Thoughts On Wearing Many Hats

Growing up and working in a family restaurant taught me a few things. First, child labor laws don’t apply. When my parents knew I was strong enough to carry plastic bins full of dirty dishes, they put me to work. Second, weekends were spent at the restaurant, not with friends. And finally, running a restaurant means getting your hands dirty and wearing many hats (taking on many roles).

On any given day at the restaurant, I was: dishwasher, host, waiter, food preparer, fryer, cashier, stock boy, janitor, errand boy, and dining room manager. I had many roles, and along the way, gained valuable experience and understood the ins and out of running a restaurant. However, that wasn’t the life I wanted.

Even though I left the restaurant life behind for an office job, it’s still very much a part of me. I learned a number of skills that can be applied to other industries and I occasionally call them up when needed.

Through most of my career, I wore one hat in my field of work. It was a small hat at first, but after gaining years of experience, the size of the hat grew substantially and became a specialized hat. However, being specialized also locks me to a specific job function, making it hard to transfer into another department to do something else. While my skills can be applied to any industry and there are plenty of career opportunities on the market, a couple of years ago I asked myself, “do I want to be in the same line of work until I retire?” I felt it was time to diversify, but it’s not easy to change job functions after being a specialist for so long.

I switched companies hoping to find two things, an entrepreneurial environment and a path that would lead to new skills development, skills not related to my job function. I had a feeling moving to a large company would be more of the same, so I decided to go small. I moved from a company that employed over 80,000 employees to one that employs around 600. It’s a big culture change.

I preferred working for large corporations because it was about getting brand name recognition on my resume. But you know what? That was great for getting my career started, but eventually, I wanted something more. And so here I am, at a much smaller company, wearing many hats. While I still have a specific job function, I also manage and support other ones in the department. There was no way I could have branched out like the way I have at a large company. Below are several things that came to mind when I started to have a more diversified role at work.

  • Being a specialist in a particular job function is great, but it may “lock you in” and deny the flexibility to change job functions in the future. Do you prefer to specialize in one area, or get a few extra core competencies under your belt?
  • It’s not uncommon for employees to take on multiple roles at smaller companies.
  • Wearing many hats mean prioritization skills are more important than ever. If the workload is unmanageable, speak up to your manager before it consumes you.
  • Being able to wear many hats successfully could become a stepping stone to something else, or lead to better career opportunities.
  • Wearing too many hats may turn you into a jack of all trades, and a master of none.

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