Are you a multipotentialite?

Career strategies for people with multiple skills and talents

Are you a multipotentialite?
Brian Kreissl


By Brian Kreissl

Because jobs are becoming increasingly complex and employers have become extremely picky in whom they ultimately decide to hire, today’s job market is dominated by specialists. Being a generalist or having lots of different interests and abilities can make it difficult to get hired.

Yet there are many people who could potentially take many different paths in their careers and would be happy doing a number of different things. These people generally have no one true calling in their lives. We call them “multipotentialites,” meaning they have the potential to do many different things.

While some of them change careers throughout their lives, many multipotentialites decide to pursue several different careers simultaneously. These people are referred to as “slashers” because they could be, for example, an author/marketer. Another relevant term is portfolio careers.

The gig economy and the internet (including job-sharing sites, personal websites and blogs) make pursuing multiple careers simultaneously an option for more people these days. A portfolio career can be pursued either on a full or part-time basis. Nevertheless, not every employer is sympathetic to moonlighting and many have policies against outside employment.

Difficult time being hired

Because employers want loyalty and prefer to avoid hiring people viewed as a flight risk, multipotentialites can have a difficult time being hired by corporate Canada. Most employers want to hear prospective hires are interested only in the type of work being offered and want to continue only in that role for the foreseeable future (although some like to see ambition in new hires wanting to climb the corporate ladder).

They also tend to have a problem with people who have held several different types of positions in the past and whose education either doesn’t support the type of work they are looking for or is all over the map in terms of subject matter. Specialists definitely have an easier time than generalists these days (I would still include HR generalists in the “specialist” category since they are specialists in human resources as opposed to general business professionals).

Advantages of hiring multipotentialites

On the other hand, there are some jobs that require disparate types of skills, abilities, knowledge and competencies, and it can be almost impossible to find someone with all of the job requirements who didn’t pursue a varied path in her career. With employers often being so picky and combining what used to be two or more jobs into one position, multipotentialites may actually have an advantage in some situations.

According to the old adage, employers prefer to hire specialists but tend to promote generalists. One reason for this is that people who are generalists or have varied interests and abilities by definition have a better understanding of the big picture in a business. I also think the fact that business practices and technology are changing so rapidly means organizations should consider hiring people who are adaptable and happy doing different types of work.

Tips for individuals and employers

In spite of the possible advantages in hiring multipotentialites, many organizations shy away from hiring them. For one thing, there is still that negative stereotype of “Jack of all trades, master of none.”

So, what can multipotentialites do in order to have a successful career? How should employers deal with them?

I consider myself to be a multipotentialite. Because my background, education and interests are varied and I’ve done many different things over the last 11 years, there are multiple paths I could have taken in my career.

The last few years have been difficult and challenging in narrowing down a path for my career. I have changed my mind countless times about which of my different interests I should be pursuing.

Nevertheless, I have finally settled on taking my career in the direction of learning and development. Part of the problem in narrowing down my path has been jettisoning other genuine interests and passions to focus on one path.

Focusing on one thing isn’t always necessary, but I find it the best approach for me. I also believe that the path I chose still requires some broad, strategic understanding and subject matter knowledge in other areas.

Employers need to be understanding of people with varied interests and recognize situations where hiring such people would be an advantage. They may also need to allow people to pursue more than one career simultaneously. I would also recommend watching the video linked to above.

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