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My Mother Always Told Me to Be Well Rounded: Do Employers Think the Same?

Growing up my mother made sure that I was exposed to culture, art, music, and science. I was almost as diversified as you could possibly get for being a “small-town” kid.

When the time came for me to head off to college and pick a major, I followed these same adolescent teachings. Not wanting to pigeon-hole myself into a technical skill or trade, I chose political science. I assumed that it would be a good way to expand on my passions for law, international relations, and economics.

By the time I had graduated I had completed an internship with the South Carolina Environmental Law Project, tagged sharks in Winyah Bay for NOAA, studied in Madrid, Spain, and traveled most of the Carribean. I was a member of Phi Alpha Delta Law Fraternity, a leader on my campus, active in community service, and managed to work part-time through it all. Surely I was qualified for my dream job. Right?

I knew that I would have to start somewhere, and spent no time jumping in as a Research Analyst/ Project Development Coordinator with a local contractor. I worked with county officials, engineers, attorneys, and lenders to start a muli-million dollar development here locally. I also researched international development opportunities in South America. All was well, until I was laid off.

Not to worry though. I quickly went to work for another company as a contract administrator. The contracts were small, but the experience was invaluable. I managed most of the small company’s operations from accounting, corporate tax, payroll, and contract negotiations with our vendors. This too came to an end as the real estate bubble burst in late 2007.

I then fell back on law. I spent two years as a Legal Assistant working for a firm that handled acquisitions and mergers for large airlines. I was fascinated by the entire process and eager to learn more. Over the two year period I handled everything from EEOC to FDOT issues, from friendly acquisitions to nasty litigation. Needless to say, it was exciting. The opportunity for advancement in a small firm, however, was not present.

When the opportunity to move to Merrill Lynch presented itself, I jumped at the opportunity. Finally, I could fulfill my desire to learn more about how my acquisitions and mergers were being financed. I adapted quickly and was licensed (Series 7, Series 66, and Insurance) all within ten weeks. By week 12 the Dow Jones plummeted and those nasty, little, make-believe things, known as “circuit breakers”, were nearly triggered. Groans filled the office and talks of a buy-out circulated. I was assured, however, that my job was secure.

Exactly ninety days after purchasing my first house, I was laid off again. I took it in stride, assuming that I would have another job within a few weeks. Afterall, I was well rounded and licensed to the hilt.

Seven months went by and I decided to begin pursuing my M.A. Diplomacy – International Trade and Commerce. (Maybe it would make me more marketable) I also began pursuing recruiters and companies that dealt with contract administration and procurement.

What I have learned, is that my mother’s saying of “be well rounded,” has not held true in this economy. I have been told that I need more of an accounting background, a contract management certificate, or that I’m too experienced for an entry-level position.

Following five years of professional experience and another six years of formal education, I can’t see the value in obtaining another degree. I can however see the value in obtaining more specific experience. However, where does one get that experience in a job market that wants 3-5 years of specific experience for an entry-level position? What will happen over the next 10-15 years as the baby-boomer generation begins to retire if we do not focus on developing the foundation of our workforce?

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Ada (HangFong) O'Donnell

It’s the economy that is the problem. People like you can fit in any work environment and thrive. I often think that jobs with special KSAs shut off people from outside and hinder the opportunity to get more qualify, well rounded people.

Christopher Parente

I’ve often reflected on the need for more employment specialization these days. It can result in “one-note” types who just grind work out. However, as Ada points out you’re also experiencing a tough job market where people with more experience are looking for work.

Keep in mind too, being well rounded isn’t a tactic to get the right job. It’s something you do for personal growth and (presumably) personal satisfaction. If you’re doing it just to be more employable (as you say re Diplomacy), stop. Make a career decision now and stick to it.

Candace Riddle


In light of the current economy and flood of experienced, unemployed, talent, I agree. Being well rounded is no longer a tactic for employment. That was my point exactly. However, I still (being an optimist and believing my mother) have faith that being well-rounded is a tactic for excelling in your field of choice.
My pursuit of an M.A., by default of standard job requirements which state “M.A. required/ preferred”, does make me “more employable” (at least I would like to think… again the optimist).
The dilemma ensues when well-rounded, talented, individuals make a decision to specialize or pick a certain career path, yet cannot obtain the initial experience required to make an entry into the field.
I would go as far as arguing that the lack of an employer’s attention to this detail (the need to hire based on ability and desire, rather than experience alone) results in increased costs (training, higher salary etc.) and lower retention (decreased loyalty, flight to pay, etc.). Let’s face it…if you hire someone who desires to work in a certain field, versus someone who is just “grinding out work” they will be passionate about their work and perform to the same standards.