Most of us are multi-something: multi-talented, multi-disciplinary, multi-faceted, multi-skilled, or multi-dimensional. Many of us also describe ourselves as being T-shaped, X-shaped, M-shaped, E-shaped . . . you get the point. But would you ever introduce yourself by saying, ‘Hi, I am a hybrid professional’? This might seem an odd expression, but it's a good idea to update our vocabulary with this term — because the jobs that are growing the fastest, of the highest value, and hardest to fill are "hybrid".
WHAT’S IN A NAME? A LOT WHEN IT COMES TO HYBRID JOBS
A 2019 Deloitte report defines hybrid jobs as “jobs that create whole new categories by mashing up disciplines.” Burning Glass, a firm that analyses millions of job postings, has found that hybrid job positions are growing twice as fast as the overall job market. Moreover, automation can take over only 12% of hybrid jobs as compared to 42% of jobs overall. It’s no wonder that such jobs are also the highest-paying in a technology-altered job landscape.
Job descriptions are expanding to include skill sets that represented standalone, separate positions. For instance, if you needed someone to do analysis a few years back, you’d look for a specialist with, say, a stats background. Today, technology is much easier to master, and it isn’t unreasonable to expect people in marketing, finance, and operations jobs to have statistical and data analysis skills.
Hybrid jobs call for people to integrate a broad set of skills (from different disciplines) that often don’t go together. For example, most organisations are looking for app developers who not only have expertise in programming but also in UI design, graphic design, e-commerce, content, and marketing.
Hybrid jobs have certainly existed for a long time. But advances in technologies like AI are radically changing the employment landscape. The modern job market is more complex and fast-moving than ever. Research shows that one in eight jobs today is “highly hybridised”.
HYBRID JOB TITLES ARE… WHAT?
The 2015 New York Times article ‘Your Job Title Is … What?’ featured a cartoon that had a hilarious take on job titles. It showed some people and pets in the same living room. The teenage kid sitting with a laptop had the title Homework Avoidance Strategist. The man on the couch was the Overlord of Entertainment Infrastructure. The food delivery guy at the doorway was an Expediter of Caloric Input. The dog napping on the floor was a First Tier Lethargy Specialist.
While hybrid jobs may not have such crazy titles, they might be called experience architect, health information manager, data scientist, digital product manager, cybersecurity analyst, or bioinformatician. In quite a number of cases, the job titles are still traditional and generic, but the role demands hybrid skills.
Here are a few examples:
‣ As touched upon earlier, most marketing roles have evolved dramatically over the last decade. On top of creative talents that are typically required of marketing professionals, they must also have data science, database, and analytical skills. Burning Glass reports that marketing managers who know SQL earn an average salary premium of 41%. Customer service professionals who know their way around CRM software can bump up their pay prospects by 22%.
‣ As left-brain technical and analytical skills are required to succeed in a creative, right-brain focused role, techies need the neurons firing on both sides of their brains, too. For example, technical expertise is a baseline requirement expected by recruiters when hiring software engineers. But the premium comes to those who also develop creative and social skills, such as sales, project management, and writing. Engineers with project management skills pull in 21% bigger paychecks than their peers who do not have such know-how.
‣ As for human resources, global industry analyst Josh Bersin has been talking about the "Full-Stack HR Professional." Talent managers today work in agile teams as "multi-domain consultants," who need to demonstrate both depth and breadth in their skill sets. While they still need to specialise in one or more HR areas, they must also increase their "T-shaped" capabilities by gaining knowledge of other HR domains, HR tech, behavioural science, business, and economics.
O PURPLE SQUIRREL, WHERE ART THOU?
There are literally hundreds of resumes and applications available for review to a recruiter at any given point in time. It’s easy to see why so many job seekers struggle to attract attention from employers. Ironically, recruiters find themselves struggling on the other side of the same equation, searching for “purple squirrels”. The term is commonly used to describe people with rare combinations of skill sets.
As a former talent acquisition professional myself, I remember being daunted when purple squirrel requests came in. Why? Because like digging for a needle in a haystack, they are difficult to find, and it takes paying a premium to woo them. This is exactly why you should strive to become one.
Whether or not it is worth chasing purple squirrels is highly debatable, but one thing is clear: as hybrid jobs become more mainstream, employers will desire employees who can leverage disparate skills to achieve a competitive advantage. Moreover, as many companies accelerated their digital transformation efforts and squeezed in more productivity by combining jobs during the pandemic, employers have become more used to hybrid jobs.
When disruption hits — as it did with COVID-19 — the jobs that can offer the best career security are hybrid jobs. Here are three tips on how you can successfully “hybridise” your roles.
(1) Read Job Postings (Even If You’re Not Looking For a Job)
Job advertisements are excellent research resources. Use them not only to search for jobs but to have a sense of the emerging skills that you will need to morph with the evolving job market.
According to Matt Sigelman, CEO of Burning Glass, analysing job postings can help you find clues on what top companies are looking for, which skills combinations are becoming valuable, and where to focus your efforts as the employment landscape continues to evolve.
Around 85% of job postings are advertised online. Even if you are not a job seeker, create job alerts on LinkedIn, Google, and job-ad aggregation sites.
Recent Gartner data shows that the number of skills needed for a single job is increasing by 10% year-over-year. Moreover, one-third of the skills that were listed in an average 2017 job posting won’t be relevant by 2021.
When the ice hockey legend Wayne Gretzky was asked what made him a great player, he replied, “I don’t skate to where the puck is; I skate to where the puck is going to be.” The problem is that it is difficult to know where the puck is going to be. In navigating the current crisis, continually auditing how your skills stack up against job postings advertised for your role or for jobs you aspire to be in the near term can give you some idea of where the puck is going.
(2) Build Your Stack
Hybrid skills are becoming valuable because it takes a human's unique combination of skills to deliver the best results. An effective way to distinguish yourself is ‘skill stacking’ or ‘talent stacking’, a concept popularised by Scott Adams, the creator of Dilbert, a famous workplace-themed comic strip.
The idea behind talent stacking is that while becoming the best in the world at one skill is admirable, it's unlikely; hence, it's much more effective to have good-to-high level abilities in a variety of skills that, when combined, set you apart from others.
Tomas Pueyo, VP of Growth at Course Hero, is an excellent talent-stacker. He says that his skill stack of storytelling (taught to him by his father, who worked in advertising), psychology and design (honed on the job while designing online products), public speaking (honed from joining Toastmasters) and an engineering mindset (honed as an engineering student) helped him become a clear standout and land a TEDx talk.
Sure, Tomas isn't among the best in the world at storytelling, designing, or public speaking. However, the combination of his better-than-average skills plus his engineering knowledge adds up to something unusual, unique and extraordinary: a kickass talent stack, which gives him an advantage over many others.
That's the essence of skill stacking. You leverage your above-average skills and traits and combine them in a way that separates you from everyone else. Your talent stack is the difference-maker, your "special sauce," that will tilt the scales in your favour.
Consider the internet celebrity Doctor Mike. He is not a leading medical doctor in his field, but he can communicate complex ideas in a way that is easy to understand. Add to this a little knowledge about publicising on social media, and viola, he has built a brand that is not only unique but has helped him move up the earning curve, too.
As James Altucher says, “Take two things. Take three. Combine them. Now you are the best in the world at the intersection.” Developing a skill stack will help you explore these intersections where unique value lies. At the least, it will enable you to articulate your hybridity and personal brand.
(3) Cultivate Power Skills
The core skills most desired by top-performing companies are what make me confident that hybrid jobs — which merge equal parts IQ and EQ — are the future. Google is a good example.
When we think of Google, we think about brilliant computer scientists, engineers, and high-tech people. We think their success is all about technical excellence — except that it isn't, according to the findings of a now-famous research conducted at Google called Project Oxygen. The study involved crunching a mountain of data from more than 10,000 observations about top managers in action, performance reviews, etc.
The results surprised many, including the former Google HR Chief Lazlo Bock, highlighting that technical expertise ranked dead last among the eight (now updated to ten) key behaviours of Google's effective managers. Topping the list were the so-called "soft" skills, such as being a good coach, empowering the team and not micromanaging, creating an inclusive team environment, and being a good communicator.
Highly technical jobs are being hybridised, as employers now look for a mix of left-brain/right-brain talent, rather than just excellent techies.
While you will naturally acquire some of these skills as you gain experience in the professional world, for the most part, you'll need to look for them, learn them, and hone them like you would any other skill. And Google has got your back here, too!
The tech giant's Re:Work blog has long offered a treasure trove of resources (for free) that managers at Google internally use for learning the tricks of the trade. These include new manager training course materials, manager feedback survey, meeting agenda template, "one simple thing" worksheet, and career conversations worksheet. Check these out and see if they can help you and your team thrive in a hybrid job economy.
I bet there's not one person out there who doesn't want to develop skills. But when life hits, time becomes a hot commodity.
As economist Thomas Sowell said: "There are no solutions; there are only trade-offs." With resources like money and time, spending some of it on one thing always means not spending it on something else. Jim Collins, a leading management thinker, once "jettisoned the TV" to meet his goal of reading 100 books a year.
A trade-off involves choosing between two things we want. As difficult as that can sometimes be, we have to learn making trade-offs deliberately, because we simply can't have it all.
How about skipping the meeting that you are attending only as a courtesy? Or building audiobooks and podcasts into your routine to easily and conveniently digest new material? Or turning to a mentor as an invaluable way to keep growing your soft skills without needing to carve out too much time for conventional learning? Or mentoring someone, and in the process, enhancing your leadership skills by pushing yourself and others to grow?
The pendulum has swung towards hybrid jobs. Get on board now. Lifelong learning is key to success, and you'll want to embrace that.
Does your organisation support you in maintaining work-life boundaries?
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