It was about midstream during my travelling years when I arrived in Melbourne, Australia, ready to take on any job I could find.
So I did what I always did when I arrived in a new city with zero prospects or connections.
I mapped out the locations of at least twenty staffing agencies, printed off dozens of copies of my resume, and started knocking on doors.
And when I was asked by recruiters what kind of job I could do, I gave the most reasonable answer I could think of.
“I can do just about anything,” I said.
And my phone never rang.
Just the facts
To be clear, it wasn’t a Charlie Sheen-inspired rant about #Winning and how I could conquer the world.
But I did highlight all of the different industries I had worked in, and the dozens of job functions I had held, and how I was a power user in a whole host of software packages.
I wasn’t being arrogant or over-confident, I was just stating the facts.
Just give me a job, I figured, and I’ll do well.
But it didn’t matter how true (or false?) it was.
If you spread your expertise across an infinite number of areas, you dilute your own value.
Why more means less
In his book The Paradox of Choice, Barry Schwartz argues that the multitude of choices we have for everything from coffee to fashion doesn’t increase our satisfaction – it actually makes us unhappier.
Choice can become information overload, and when we’re overloaded, what do we do?
That’s not just on the consumer end. Even a company can lose interest when it’s spread too thin.
What did General Motors do when it got its bail-out? They stopped throwing spaghetti at the automotive wall, and reduced their product line to ensure that all of the research and development was dedicated to the right places.
Apple often tops the field as the most valuable company in the world, and virtually all of their revenue comes from three products. Over 60% of their revenue comes from only one product (the iPhone).
What does this mean for the Career Nomad?
Keep things clear
If you try to tell people that you can do “anything,” you’ve whitewashed your experience. The recruiter has just met you, they only skimmed through your resume, and so they really don’t know anything about you.
And if you give them a bland, everything-under-the-sun answer, they never will know anything about you.
To make it even more basic: people don’t want to figure out who you are, they just want to be told.
Have you ever been on a date in which you asked the person what they like to do for fun, and they respond, “What do you like to do for fun?”
No second date, right?
Stay on target
The most successful way to pitch your new career options is to limit the choices to one faculty at a time. You could get away with two, if they’re related – but that’s it.
This might seem at odds with someone dedicated to developing their career motion, but it’s really not.
Yes, you might want to do everything under the sun.
But all at the same time? You’ll just be spinning your wheels.
If you’re still early in your career and you really do want to be open to a dozen different career paths, that’s fine: just meet with six different agencies and give them two options each. But don’t meet with those six agencies and give them the same 12 options.
We could all use a dose of the Apple philosophy when selling our expertise.
Keep it simple.
Keep it Steve Jobs.
Did you ever start overselling yourself? How did it go? Tell us in the comments!