In the job market, is it better to be a jack-of-all-trades?


The Appalachian Online

Matt Zothner

We’ve all heard the saying “jack-of-all-trades, but a master of none” in our lives, but what does that mean in the workforce? Does being perfect at one thing put you in a better position than someone who is proficient at a bunch of things? I’m not so sure.

As we near the end of our schooling and start looking into the job market, one thing remains unclear: is it better to have a niche set out for you in your chosen field, or is it better to perform the individual functions of four or five people in a company.

With anything in life, it’s better to strike a balance. But many millennials, fighting for positions in the job market, are unsure if companies want someone who can perform the tasks of a few people decently or become an expert at one specific job.

There lies a gray area when this topic is brought up because the opinion depends on who you talk to. In the industries of medicine and science, many would agree that you need to become an expert in your discipline.

However, in the environment of a tech startup (where there’s not enough money to hire 10 people), you typically wear multiple hats, performing separate tasks as needed. In a large corporation, filling a niche is typical, and people will go to one specific person if they are in need of assistance in that field.

It is true that you do not want to spread yourself so thin that you have subpar skill at a bunch of things, and it’s also true that by being perfect at only one thing, you do not grow in other facets of your work.

Many people give it too much thought. What people tend to forget is that the saying comes from 18th century literature, and is not exactly relevant anymore out of context. “Jack-of-all-trades” comes from a time in which the trades (blacksmith, farmer, etc.) required a vast amount of time to master, and information was less freely available than it is today. With the advancement of the Internet, a person who wants to be a programmer, designer, and marketer could very well learn all of those things and combine them in a practical manner specific to them.

This type of work in the tech industry is referenced as “full stack” and according to TechCrunch, “…it is critical to have at least one person with at least a functional understanding of each of the composite parts who is also capable of connecting various tiers and working with each expert so that a feature can actually be delivered.”

In broader terms, it’s impossible to know everything, but it is possible to dabble in a bunch of areas in your respective industry. Having knowledge in lots of areas can only benefit you, but everyone should also at least try to hone in on one thing they are talented at and master it.

In school, we’re constantly expanding our skill sets and learning about the world. So regardless of your belief toward this, in this job market, you’re better off having as many skills as you can obtain, and if you become the best, take it and run with it.

Zothner, a junior marketing major from Cary, is an opinion writer.