Expertise in 2 fields can land you one good job

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, has 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 “health care informatics architect” position seeks someone with a background in epidemiology and public health plus IT knowledge.

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-based senior vice president with Ajilon Professional Staffing, a subsidiary of Adecco, a human-resources consulting firm.

Some companies, including IBM, create hybrid jobs to solve new challenges in a variety of industries — and thus stay competitive.

“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.

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.

The key is to find the company that seeks your unique talents; often, that may mean a small startup that's seeking to solve an industry problem in a new way or a unit within a larger company with a similar imperative.