I am not sure who exactly this career-ism is for (I try to avoid using the word “advice” because it’s kind of annoying and preachy) but I guess it’s for anyone starting out their career or looking to switch.
So do NOT under any circumstances become one of these poor unfortunate souls, the jack of all trades that is, if you want to have a lucrative, rewarding career, and feel good about yourself. This statement can apply to any industry really. In my world, the jack of all trades translated to the God forsaken business analyst/project manager role in a generic technology dept in a large organization. Otherwise you will be forced to deal with such inane behaviors as these:
1. Running large global conference calls at ungodly times like 6 am local time so that NYC, Asia, and London could all be on the call together when in reality not much is ever really achieved in these calls, due to late joiners, no joiners, zombie listeners, and idiots going on mute at the wrong time, or a dog barking, toilet flushing (I kid you not), or baby crying. And since you are the one running the call you have to be all alert and prepared and peppy, rather than tune out like the rest of them.
2. Having to say “hi who just joined, hi who just joined, hi who just joined?” repeatedly throughout the call for the stealth callers who refuse to announce their names and then finally the ingenious zinger “I’m pretty sure someone just joined because I just heard a beep!”
3. After one of the development teams announces that they have missed their deadline yet again, you have to say things like “well Bob what can we do to help you get back on track” when all you really wanna say is “listen Bob you little twerp just get your freaking work done, you are holding up my freaking project!”
4. Having full accountability for hundreds of people on your project, yet few direct reports that you have true authority over. This will result in you having to befriend all of these hundred odd folks, in order to get them to do their jobs. I mean I do like building relationships with people I actually like, but not if you are a socially challenged condescending jerk. In that case I really don’t wanna ask how your little dog Scotty’s vet appointment was because I really don’t give a crap.
5. Knowing that the purpose of your entire existence at work is to act as a human router, and try to get different teams to talk to each other who refuse to do so on their own. I once had this little pipsqueak dare to ask me to set up a meeting with him and a guy that sat in the cube next to him while I sat in another building. Incidentally, that pipsqueak shot to Managing Director level shortly thereafter because he had a niche skill-set that allowed him to get away with inept interpersonal skills.
If you don’t mind this sort of thing, well go knock yourself out because these jobs are a dime a dozen and someone is always needed to fill these roles, because well, no one seems to want to do them. But, if you thrive on being a specialist or subject matter expert and being valued for the unique knowledge and skills you bring to the table (think Liam Neeson in Taken with his “I have a very particular set of skills” speech), well this will suck your will to live like nothing else.
When I first began my career in management consulting, I was given all sorts of advice, some good, some bad, and some ugly. The worst advice I got for my personality type, which I mistakenly acted upon, was to become a generalist, as opposed to a specialist. I actually really enjoyed being a specialist for the reasons I described above but instead moved towards a generalist path because the takeaway from the advice that rang the loudest for me was that once the particular niche skill you develop becomes obsolete, you’ll be out of a job. Of course what I understand now is that this can be avoided if you simply ensure you stay relevant by retooling and learning regularly. I was a child of immigrants that used to instill in me daily the fear of poverty, what can I say.
Fortunately, after a couple years and a couple thousand conference calls, I got out of that pigeon hole but it took a lot of hard work and determination.
Without getting into a deeper existential discussion regarding fear, courage, and staying true to yourself (read this post if you wanna hear some of that), my desire here is to convey the importance of building a specialization. Using the example of the pipsqueak above, despite the fact that he was a weirdo and I’m pretty sure the toilet flushing culprit, he had a particular hard skill that was in high demand at the time, and as such, was able to parlay it into a lucrative role with a quick progression path where he likely quadrupled his compensation in a few years. It is much more difficult to do this when you are a generalist hustling your way into your next gig, trying to explain your value-add.
In short, find something that is valued (be it a particular technology like CRM or finance topic like transfer pricing (sorry I’m ill-equipped to give any examples outside of tech or finance) that you actually like, stick to it, and become an expert in it. Your skill-set will speak for itself, and the opportunities and compensation will follow.