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Career Strategy: It Pays to Diversify

By Linda Green Pierce

Would you dump your life savings -- every single dollar -- into a single stock? Probably not; it is far too risky to put all of your eggs into one investment basket.

And yet, you would be surprised how many people manage their careers with a single-stock mindset. They toil away, year after year, investing their talents into a narrow field of interest.

Until recently, this approach made a lot of sense. Conventional wisdom dictated that if you did one thing really well, you would never be out of a job.

But times have changed, and so have strategies. While it's still true that a solid career is built on a foundation of position-specific expertise, it's become increasingly important to maintain a balanced portfolio.

When employers look for talent, they typically focus upon candidates with the proficiency to perform certain tasks. But what they really want -- especially in today's hyper-competitive market -- is an adaptable breed, whose broad-based set of skills crosses over into a variety of disciplines.

Want proof? Poke your head into any meeting room in which star performers are present. You're likely to hear a sales manager exploring the potential of a very specific technology, an engineer debating the virtues of a strategic alliance, or a CFO pondering the benefits of a co-branding opportunity.

As organizations flatten, more is expected from each individual contributor, which most certainly includes the lawyers. This means that versatility is not only fashionable, it's become a key ingredient in modern-day career progression.

Now, I'm not suggesting you spread yourself so thin as to master nothing at all. But in order to reach top-percentile status in today's job market, you'll need an expanded arsenal of skills to deploy.

To round out your resume, look for areas of weakness (or "blind spots"), and try to develop them into strengths. For example, if you are a licensing attorney and you want to improve your company's product or advance its market position, here are some issues to consider:

By gaining knowledge in areas that were formerly considered the domain of "somebody else", you'll increase your overall market value. The more you can offer a multiple spectrum of knowledge -- a diversity rather than a single skill investment -- the less likely you'll suffer a set back in your career nest egg.