Last year, I reviewed Range, by David Epstein, which describes the benefits of diverse skills and interests. Darden alumni have “range” in spades. Darden alums rightfully pride themselves on being generalists, able to tackle a wide variety of challenges and problems.  

However, when it comes to job search, being a generalist gets tricky. Excelling at lots of things can prevent you from being considered the best candidate for a particular role. While most employers want leaders to have broad business acumen on the job, that is rarely the key reason candidates get the job. Candidates typically need to showcase specific industry and/or domain expertise, particularly in mid-career stages. Here are some steps for a self-described ‘jack-of-all- trades’ to think about when marketing themselves to prospective employers: 

  1. Start with what you want — develop a career objective. Think you could pursue lots of things? You probably can. But being “open to anything” can give the impression that you are scattered and maybe even lost. Employers want conviction. They want commitment. And they expect you to “hit the ground running,” making it essential to demonstrate a clear understanding of their particular issues.  What do you really want to do? What are you best at? If you feel “industry agnostic,” consider the following questions to find a place to start: what industry truly interests you? In what industry do you have the most experience? In what industry do you anticipate the most growth and innovation? What industry is prevalent in your preferred geographic area?
  2. Connect the dots. Of all the skills, talents and experiences you possess, which are the most important for the objective you developed in Step 1? You don’t need to convey everything. You only need to convey the skills most relevant and compelling to your target audience. Pick three that you consider core. You will use these again and again — in your networking conversations, your resume, your cover letters and your interviews. 

It is not uncommon for job seekers to fear pigeonholing themselves. They are afraid that if they get too specific about their career objective, they will miss out on opportunities. Ironically, however, often the exact opposite is true when you try to appeal to everyone, you end up appealing to no one. You have many possibilities, but by focusing your job search on the most desirable and viable of your possibilities, you increase the probability of getting hired.