Jacks-Of-All-Trades Don’t Get Interviews Because…


As a career coach, I get a lot of emails that go something like this:

Dear J.T.,

I lost my job after working for more than ____ years at the same company. In that time, I had a variety of responsibilities. I worked in a half-dozen departments. As the company changed, I would take on new projects as needed. I was a “Jack-of-all-trades.”

I thought when I lost my job I’d find it easy to get a new one because of all I have done. I’ve got so many skills and abilities, my resume is three pages long. And yet, I can’t seem to get an interview. As I research positions on job boards, I find myself saying, “I can do that!” But, having applied to over 40 jobs, I’ve yet to get a single interview.

What am I doing wrong?

The answer is simple: When you try to look like a match for everything, you match nothing.

A Job Opening = Specific Problem To Solve

When a company has an open position, what they really have is a particular problem that needs to be solved. The person choose to hire will be the one that can solve the problem the best and is priced right. When you are marketing dozens of things about yourself, a/k/a being a Jack-of-all-trades, you overwhelm hiring managers. In fact, you distract them to the point they are unable to see you as a match. Not only do you appear overqualified, but they may also assume you are overpriced as well…resulting in your resume going in the “no” pile.(Here’s a good example of a Jack-of-all-trades who needed to revamp his LinkedIn profile in order to finally stand out to employers.)

The Solution? Become A “Swiss Army Knife” Instead

If you find yourself in the Jack-of-all-trades situation, I suggest you re-tool yourself to appear more like a Swiss Army Knife: be clear in what each of your key skills is good for and demonstrate them with precision. Here’s what to do:

Step 1: Identify the top 5 skill sets you want to leverage in your next position. You have many skills, but you need to focus hiring managers on the skills you are most passionate about using on a daily basis so you can find a job that plays to your strengths.

Step 2: Map out how those skills support an employer in solving a problem. Clarify how will you use these skills specifically to save and/or make the company money. Ask yourself, “What pain will I alleviate when I utilize these skills for an employer?”

Step 3: Quantify your track record of success in these key skills. You need to be able to back up your abilities with facts. Articulate examples of how you have used each of these skills to help an employer so you can justify the cost of hiring you.

Step 4: Optimize your career tools (i.e. resume & LinkedIn profile), so they reflect your problem solving expertise using the skill sets you chose to showcase. Simplify these documents so the text clearly supports your area of focus. Less is more. Give hiring managers enough information to confirm you can do the specific job without overwhelming them. Your career tools should say, “I can do the job you need, but you’ll need to contact me to learn more.” (Here’s an article where I explain why your resume has only 6 seconds to get a recruiter’s attention.)

Finally, Don’t Forget To…

Once you’ve gone from branding yourself as a generalist to a specialist, you need to do one more thing: start a proactive job search. Just because you revamped your professional identity to be better suited for specific jobs, doesn’t mean employers will start responding to your online applications. If you really want to get an employer’s attention, you need to increase your networking efforts so you can spread the word about your special problem solving abilities as a way to get referred into positions. (This article maps out why your resume is useless without the right networking strategy.)

What other tips can readers share to deal with the Jack-of-all-trades challenge? I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments below.

P.S. – First time reading my posts? Thanks for taking the time to stop by! Not only do I write for Linkedin, but I’m also founder of the career advice site, CAREEREALISM, and currently run the career coaching program, CareerHMO. I hope you’ll check them both out!

If you enjoyed reading this article, you may also like:

Why is advice largely useless?

"Follow the Oldtimers Advice." - NAR...

“Follow the Oldtimers Advice.” – NARA – 514272 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Illustration of advice

Illustration of advice (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

English: Right hand thumb rule

English: Right hand thumb rule (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

English: Good advice! Or you'll find out just ...

English: Good advice! Or you’ll find out just how slow those lions really are! (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Good Advice

Good Advice (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Caricature condemning Buller: Judge Thumb - Pa...

Caricature condemning Buller: Judge Thumb – Patent Sticks for Family Correction – Warranted Lawful! (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Why is advice largely useless?


If I followed all the advice I’ve been given and it worked as intended, I would be fantastically productive, perfectly healthy, filthy rich, and getting laid all the time. None of those descriptions seem particularly apt. (I exaggerate for effect. In reality I have read advice on all sorts of things. Most topics were more mundane than those I listed, for example advice on relieving stress or staying organized.) If people are constantly inundated with advice, why do they, by and large, fail to achieve the things the advice was meant to help with?

Confirmation bias is my candidate for the top reason. People who succeed (and are most likely to offer “advice”) make up idiotic reasons for why they succeeded, mostly discounting the role of luck, and writing self-serving stories and “prescriptions” that are less about helping others and more about self-aggrandization.

More specifically, this comes down to an almost incredible capacity to ignore necessary/sufficient conditions for a particular piece of advice to work.

For me, a piece of advice that does not have an if… then… structure is completely useless, because my basic bullshit detector filter is a “there’s no free lunch” rule of thumb.

Almost nobody prefaces advice with the condition, “this will work for you if _________ and will not work if ____________”

The presence of that structure, on the other hand, makes me immediately take the person seriously, because they’ve taken the trouble to convert a single example (i.e. an existence proof) into a more general truth statement that is carefully circumscribed.

Also a lot of advice that apparently works does not work because of the content of the advice, but the sheer fact of somebody offering an understanding and sympathetic reaction to another person’s situation. That alone can be enough sometimes, whether or not the advice is valid. It’s sort of a placebo effect. It’s what people call “motivational speaking” as opposed to real advice.