Are You Trying to Hire a Swiss Army Knife?

Employers seeking people to work in communications, media and related fields often list “desired qualifications” that are unlikely to exist, and if they do, it’s a toss up whether they will have the level of quality you are actually hoping for. My graphic design, illustration, and writing colleagues often lament this common problem when looking for work.

Some organizations go looking for one person (single cost factor) who can deliver “high quality” (who ever says “mediocre quality”?) writing and graphic design, and visual illustration, and coding, and fourteen top software apps and—oh, what the heck—throw in project management, leadership skills. five webinar platforms, LMS management and (of course) marketing skills—plus (why not?) personal chef and best selling yoga instructor, too.  And they want to pay at the lowest end of the average pay scale . . . or less. The most critical part of the description? Must be a “team player” . . . as if they weren’t enough of a “team” by themselves.

All I can say is, you get what you pay for.  Thinking that it’s going to be “cheaper” in the long run to hire the “Swiss army knife” candidate is probably a fantasy.  Most people have a primary skill set even if they can generally do the second and third sets.  But if you want every pot in the kitchen, you’re going to get a little of everything, but probably not the top quality in any one area. And remember, the Swiss Army Knife was designed essentially for extreme conditions and emergencies—not for long-range quality.

I see a lot of jobs asking for Captivate, Articulate Storyline, Rise, Camtasia, Illustrator, Photoshop, Dreamweaver, etc. I can’t afford to own all these, and I have no reason to use them daily in my work.  But I have used some of them of them extensively in the past, have played with and used professionally similar programs, and generally it takes me a couple of days to figure out how to run most them. The more important thing is that the person you hire to run them understand how to use them strategically and how to craft a message that leverages them for greatest impact.

So if you want to hire the Swiss Army Knife, go ahead.  How pleased you are with the results will depend on what exactly you hope to achieve. If you need basic skills, almost anyone will do. If you need top quality skills, then you probably need to aim higher. At that level, you’re going to need the person who understands the big picture–like the graphic designer who is sensitive to the strategy and the message, and the writer who has a flair for design and a visual sense, plus the ability to adapt the message to the medium.

Finding those people, with that level of skill and experience, is not just a matter of setting up a checkoff list. Any recent graduate probably can run many of these programs—but you want someone who not only knows how to run them, but how to get the most from them. If you think you can find that one individual who really can do it all, and do it well . . . then I’m reminded of the most quoted line from the the old Clint Eastwood movie, Dirty Harry:

I know what you’re thinking. You’re trying to remember, Did he shoot five or six bullets? So what you have to ask yourself now is . . . do you feel . . . lucky?


© Chanda K. Zimmerman 2019