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Team-Building: Pigeonholing The Jack-of-All-Trades
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Team-Building: Pigeonholing The Jack-of-All-Trades - Executive Leadership Articles

Team-Building: Pigeonholing The Jack-of-All-Trades

Executive Leadership Articles

Team-Building: Pigeonholing The Jack-of-All-Trades

Just about every busy office has one: That person who was hired for one job, but quickly revealed him- or herself to be a sharp learner with a wide range of interests. It’s almost always someone who communicates well, gets along great with others, and solves problems with alacrity. He or she is your Jack (or Jill) of All Trades, the person who steps up to assist with any task, and is often consulted for opinion on (and execution of) logistical puzzles, for situations as diverse as setting up the office holiday party and upgrading the network. Your Jack of All Trades is the MVP of the office on a daily basis, and everyone knows it.

It can be difficult to screen for a Jack of All Trades if you’re specifically looking for one in the hiring process, but some clues are an employment history that diverges from a college degree, college majors and minors in different realms, hobbies and interests that reveal curiosity in far-flung subjects, and the ability to converse competently about current topics. Because of the quickly evolving nature of technology, many companies need people willing and able to keep up, so some level of enthusiasm for new tech is worth filtering for, not only because you’ll want to send someone to training for the new database software you’ll someday be purchasing, but because an impressive amount of technical competency, no matter what the position actually calls for, usually indicates strong problem-solving skills.

When your Jack of All Trades is on vacation, everyone in the office is aware of it because of the many questions he answers every day. What does the emergency plan say about sharing on social media during sheltering in place? What did we do with the decorations for the Thanksgiving luncheon? Why won’t Outlook let me attach this file? What was the name of that firm who did the presentation on workplace harassment? These questions always go to Jack because if he doesn’t know the answer off the top of his head, he knows exactly where to find it, and will often dig it up when others could just as easily have done it themselves. And unlike the tech guy, he won’t make them feel stupid for asking.

This indispensability obviously works to the advantage of your Jill of All Trades. There’s a kind of unspoken job security that comes when a role like this is filled competently, and it means work is always evolving and frequently challenging. Those “additional duties as required” in the job description mean all manner of new skills, knowledge, and experience that would seem to make her more hirable if she should ever feel the desire to move along. And they feed a desire to be involved in something new all the time, which not everyone is blessed with.

Yet the indispensability and the wide knowledge can also work against your Jacks and Jills. Many find themselves being spread laterally across the company landscape, which looks like opportunity until it becomes evident that there hasn’t been any upward mobility, and it makes a lot of sense. Promotion into the upper echelon of management often means lots of knowledge and experience in one realm, something they haven’t had as much time to accrue because they agreed to get their CPR certifications when their HR departments said someone in the office had to have them, and it wasn’t part of anyone’s job description. Additionally, it just seems easiest to fill the CTO position with someone in the tech department because those people are easier to replace. Replacing a Jack or Jill—specifically, their Jack or Jill—can seem impossible, because who out there is a Certified Floodplain Manager, a certified lifeguard, licensed operator of large commercial vehicles, and a copy machine whisperer all at the same time?

This weird, double-edged sword is evidenced by advice on both sides of the issue: recent articles in Lifehacker and Forbes present opposing views on whether being Jacks or Jills is good for their careers. The specificity of each company’s situation probably makes broad generalizations impossible, but it’s worth examining in any office. If you’re rewarding competence with thank-yous and more “duties as required,” are you doing so to the exclusion of promoting your best people? Are you paying for good attitudes and willing spirits with annual salary increases, but not offering the bigger paycheck that comes with the corner office on the top floor? If either is true, you may be penalizing someone for being the office MVP while advancing people with narrower focus, limited curiosity, fewer skills, and less loyalty.

Jacks or Jills of All Trades love not being pigeonholed in one role with one set of predictable skills. Yet they frequently suffer the consequences, a kind of opposite of being pigeonholed: once labeled Jacks and Jills, they have trouble breaking out of the pigeonhole of not being pigeonholed. As you assemble your team, whether through internal promotion or external hiring, consider the resume of the Jack of All Trades: if others are seeing only pitfalls to their many talents, you could be reaping their benefits.

Reference Links{
Lifehacker: “The Surprising Benefits and Pitfalls of Being a Jack of All Trades.” http://lifehacker.com/the-surprising-benefits-and-pitfalls-of-being-a-jack-1689044626
Forbes: “Why ‘Jack of All Trades’ is the Worst Possible Brand.’” http://www.forbes.com/sites/lizryan/2015/01/20/why-jack-of-all-trades-is-the-worst-personal-brand


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Team-Building: Pigeonholing The Jack-of-All-Trades - Executive Leadership Articles

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