Should you be a jack of all trades or a specialist? Here’s how to tell!

Opinions are divided: many corporate and business leaders say that it’s essential to be a master or a specialist at your craft, whether that’s management, graphic design or landscaping.

Other people suggest that focusing on one speciality only could be a recipe for career disaster. They say that in order to achieve throughout your life and under changing workplace conditions, it’s essential to be a jack of all trades.

What is a jack of all trades?

According to Wikipedia: “Jack of all trades, master of none” is a figure of speech used in reference to a person that is competent with many skills, but is not necessarily outstanding in any particular one.”

What is a specialist?

A specialist or a master is someone who has honed his or her craft in one particular area of speciality, with a very narrow focus. They are thought to be an authority on the subject.

Benefits of being a jack of all trades

You are more saleable: “When you storm into the market with a diverse set of skills, there are chances that your different skills attract clients both individually as well as collectively, and will land a good bunch of projects on your desk,” says Arfa Mirza, a graphic designer and blogger.

Most CEOs are jacks of all trade: “Is Steve Jobs a better programmer than the vice president of engineering? No, but he has a broad range of skills and sees the unseen interconnectedness…it’s the big-picture generalists who will predict, innovate, and rise to power fastest,” says Tim Ferris, the author of The Four Hour Work Week.

Success across business sectors: George Bradt, founder of an on-boarding group, says, “You need people that can switch from meeting with customers, to balancing the books, to sweeping the floor without blinking.”

Benefits of being a specialist

Specialists stick together: According to entrepreneur Penelope Trunk, “A specialist is a hard worker, and committed and diligent and other specialists are encouraged to help because of that, which means you get more access to a wider range of help if you specialise and risk needing a wider range of help.”

In some industries, it’s your only way to get a foot in the door: This post discusses the film and TV industries and how students in the US and overseas should specialise to break into them. “Hundreds of thousands of media students graduate worldwide every year and over 40% of those who apply don’t even get replies to their job applications.”

More focused customer service: “You understand your business better than most people, you become an expert in what you do, and most of the time, you’re able to offer a better and more individualised service to your customers,” says Patricia Laya, American Express Business Insider.

Downsides of being a jack of all trades

Too busy: “Although professionals get projects in bulks, everyone has a maximum workload that they can handle,” says Mirza.

Never “the best”: “When you can do it all, you can never be the best at one thing. By spreading yourself over so many areas, you will never be able to be fully developed in one area,” says Janna Hagan, a web designer.

Job at risk? “It’s the jack of all trades or generalist who is likely to suffer when layoffs are dished out unless they can function equally well in another department,” says USA Broadcast Weekly.

Downsides to being a specialist

When business is bad you have no work: “(Specialists) limit their ability to expand their business and they risk going out of business if their specialty becomes obsolete,” says Alyssa Gregory, a small business collaborator.

Focus too narrow: “Their market may be too narrow for consistent income and they probably have to turn down or outsource a lot of work,” adds Gregory.

Your work could become obsolete: There are some professions where job numbers are diminishing. Retail employees, manufacturers and even bookkeepers are specialists who may not have careers beyond the next 15 years, according to some reports.

Are you a jack of all trades or a specialist?

Your skills: Take a critical look at your skills and assess what you’re good at and what you enjoy. You might also look at how you compare to others.

Your industry: what is the sector looking like? If you’re looking for work in a particular industry, it’s wise to check current job roles that are being advertised to see if you can pick trends.

Your future goals: Where would you like to be in 5 years…in 10? Have a think about your future goals and decide on the best plan of action to get there.

Your work history: where have you had success in the past? Have a look at whether most of your career accolades came from times you limited your working tasks or where you diversified them.


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