4 Words That Make Hiring Managers Cringe

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I really cannot think of a company that wants to hire a jack-of-all-trades. I learned this the hard way early in my career when I was speaking with the VP of the group at a company where I was interviewing. I told him that I had done a bit of everything at the marketing consulting firm I worked at in Chicago. He smiled a sly smile.

“That’s great,” he replied, “but we are looking someone with specific skills.” The irony is that I had those skills, but the way I presented my background led him to think that I was unfocused, broadly exposed to work, but hardly deeply skilled.

Of course, if you have accomplished a lot during your career it may feel as though you have done “a bit of everything.” But you need to think twice before presenting yourself as a generalist. 

Do not waste everyone’s time with a cringe-worthy generalization. I suggest this starts with your resume. If you have skills specific to the position you are applying for then say so. (And if you are not qualified, you should not be applying. Save your energy.)

When you do get to an interview, hiring managers want to see if you can explain how your expertise aligns with the company’s values and goals. In the moment it may feel easier to sweep work experiences up into a tidy pile. But if you sum up your work history as a “bit of everything,” the competency you derived from all of that work may get lost in translation.

Do your research and mentally map what you have done with the skills that are required. Practice answering questions with specificity so you are ready to show domain mastery.

And if you really want to shine, channel your efforts towards expressing the following:

No one expects you to have your entire life mapped out in advance. But most companies want to see that you are pursuing mastery in your field. If you have job-hopped or changed industries, explain how those moves fit into achieving your long-term goals. Otherwise, you may come off as someone without a career plan or the intrinsic motivation to work hard.

There is nothing wrong with sharing areas where you want to grow. If you are strong in one area but need to develop in another, turn that into an opportunity to display your eagerness to learn more. That kind of authenticity may even make you more memorable.

Are you hiding something? You do not want to leave hiring managers wondering whether you are being cagey about your experience or embellishing. A lack of transparency can lead to people questioning your trustworthiness altogether. Being upfront is always the best approach.

The last thing you want is to leave a prospective employer with a negative opinion about your experience and qualifications. 

Remember that this person does not know you well and has precious little time to find out whether you have the skills needed to get the job done. You need to be prepared to explain your career path in detail and how it will translate into success if you were to join the company.

But do not dismiss yourself as a jack-of-all-trades. Confidently call out your areas of expertise. Be specific and show exactly how those skills make you the best person for the job. That is how you will make a positive impression.

What other words should job seekers never say?

About Brian and Aha!

Brian seeks business and wilderness adventure. He is the co-founder and CEO of Aha! — the world’s #1 roadmap software — and the author of the bestseller Lovability. Brian writes and speaks about product and company growth and the adventure of living a meaningful life.

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  1. Frank Ramirez

    Good recommendations, but I would add a bit of color to this.

    As a manger that has hired many people my qualification is that the rubric for value is a function of where you are in your career and the role your applying for and company lifecycle. Skill specific positions are early career roles. Also startup or small companies require mangers to wear multiple hats. Finally, in a day an age when entire industries are remade by the likes of FB, Uber, Airbnb etc. being agile is key. Even in growing companies that are larger restructurings are common and you need to be adaptable. Today its more important that you can learn a new skill quickly and that you have a foundation of positivity, optimism, intelligence, wisdom, ethics, and hard work.

    If your a senior level candidate being hired for skills alone as opposed to knowledge, and wisdom then you ought really reconsider the company seeking to employ you. True exponential value creation rarely lies in a person that simply executes in a silo. Also, in many cases silo specific employees that lack contact awareness actually require more mentorship, oversight and direction. Some managers value giving back, many others want low management staff.

    That all said, demonstrating your specific skills for a specific position is important. Make very clear that your competent in the core deliverables expected from the role.

    1. Frank Ramirez

      Pardon typo – should read ” True exponential value creation rarely lies in a person that simply executes in a silo. Also, in many cases silo specific employees that lack – CONTEXT – awareness actually require more mentorship, oversight and direction. Some managers value giving back, many others want low management staff.

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