Covering more bases In a tough job market, qualifying for a ‘hybrid’ job can help
By Andrea Coombes
SAN FRANCISCO (MarketWatch) — The job market isn’t pretty right now but there are still jobs out there for people with the right skills. In some cases, that means expertise from two disparate fields.
IBM, for instance, currently has job openings for hundreds of “hybrid” jobs, including one that combines a nursing or pharmacy degree with consulting experience to work on “operating room information system” projects. Another IBM hybrid job combines information-technology expertise with knowledge of petroleum exploration and production, while their “healthcare informatics architect” position seeks someone with a background in epidemiology and public health plus IT knowledge.
IBM is not alone. Other companies are seeking people with, for example, human-resources experience and knowledge of statistics, or information-technology experience combined with marketing, said Scott Erker, a senior vice president of DDI, a human-resources consulting firm. “Jobs evolve,” he said. “Frankly, what’s called a hybrid job today will be the standard job of tomorrow.”
Other examples include human-resources managers who are also office managers, or someone with a finance background coupled with supply-chain management experience, said Janette Marx, a Charlotte, N.C.-based senior vice president with Ajilon Professional Staffing, a subsidiary of Adecco, a human-resources consulting firm.
“We need people who can talk the language of [clients in various industries] and at the same time can talk about how IT can really help,” said William Pulleyblank, vice president of IBM’s Center for Business Optimization.
But for some firms, the melding of disparate job categories is a cost-cutting measure. “Companies definitely are looking at ways to save costs in an economy like this, and one way is to stretch your current employees as much as you can and get them to cross over into multiple skill sets,” Marx said. Some hybrid jobs may require two educational degrees, while others simply seek expertise in distinct fields.
“The real key is that they’ve got this multidisciplinary outlook that they can look at how two fields come together and build off of each other,” Pulleyblank said. While many of IBM’s hybrid jobs call for IT experience, “a lot of the people in these areas will not necessarily have a computer science degree, but they’ll have taken courses in it,” he said.
Help or hindrance?
Still, before you embrace a new area of expertise, consider the potential downside.
“The risk that I see in this economy is people might think you’re overqualified,” said David Peterson, a San Francisco-based senior vice president with Personnel Decisions International, a human-resources consulting firm.
Hiring managers may worry that a person able to tackle dual specialties won’t stay interested for long in a job that offers fewer challenges, or will jump ship if a higher-paying offer comes along.
Rather than thinking about it as one more career strategy, take the serious step of embracing two disciplines only “if you’re passionate about both,” Peterson said. “Having two professions doesn’t necessarily double your chances of finding a job, but it does double the likelihood that you’ll really be happy if you find that perfect fit,” he said, such as an artist/accountant he knows who is now a chief financial officer at an art institute.
The key is to find the company that seeks your unique talents; often, that may mean a small start-up that’s seeking to solve an industry problem in a new way or a unit within a larger company with a similar imperative, said Steve Gross, Philadelphia-based leader of the performance and rewards business of Mercer, a consulting firm.
While hybrid jobs won’t be the ticket for every worker, the idea can still help those who are navigating a tough job market right now. Similar to someone in a hybrid career, it’s important for any job seeker to think about how knowledge or skills can work in a different setting. For instance, Gross said, “I know one person involved in licensing in the entertainment industries. The person says, ‘I can only do licensing in entertainment.’ No, no — you understand contracts [and] intellectual property. You can apply that knowledge to different fields.”
What to do
To be competitive for a hybrid job, consider the following tips:
Whether in college or in the middle of your career, educate yourself. When he considers job candidates, Pulleyblank looks for flexibility, adaptability and the “ability to self-educate,” he said. “If there’s something you need to know and you don’t know it, you better know how to learn it.” Don’t limit yourself to commonly proscribed notions of specific career paths. People “should be as interested in as many things as they possibly can,” Pulleyblank said. “Any time they limit themselves, they’re probably doing themselves a disservice.” Also, college students should take courses in a broad range of subjects, then “think about the way those fields can interact.”
In job interviews, give specific examples of how your skills have helped a company save or make money. “To avoid giving the impression that you’re the Jack or Jill of all trades but master of none, you have to give very specific examples of how your varied skills are valuable to the company,” Marx said.
Emphasize “minor” experience. “Coming out of college you typically have a major and a minor,” Erker said. “Go after a job in your major but differentiate yourself from the crowd by emphasizing not only your major knowledge and experience but how your minor complements that and makes you uniquely qualified for that job.” The same holds true for any “minor” experience you’ve garnered in your career.
Search for jobs that fit. One useful tool is Indeed.com, a search tool that aggregates job listings from about 8,500 sources. By entering keywords that reflect a hybrid job — such as “information technology” and “medical” — on the site, you can get an idea of available jobs.
Andrea Coombes is an assistant personal finance editor for MarketWatch, based in San Francisco.
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