Expert or Jack of all Trades?

If given the choice, would you rather be a “Jack of All trades” (master of none) or your department’s SME (Subject Matter Expert) in a vital role to the department? What arguments can be made for each side and which has more longevity for a company? Each of these questions has a larger meaning and can be used to a person’s benefit in their current position or used to expand their visibility in the job market. We have all worked with each type of these people; while there are many more categories to place people in; this blog I am going to focus on two of them.

Someone that is described as a “Jack of all trades” is someone that I picture that has experience in all types of different disciplines, but may not be an expert in any one of them. This person has a broad understanding of operations, accounting, technology, etc… but if your office uses Oracle, this person is probably not the Oracle expert. One of the many benefits of being a person like this is that it gives you the ability to get involved in many different avenues of business without a particular label, but the downside of this is that many companies are looking for experts in particular fields to be part of their company. Without being an expert in a particular field, it may limit your opportunities for positions with more of a narrow scope; but I would argue that many VP’s, COO’s, and CEO’s are more of the “jack of all trades” people to handle the responsibility to handle every facet of the a company vs just the technology or financials.

On the flip-side of this, many would argue that your future is brighter if you are an expert in a given discipline such as a brand of software or accounting. This person is essentially the GO TO person for anything to do with their subject, but for some that can get very daunting and their focus can become so narrow that they no longer see how what they are doing is affecting other areas of the business. While it is hard work to become an expert in anything, these people do add a very valued service to their company whether it is support or leadership on their subjects.

Many of us have worked with someone who is considered one of these two types of people and if you could choose, which would you be or do you consider yourself on of these types. I have worked with both and I can say that I have learned more from the “jack of all trades” type person than the “expert” unless it was something I was trying to learn on their particular topic. It seems as though the knowledge I gained from the “jack of all trades” person was broader and could be used across a few different disciplines of business which has been helpful throughout my career.

Food for thought!

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