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How to earn more money

Friday 27th May 2016

Jacks-of-all-trades are more valuable to employers, says a new study.

A brave generalist businessman skips his way to a higher paycheck.
A brave generalist businessman skips his way to a higher paycheck.

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Conventional career advice has long suggested that job candidates should demonstrate a focused set of unique skills, thus making them more valuable, but a new study shows that due to the rapidly changing job market, versatility is now more important to employers.

So it seems not only are we now expected to be jacks of all trades, but master all of them, too. 

The new research goes as far to suggest that those with a broader skill set receive better job offers than those who are more specialised. Jennifer Merluzzi of Tulane University and Damon Phillips from the Columbia Business School conducted a study of 400 MBA graduates who went on to work in investment banking. The study looked at the grades and work history of the graduates before, during and after business school.

They found that specialists were less likely to receive multiple job offers and were offered smaller signing bonuses, sometimes earning up to $48,000 less than their generalist peers.

In an interview with the Harvard Business Review, Professor Merluzzi says that employers tend to favour generalists because “they are more unusual, have diverse skills, are redeployable, and are more likely to be tapped as leaders”.

She elaborated that, “Leaders tend to be generalists. They can shift course and manage multiple areas. They’re more flexible.”

Though this was not a focus of their study, the researchers also found that married women earned lower bonuses and were less likely to receive multiple job offers than married men.

Professor Merluzzi says this ‘specialist discount’ was found to apply in other areas too. On the basketball court, players who specialised in one position made less money and had less fan appeal than those who could play across the court.

“Now, the person you want on your team may not be someone who can play every single position but be someone who has redeployable skills. I can use him in a variety of strategies and situations. This player is much harder to find than someone who does the same thing over and over.”

Something to keep in mind while watching the NBA playoffs this weekend, then.



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Ellen Falconer is a digital features producer for RNZ.
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