BOB LANKARD: Calling jacks of all trades
July 14, 2013 2:50 AM

“Jack-of-all-trades” has always been a term of derision, a joke.

But recent hiring trends are giving generalists an advantage. Employers are asking employees to assume multiple jobs. They now want workers who are good at a lot of things. Welders are in demand, but some companies may expect a welder to move to another department at a moment’s notice.

The buzzword for this trend is “skill combos.” Job seekers are expected to develop skills and knowledge so they can quickly adapt to rapid changes in the job market. Jobs have become multifaceted. Call it multitasking or multidimensional.

Another buzzword that workers and job seekers should know is cross-training. The object of cross-training is to have each individual worker do every job on the floor. There is no room for “I’m all thumbs with that machine” or “I don’t do computers.” Cross-training is the staple of the American auto industry. No more of this doing the same thing all day, every day. Workers may actually change jobs several times a day.

The key to success in today’s worldwide economy is the ability to adapt quickly.

This means businesses expect a worker to learn a new job at the drop of a hat. Do you pick up things quickly? Then you must be able to sell that skill by citing examples of new skills you learned in a short time.

So what is the person with diverse experience in a number of industries to do? Assess your work experience focusing on accomplishments, skills, knowledge and abilities. Also look at education and training, community activities and hobbies. This assessment should enable you to develop several sets of skill combinations.

This former jack-of-all-trades should avoid the inclination to say, “Oh boy, I have 20 skills. I will put them all on a résumé and send them out to 200 employers.” I call this the shotgun approach and advise against it.

Take the rifle approach and target several employers. Get to know four or five employers really well.

Your aim is to customize your approach to each employer. Be able to present the hiring manager those skills relevant to the position.

The best way to learn about a company, especially if it’s local, is to network.

Talk to someone who works there. Ask an “old timer.” Find out what it takes to succeed at each company. When there were several sewing factories in the local community, I learned that each plant did things differently. Learn what Company X’s way of doing things is.

Look at the company’s website. Learn as much as you can. You will get clues as to what an employer is looking for in an employee.

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