How to be a more valuable employee: You don’t have to be a master – be a skill stacker instead

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Here's how you can shift your perspective and boost your chances of getting and keeping a job during tough times.
Here's how you can shift your perspective and boost your chances of getting and keeping a job during tough times.
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There’s an old saying about being a jack of all trades, master of none, which was often intended as an insult. But in today’s modern work world, it might turn out to be the exact opposite.

It boils down to whether people should focus on one thing and try to excel at it or if they should attempt many things and do them as well as they can.

It will depend on what you do, but a lot people are talking about something called skill stacking right now.

It’s not a new concept – it was first explored in the 2013 book How to Fail at Almost Everything and Still Win Big by Scott Adams.

The author failed in many different careers from restaurants to corporate and investments before he created the hugely popular Dilbert comic strip.

Although he admits his career mishaps don’t offer solutions for everyone, he discovered some fairly universal truths along the way. One of these is that a combination of mediocre skills can make you surprisingly valuable – something he called talent (rather than skills) stacking.

“When it comes to skills, quantity often beats quality,” Scott wrote.

So, if you want to be a novelist, for example, “Yes, it’s crucial that you become a good writer,” says The New York Times. “But it’s entirely unnecessary for you to become a great writer. . . in addition to being a strong writer, most successful novelists also need to be competent marketers, publicists, negotiators, public speakers, SEO [search engine optimisation] experts and more.”

In this confusing time when many of us are feeling a little insecure and unsure of where we are going, skill stacking sounds like a safe bet.

So instead of focusing our efforts on becoming great at one specific skill, maybe we should be trying to get to grips with a few related skills. The combination of all these can make us a sought-after employee – and that’s what we want to be in these uncertain times.

But don’t throw caution to the wind.

“If lockdown showed you you’re not on the right path, it is crucial to investigate your options thoroughly before making a move,” warns dean of academic development and support at The Independent Institute of Education, Dr Gillian Mooney.

“Make sure you have a strategy in place and don’t make rash decisions, no matter how certain you are that your current path is not for you.

“And remember, you don’t necessarily have to throw the skills and experience you have already acquired to the wayside to pursue an entirely new direction, because you can build on what you’ve already achieved by skill stacking.”

Dr Mooney says skill stacking is based on the idea of developing several skills that are often unrelated but when they are combined, they complement each other. And this is important in the world of work where employers need critical thinkers and problem-solvers who can apply themselves broadly.

“So, instead of quitting and starting the application process for seemingly more interesting positions, work on and build upon your existing skill set to ensure you position yourself strongly and competitively to set yourself up for the job search.

“Take the time to investigate your options, and then ensure you acquire new skills so you are ready to change jobs when things start settling down,” she says. 

“It really isn’t necessary to stay in a rut for years just to play it safe employment-wise. There are steps you can start taking right away to ensure you are better positioned and armed with a unique combination of skills that will set you apart from the competition,” she adds.

What skills you choose will depend on what you want to do, but there are some general ones that should stand you in good stead.

For example, author and blogger Darius Foroux says, “you can’t go wrong” if you develop skills like productivity, writing, basic psychology, persuasion and personal finance.

He suggests asking yourself who you would hire as a CEO of your own business. “Write down what skills and qualities that person should have. Then become that person by acquiring those skills.”


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