How Do I Get Beyond Being a ‘Jack of All Trades’?

Reader question:

“I have been a PM for 12+ years. Prior to that I did tech support and prior to that I was strictly on the business side. Because of my soft skills, I moved up each ladder quickly, but always felt that I was more of a ‘jack of all trades’ master of nothing!

About a year and half ago I was laid off. I have had lots of time to reflect, and really take the time to see what work would be fulfilling. Of course over the years I have had to gather requirements, test, etc. But not as a straight BA. Again, jack of all trades…I am now 52 . I lost pretty much everything in the recession, so in essence starting from scratch!

What are your thoughts? How do I transfer what I have without over-selling myself and setting myself up for failure? I have an MBA with a technology specialty.

Any and ALL feedback is welcome!”

Michelle’s response:

Can I relate to your question!  I am sad that you had to go through this, but you are at exactly the same spot I was a few months ago.  I had been laid off and then the recession kept hitting and hitting all areas.  Our city was one of the hardest hit in Canada.  My company let 1500 of us go in one bunch, and then so did other companies – flooding the market with PMs and BAs.  I worked so hard at trying to get a job – for every one I applied for, so did 75 other people.

My best advice, and please take it as it is meant – honest and with integrity – is to find someone to coach you on your resume and your business analyst job interview skills.

Laura helped me with that, she has terrific packages to choose from. 

The new resume has made all the difference.  I targeted the jobs I really wanted rather than applying for anything and everything.  I started to value myself and what I had to offer and feel that I did not have to settle.  All your skills are transferable and you can translate your resume into the career that you are passionate about – just find out what that is!

It is well worth the time and energy.

I have just started my first contract job and I see that makes a huge difference both in how I perceive myself but also how perspective employers see me.  I am being called back more and I love it!  You just have to get yourself to that space – take the time to learn about yourself and own your resume.

I didn’t own mine before – I let other people own it.  It matters – you must own your future!

Editor’s Note: Michelle was a wonderful client to work with. Her passion and excitement was obvious to me in each call we had and each step we took through the resume evaluation. And her success as a result of going through this process has been fun to watch! Thanks you for being part of what we do here and for such a thoughtful testimonial of our services!

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  1. Michelle Swoboda says

    Michael, great post and great thoughts. Keeping your skills current is critical too – but find ways to ensure that prospective employers understand how your industry specific skills can be applied to their company. Most skills that BAs have, are transferrable and easily picked up when you are air lifted into the contract.

  2. Michael Sallai says

    Converging job definitions, poorly defined job delineations i.e. other jobs infringing on the realm of the BA (Solution Specialist, Architects), overseas competition, immigration, outsourcing, changes in industry structure and recessions all impact on our careers and ability to make a living.

    I think in the future all jobs will be in some way more or less temporary (6,12,24 months). To do well in such a non-traditional and competitive environment one key capability is flexibility and ability to contribute across a wide range of activities. However, it is in my mind absolutely necessary to be able to point to 1-2 to key areas of strength where one has significant depth of experience – in my case process improvement and enterprise systems with a focus on end-to-end supply-chains. In my experience it also pays to have very good knowledge and experience in one industry, being careful not to have too much time in that industry to be labelled a single-horse jockey – i.e. have experience in another 2-3 industries as well. What would be nice is to have a means of measuring depth of specialities and breadth of other industry/business knowledge areas. Technical BA skills – BA competency is a third area which is of course a must-have (ideally CPAB).

    Identifying the skills and experience in demand by organisations on an annual basis by scanning ads and then up-skilling as best as possible either though formal courses, online or through reading will remain important. This has to be done carefully in order to spot real demand and trends.

    As Jennifer hinted at we bring more than just skills, and experience to a still maturing profession – we bring attitude and levels of energy.

    All the best, Michael

  3. Michelle Swoboda says

    Jennifer, I totally agree with you that knowledge is a great thing and you can never kinow too much! I also believe as you state so well that the organizations need to celebrate the BA and the roles and the contribution that we can provide to the business.

  4. Jennifer Banzon says

    I actually think being a “jack of all trades” is a good thing and it is an asset I value in my own professional background. BAs are often expected to perform a wide variety of tasks as part of their job description. In my current BA role I perform systems analysis, business analysis, training, QA, process improvement, process creation, policy research and definition and much more. I love the variety and am confident in my work because I have performed all of these tasks in prior roles. This was not all part of my original job description but the project I am working on needs this work performed and I am able to step in and fill the gap. This has raised my profile in the organization and helps many people see the depth of my skillset. As long as organizations continue to define a BA role in so many different ways, celebrate the depth of your background and use it as an asset in your future BA roles!

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