earlier today, I had written that bosses are unlikely to trust employees who they think have the option of easily quitting their jobs. I had made the point back then that you shouldn’t take a job for which you are over-qualified.

Thinking about it, it strikes me that if you are versatile, you face a similar kind of problem. Suppose you have the necessary skill sets to do say four different kinds of jobs, and are doing one, irrespective of where you go, your boss will think there is a good chance you might take flight to one of the other jobs. Now, if the potential bosses think like this during the interview itself, there is a good chance that none of them is willing to hire you!

From the point of view of long-term stability, what most bosses are looking for is for focussed and committed employees. And unless your “skills vector” points broadly in the same direction of the required skills for the job, the cross product will be big enough to cause concerns over stability in the mind of the interviewer.

One option, of course, is to focus on one particular direction and forget your other skills, so that the component of your skills vector in this particular direction will dwarf the components in other directions, thus reducing the cross product when compared to the job profile skills vector. But what do you do if, at a particular point of time in your career, you are a jack-of-several-trades – like I am at this point of time? You need to be able to do something now before you are able to improve in a component.

You might appreciate the following analogy if you understand contract bridge. What do you do with a hand where in each of the four suits, both you and your partner are reasonably strong, while there is no single strong suit? You need to choose a trump, and may end up choosing the longest of suits. But due to this choice, you may not be able to use your high cards in the other suits to the fullest extent.

Bridge offers a way out for this, by allowing you to bid for a no trump contract. The challenge here is to find the equivalent of a no trump contract in the job market.

Speaking to Baada about this, we somehow thought this too might fit in with the seminal studs and fighters framework. It is likely (not guaranteed, but likely) that a stud boss may just look at the magnitude of the skills vector and the unique direction it points to and say “OK if i train this guy in my direction, i’m sure he’ll grow quickly along that and will be useful to me”. My little experience says that fighters are more likely to look for “proven track record in chosen field” and “focus” and would thus not be too appreciative of a big cross product.

option to escape

From The Logic of Life – “your option to escape means you cannot be relied upon”.

Harford makes this point while he is talking about “acting white”. That black kids who work hard at acads are discouraged by family and peers because they are now getting an option to exit the misery. It’s the old story of the crabs in the jar. That nothing will escape despite the lid being open.

From a job perspective, this factor might not help people who are seen as being over-qualified for their job. The boss won’t trust them. The boss knows it’s easier for these guys to move out when they want to. So unless they manage to project an extremely strong degree of commitment, it would be difficult for the boss to invest in them.

And two years back, when I left A T Kearney, I had thought I should get into something where I’m overqualified thinking it might help me be seen in a better relative light and thus grow…