Work – Master of One Skill vs. Jack of All Trades

Master of One Skill vs. Jack of All Trades


If you work in marketing, you know the vast number of disciplines within the industry. From design, illustration and copywriting, to public relations, crisis communications and social media. Then there are skills such as video production, video editing, web design, UX, coding, photography, writing, media relations – the list is seemingly endless. In this multifaceted environment, it’s a lot to consider.

How do you weigh in on this debate? Is it better to gain vast knowledge and specialized skills in one specific area, or have a little bit of knowledge and working skill in a broad array of skills? Would you prefer to be a generalist or a specialist?

Let’s start by clarifying the terms – A generalist, or a “Jack of all Trades,” is often referred to as someone who can offer a ton of great skills that they are skilled in. A specialist, or “Master of One,” is highly proficient at one (or perhaps a limited number of) specific skill(s) to offer in a distinct area.

Often, generalists – our Jacks – have a never-ending curiosity and a real desire to expand their skills and talents. They’re curious and love to learn – a valued asset to many organizations. Jacks are adept at learning and have developed methods of consuming knowledge that allow them to become quickly adept at many skills.

Have a broad set of skills also gives Jacks more flexibility in the job market. In smaller cities and towns, this is often crucial to remaining in place. Beckie, a home health coordinator, says “Jack of all trades for sure. I’ve had to move industries and focuses to remain here while moving up. If I were any more specialized, I’d have to move for sure.”

Jacks typically find their sweet spot in smaller companies. A small business or organization can’t always afford an entire staff of specialists, so one good marketing specialist who can write, take photos, handle social media and design a brochure is worth their weight in gold.

Carrie, a director of marketing, says “I am finding the answer to be Jack of All Trades — because everyone seems to expect you to be (whether realistic or not).

Specialists, or Masters of One, must be committed to staying on top of their area of expertise. Masters also need to be aware of changes and trends within their industry – particularly those in the technology field or other industries that are subject to fast changes. Masters also need to understand that with the changing technological advances, at some point their very specialized expertise may become obsolete, or less in demand. Masters may have to move locations to continue advancing their career.

Many people who become a master of one trade or skill prefer stability and clarity their profession provides.

Jamie, owner of a video production studio, says “Be a master at one craft, but know how to do others jobs. For example, a good director in film knows the duties of other departments. Makes for a better director when they know how other jobs are done.”

For some – the answer depends on what’s important to you as a person. Todd, an agency owner, gave this wise consideration, “A Jack of all trades gives you greater security and flexibility. Being a specialist gives you greater esteem, pay, and a higher ceiling. Pick your poison.”

Inevitably, there comes a point where you have reached near mastery of one specific area of expertise. In fact, many say that it’s impossible to be a jack of all trades without being a master of at least one.

What’s your take? Have you decided to focus heavily on one specific area, or gain a small amount of skill in a large variety of tasks? Let us know.

This was originally written for my client, the American Marketing Association of Hampton Roads, and appeared on their blog.