If you react negatively after reading a job description that requires cross functional skills, you may be throwing away a valuable learning opportunity!
Though the thought of working on a challenge outside your immediate area of expertise makes you uncomfortable, it will actually increase your value as a resource.
Information technology (IT) professionals are frequently asked to perform jobs completely different in nature from what they are hired or trained to do.
- Business Analysts on web development projects may be asked to create cascading style sheets (CSS), design user interfaces (UI) or perform user acceptance tests.
- Software Developers may be asked gather requirements from stakeholders or customers, verify / validate requirements, write Use Cases or create UML documents.
- Project Managers may be asked to design databases, architect software programs, document business requirements or create user interfaces (UI) specifications.
- Database Analysts or Database Developers may be tasked with designing front-end applications or data entry forms used in gathering or collecting data.
- Technical Writers may be tasked with gathering or documenting business requirements even when they have little or no formal training.
- IT Managers may help web development teams debug code, test software products, facilitate meetings or gather requirements.
Don’t reject assignments because you have never done them before or because they have not been formally written into your job description.
A can-do attitude or the willingness to do whatever it takes to get the job done, is required for success in today’s competitive workplace.
Why Do Employers Blur Job Descriptions?
Employers want you to develop cross-functional skills because they are short staffed, they want to save money or they want you to be a valuable asset to their organization.
Managers typically do not have the budget that allows them to staff their projects with all the specialized skills the project needs.
So, a good way to win your manager’s favor is to volunteer for tasks beyond your immediate skills or comfort zone, especially in areas where your project is short staffed.
Let’s take a look at the typical web development project which in a perfect world, needs to be staffed with project managers, business analysts, user interface designers, web designers, user experience analysts, data analysts, database developers, database administrators, software developers, web analysts, technical writers, copywriters, network administrators, web writers, software testers and more.
If every web application project is perfectly staffed, web development costs will be prohibitive for most organizations.
Also, staffing each project with all the needed resources may be counter productive because there may not be enough work for each role beyond the life cycle of the current project.
For example, the User Interface (UI) designer’s skills are required at the beginning of a web development project to help with the visual design / layout of the web site / application.
However, once the coding for the project begins, their may not be any use for the User Interface (UI) Designer’s skills until a new web development project is launched.
So, the organization that hires a UI Designer will be forced to fire him / her half-way through the software development life cycle!
As you can see, this approach is not ideal for both User Interface (UI) Designers and Project / Software Development Managers.
Employers solve this type of staffing problem by hiring professionals with cross functional skills!
That is why you may see job descriptions for technical business analysts or job postings that require specialized technical skills (CSS, HTML, User Interface (UI) Design, etc.) even though they are listed for business analyst positions.
The willingness to wear multiple hats is required for success in today’s information technology (IT) industry.
Employers want you to be confident and willing to tackle any challenge thrown your way, even when the problem domain does not lie within your immediate area of expertise.
For example, a Microsoft .NET Software Developer may be asked to write some PHP code or a PHP Developer may be asked to write some Visual Basic/ CSharp (C#) code even when these programming languages are not part of the programmer’s skills.
How To Gain Cross-Functional Skills
Developing cross functional skills, starts by acquiring a lot of new information on a new domain.
Here is some information that can help you in the quest for cross functional skills:
- Start with a Road-map:
Start with a comprehensive road-map or a curriculum that shows you all the lessons, concepts or topics you have to learn in a step-by-step manner.
- Learn More to Earn More:
Identify all the reading resources that you will need to accomplish your learning goals including blogs, videos, textbooks, newsletters, magazines etc.
- Make Daily Progress:
Plan to make consistent, daily progress instead of a strenuous, herculean effort.
When it comes to learning, winning small daily battles is better than a mad, one-time dash that may end in discouraging failure!
- Get Some Feedback:
Incorporate third-party review or feedback from peers, coaches, instructors, etc.
- Build Your Resume:
Keep in mind that taking on challenges outside your immediate area of expertise, scores points in the eyes of current and future managers.
Keep in mind that wearing multiple hats is an opportunity in disguise.
Acquire a “can do” mindset and live outside the silos or boundaries set by your job descriptions!