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When I was a young greenhorn in the advertising biz, it was stressed as important to chose what you wanted to be when you grew up. And by that, what I mean to say is your career path was defined by the title that accompanied it. For instance, you were either a copywriter or an art director. A planner or an account person. Of course, there were and are many roles within an ad agency, from finance to human resources to producer to traffic manager and so on. But for the sake of clarity, let's stick with the examples first mentioned.


The point is, you were considered either right brained or left brained. Pay no attention to the fact that most people’s craniums were chock full of both. Anyway, that was just the way it was. Titles projected clear accountability and displayed a specific skill set. You knew what you were getting into and what was expected of you based on your title and its definition in relation to the role..


Whether you chose your path, fell into it, or were positioned there by someone who decided they knew best. However you arrived, you found your lane and stuck to it... For the most part. Sure, there were those who tried out the account side and decided they wanted to be a creative, or vice versa, or any other combination. And truth be known, many ended up being more capable than their counterparts. So, they switched roles, fortunate to be working under people willing to give them the option to do so. While others sought further education and to be trained in that specific career. But to be qualified for more than one role? To execute as a writer and an art director? To be recognized as an account lead and a strategist? Or any number of combinations? Well, that just wasn’t up for consideration back then. 


When people in the biz, the advertising and communications industry that is, we’re asked what they did for a living they immediately spoke with clear distinction. Regardless of what they wanted to be or were capable of, or in what capacity they actually contributed on a project. 


However, with the arrival of new mediums came a bevy of new titles in the comms business. Some were invented by agencies to be different and express a forward-thinking approach to the industry. Others, fundamentally necessary and clear in their distinction. People started to blur the lines between these once siloed career paths. They began to understand how roles connected and crossed over. They started to hone their skills across multiple disciplines and act accordingly on their instincts and talents. 


Now, this is good and bad. Good in that necessity is the mother of invention and new technologies introduce new needs, which create new jobs… hybrid even. But it’s also bad. Bad because everyone was suddenly expected to be a jack of all trades to some lesser or greater extent. Hiring managers and companies as a whole put great stock in combining roles and requiring skill sets that seemed irrelevant to the same role only just a few years prior. 


Open most any online job posting and you’ll see what I mean. The title may be Design Director or Head of Accounts, but the position lays out a litany of skills that often overreach the expected understanding of the actual job. Now, recruiters—the good ones at least—and I agree… They’ll tell you that you should apply for jobs that list skills you don’t have. Since many of these skills can be learned. Because the more intelligent people hiring understand that unicorns are so rare that they in fact do not exist. So, go for it. Just be able to back up your desire to learn more in order to compliment and align with the majority of required skills you do have. 


This brings us to my point… When does the old adage “a jack of all trades is a master of none” no longer apply? Maybe it hasn’t for some time now. Maybe it still does depending upon the organization doing the hiring. I’m not quite sure. But if I had to venture a guess, I’d say it’s somewhere in the middle. 


Humans are meant to adapt. To accept and embrace change. It’s not like the world is slowing down. It hasn’t since before the industrial revolution—and much longer previous to that. In fact, if anything, it’s only picked up speed. However, coming off a global pandemic and being on the cusp of an economic recession, it might be time to think about what you’ve gleaned while working with all of those conceptually thinking, strategically aligned, client savvy, financially sound, human intuition type co-workers of yours. It might be time to start capitalizing on the knowledge you’ve picked up from them and your surroundings. You’ll be surprised how much you’ve grown beyond your title when you really think about it. 


Besides, “a jack of all trades is a master of none” isn’t even the complete statement. Although it’s generally what most people are familiar with. Quite the contrary. Originally quoted by Sir William Shakespeare. The actual quote is: “A jack of all trades is a master of none, but oftentimes better than a master of one.” 


Food for thought.  

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