Friday, October 29, 2010

Just Another Explorer: Career Start: Multiskilling Vs Specialization

Dear Friends

This is my fourth article in the series. Earlier three

· Interview-How to act as an equal with the Interviewer??

· Why I am MBA, not an Engineer??

· Is Professional Networking Important??

I am writing this article, to answer the questions I used to seek, and I find now, lot of starters seeking it from seniors.

I still remember when I completed my Mechanical Engineering and joined my first job in 2003. All my friends were placed in good companies in all the streams. And the usual style was:

· Initial Orientation i.e. meeting with top bosses and relevant people to give the feeling of grandeur and oneness

· Classroom Training i.e. Minimum skill set that every body in that company needs to have to start from the common platform

· Allotment of individual departments

And, I think that’s still the trend with most of the fresher nowadays.

So, as Mechanical Engineers, I and my friends landed up in departments like:

· Production

· Purchase

· Vendor Development

· Maintenance

· Quality

· R&D

And, most of us stuck to that department for quite a time i.e 2-3 years. Then came the job switch. Now, one has developed a particular skill set and the new company wants to hire the person. So, obviously the company will be hiring the person where the same skill set can be used or in other words the same department.

And so is defined your career.

Then after sometime most of us needed change of profile, and the easiest way was MBA i.e. good profile change, 1 or 2 years of holiday from work and on the business side.

But again, after MBA the same story is repeated i.e. Marketing, HR, Operations, Finance….. But slowly specializing in one department.

Now, let’s rewind it back to my first job.

After first 6 months of my production profile, I was in dilemma what to do? Should I go for new department or should I specialize in this department? And bigger question was should I stay in this job or change the company, as the job market was hot at that time?

So, one of my first bosses guided me that

· You choose the company where you can have multiskilling i.e. you see different areas of work.

It was tough call at that time, and I was not convinced as such. But, going by his word I followed this approach. So, I got my department changed from Production to Projects Department. This department used to decide which machines are to be acquired and if there is any major modification required in any prevalent process. Then after some time, I got my department changed from Projects to R&D. Simultaneously, got additional responsibilities in HR department in Training & Development domain.

During all this time, I was just wandering like a traveler, in each new department taking 2-3 months just to settle down, then learning a skill set, and again changing the department. So, in nutshell in my initial few years of job, I experienced lot of domains but didn’t specialize in any of them. It was tough, as I can see my friends getting command over their domains, which in turn helped them to command better salaries and control. At the same time, my parents were furious, about my approach. Their notion was simple, if you don’t specialize then what good can you do to any company?

Now, that was what I did. Why I did so?

· How much time an average Indian spends before getting started as a graduate in the first job? I think the average age would be around 21-23 years, out of which one invests 19-21 years during studies.

· Now, as a fresher, one starts in one department or domain and ends up doing the same thing for decades. Only difference is scale and place.

· So, one never actually gets much chance to understand where one can contribute better and where one can find more interest.

· So, my question is after spending 21-23 years why can’t we spend 2-3 years more to just understand, where our actual interest and potential lies? Can it be decided by just discussing or reading about it? I don’t think so. There is no substitute of experience. That was my take.

This approach, didn’t give me immediate results, but now reflecting back, I have better understanding of holistic business and especially Manufacturing Business, in comparison to had I been sticking to single domain. It also made me learn better during my MBA, then otherwise would have been.

So, my suggestion to lot of career starters is to experiment and find the actual interest and potential of yours

Via sharing this article, even if one fresher makes better career choice, my purpose is more than served.

Just Another Explorer

Prabal Aggarwal

PS: I got lot of queries, via forwarded mails that can one forward or use the earlier articles, I have written with the same motive.. The very idea, of this article is to share experience, so that the mistakes I did in my professional life, others shouldn’t do it. Even if one professional or student is benefited by this, my purpose is more than served. So, friends if you like it spread it. That’s the whole idea of sharing.

Friends, as an author of this article, I authorize anybody, can use this article for publishing on any media i.e. print, visual, audio, internet, forwarding emails, intranets, etc. Only request is that, the name of the author, body of the article shouldn’t be changed or altered. Secondly, would request to mention that this article was originally written & posted by Prabal Aggarwal, on Oct 29th 2010 on . You can start discussing with me and other readers, by commenting on the blog post. Also, if anybody using this content, feel like that monetary contribution should be made, you can donate on my behalf that sum of money to Project Why (, not for profit organization.

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r said...


r said...

Hey Prabal,

Nice Article!
My 2 cents -
Not everyone will have the liberty to change their departments in
their companies because thats not how all companies or bosses work. :)
But again as the saying goes "no pain, no gain". So I would suggest
take the bull by its horns :), talk to your superior about your
aspirations to work in different domains and make him understand why
you want it... surely something will work out.


Prabal Aggarwal said...

I totally agree buddy

Anish Goyal, India said...

Hi Prabal

I think the underlying point that you want to make - i.e. to gain holistic understanding of one's fields - is really good and valid.

However, if one is master of none and jack of all trades, is that gonna be useful? As you said you friends were better able to command control and salaries.

Probably, yes. But it depends on your passion and goals.

There is another approach that one can follow and actually many people do follow that in big companies. That is, work in one area for couple of years (yes, not months), get good expertise (am not saying full, because it can never be full) and feel that you "know" that area. That, down the line if you get to solve a problem related to this area you would be confident of "doing" it yourself.
Then switch domain, mostly within same company because this discussion is valid only when one works for long in same company.
Now since you have proven yourself in one domain, company would be happy to take you in another domain also (provided it doesn't need additional qualification like MBA/PhD etc).

Assuming you have a career span of 30-35 years, then should you learn bits of everything in 2-3 years or bytes of everything in 10-12 or more years?

I understand the urge to change domain early in career but then the basic reason would and should be that you are not liking what you are doing. In that case it is perfectly good to switch domain.

I think if we check out profiles of some successful people, we would find they have really made their hands dirty working on same things for long and then trying out others.

Of course, children of CEOs/founders etc are put into all domains for a few months and then directly put to top management and gradually moved to the corner room. But not all are like them.

My 2 cents!

Prabal Aggarwal said...

Hello Anish

I will differ with your point here. The idea of changing domains after couple of years or in other terms growing horizontally, is actually getting multiskilled. My point in this article, is to explore to make a choice of the skill one wants to acquire.

Secondly, I will suggest that its always easy to change the domain when we don't like it, the challenge lies, to change the domain when you like it too much. Its not being dissatisfied with it. But the process of exploration

But, again these things worked for me, may not be for others

And yes, not all the companies give this choice, so I will suggest, that to pick up a company, which can give such choice, even that makes the person to compromise on salary and brand name for the time being
ps: its good to have counter points, to have better understanding of the topic. So, keep countering :)

Anish Goyal, India said...

Prabal, I completely agree with you in - challenge lies, to change the domain when you like it too much.

Got your point. One should explore to make a choice for the skill one wants to acquire.

But what if the company you are in, doesn't work at all in those areas which might interest you more and you are not aware of them at the early stage of your career?

Prabal Aggarwal said...

hi Anish
Nice question. In fact I had this feeling during my first Job.

See, every engineering or management specialization has few sub domains. And, I think its true for other professions too.

For example in Mechanical Engineering sub domains are Production, Vendor Development, R&D, Logistics, Process Engineering

And similarly in Marketing domain the sub domains are Brand Management, Sales Management, Distribution Management, Market Research, Marketing Analytics

And its very much possible that during start of the career, one may not be aware about the possible sub domains. So, the best part is to talk to one's seniors and professors from college and get the idea of the possible domains.

Then even if the company for which one is working, might not be having all domains, but I am sure most of them. Explore them all if possible and then switch the company to explore the other sub domains.

I can understand its tough especially in start of career. But, there is no other way.


Anish Goyal, India said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Anish Goyal, India said...

yes Prabal, you are right. I think it boils down to being more and more aware. "awareness" is the key to build a successful career. in the early stages of career, it is easier to switch jobs across domains and if required go in for higher education in specific areas.

and another most important thing is don't follow the herd, follow your heart.


Prabal Aggarwal said...

Very Well Said Anish

"Your heart is born free!! Have the courage to follow it!!" by Sir William Wallace

Anish Goyal, India said...

In fact it is very much applicable at later stages of career also. I see lot of people out there who just stop thinking about what all they can do. also, they stop thinking what all they want to do outside what they are doing (for past some years). many people just start believing that things are like that and it's more important to earn money and growth than do what they want to work. on top of that, they feel that all work is the same (the feeling which stems out of lack of awareness).

Probably one should realize that money and growth will automatically follow if they focus on the learning and their interest. and where there is one's interest, learning is bound to happen. and where there is learning, growth is bound to happen because with learning one can become more productive and stand out among peers.

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