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Should You Hire Jack or the Master?

When it comes to hiring, companies often seek either a jack of all trades, a master of one or a master of many trades. But which one is your best bet for the company’s success?

All of us have heard the famous saying: ‘The Jack of all trades is a master of none’, but did you know that this quote actually has a second part? Ironically, the original meaning of the saying was not to criticize those who have a broad range of skills. Rather, as William Shakespeare once wrote, 'The Jack of all trades is a master of none, but oftentimes better than master of one.' In other words, having a variety of talents can be just as valuable as being an expert in a single field.

During my interactions with Talent Acquisition (TA) and Recruitment leaders, I generally come across three types of potential employees that companies seek to hire:

  1. The Jack of all trades, who is typically hired by companies who need to hire a large number of employees quickly and round the clock, e.g., contact centers hiring customer service agents.

  2. The master of one trade, who is hired for specific skills or projects, e.g. an automobile company hiring EV Engineers from campuses.

  3. The master of many trades, who has a high level of proficiency in several different areas or fields. The roles for this type of profile are mostly lateral in nature, where companies look for functional experts who can handle sizable teams, own projects, manage customer expectations, and create a smart leadership summary, e.g. Project Managers in IT services companies.

Sometimes, however, due to high aspirations, pressure to close positions quickly, or a desire to follow industry trends; TA managers end up losing the type of candidate they want to hire.

For example, a few months ago, the Global TA head of a large contact center shared with me their plan to improve customer NPS ratings by hiring agents that are more customer-centric. Already using SHL’s SVAR spoken English test, they planned to achieve this by increasing the hiring benchmark for spoken English proficiency from CEFR B2 to a high B2 (Note: CEFR is a universal scale of language proficiency).

However, I explained to them that raising the benchmark on English proficiency alone would not be enough to significantly improve the NPS score. Instead, they should break down the 'customer centricity' competency into specific skills and behaviors and use targeted assessments to evaluate candidates. This would help them identify the candidates who are truly customer-centric and likely to have a positive impact on the NPS score.

This is because just speaking great English will not solve customer problems. Once agents meet the minimum acceptable standard of language proficiency, they must also possess the right aptitude and attitude to address specific customer needs. This involves quickly and completely understanding the problem, courteously managing expectations, and multitasking on the CRM system without keeping the customer on the call after closure. 

Having a variety of talents can be just as valuable as being an expert in a single field.

We also did some criterion validity analysis on the existing high and low performers and found out that while the SVAR spoke English test already had a positive correlation of 0.24 with the agent NPS rating, this correlation increased to a 0.46 by additionally administering a call center simulation test and a customer service Situational Judgment Test. For reference, a range of 0.2-0.4 is generally considered the acceptable standard of effectiveness for skill and personality assessments, when compared to performance ratings which have many other external factors e.g. employee motivation, manager’s attitude, compensation & benefits, etc.

After going through the analytics report, the TA head decided to move away from a single skill-based approach to adopting a comprehensive competency evaluation approach. So, we reduced the benchmark to one test (English) but additionally started measuring other relevant competencies with scientifically derived benchmarks right at the hiring stage.

Hence, they changed their strategy from ‘hiring a master of one’ to hiring a ‘jack of many trades’.

You may do this exercise within your team to answer the following questions:

  1. Does your team think alike on which kind of employee from the above 3 categories they plan to hire?
  2. Are you focusing on just one or two skills? Otherwise, have you chosen the right assessment solution package?
  3. Do you have scientifically derived hiring benchmarks?

You can also reach out to SHL, and our team of solution architects would be happy to run this exercise with you.

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Shobhit Narang

Shobhit Narang heads the Solutions Architect group for India and Philippines and has over 15 years of experience in consulting organizations in managing talent throughout the employee life cycle. His expertise includes designing complex talent evaluation systems by leveraging AI & psychometrics, automation of talent acquisition & management processes, and addressing varied needs of organizational managers & leaders by building personalized talent insights. Shobhit is passionate about people science and spends most of his time engaging with customer organizations to learn about their unique challenges, partner with them to build transformational strategies, and finally, articulate the value back to their respective stakeholders – their clients and their people.

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