There's a French phrase "Mais il faut recruter à l’extérieur : on ne peut pas faire des pâtissiers avec des maçons" Translates as "However, we have to recruit outside: we cannot make confectionery using stonemasons"

It means that you cannot just take anyone to do a specific job.

Is there a similar idiom in English?

I'm thinking there must be an English idiom, but I cannot find anything online.

  • A square peg in a round hole is used when trying to make something fit where it does not belong. – geekahedron May 16 at 19:38
  • horses for courses but this may be too narrow. If refers to differences among very similar things. Like dentists who only do root canals on some teeth, and send you to someone else for the other teeth. – Phil Sweet May 17 at 11:30
  • Thanks for these. Interesting take on "horses for courses". I thought it referred to a situation where one person could not understand why another would like something, sahing "horses for courses" as if to say, "rather you than me" or "it takes all sorts to make the world"... – Праид Джуди May 17 at 20:09
  • I think you could adapt it and it would look great, e.g. Never hire a plumber when what you need is a pastry chef" or *Never hire a plumber to make pastry. – aparente001 May 17 at 20:41
  • If you want to use a self-deprecating tone for humorous effect, there’s “We need professional help.” This is sometimes used as a euphemistic way of saying that a person needs psychiatric help, but in its surface reading, it says that you’re looking for a person with the right qualifications. – Global Charm Jul 6 at 21:11

How about "You can't paint a house with a hairbrush?"


There is a very common phrase, "To use the right tool for the job."

I expect (although it's opinion,) that English speakers would recognize the phrase if "tool" were replaced with virtually any other more human-focused noun like "worker" "employee" "staff" or "person". I have often heard the phrase "He was the right man for the job."

"We had to hire outside the company; we needed the right woman for the job."

That said, I think the French phrase is more colourful, and I might start using it. "You wouldn't make a cake with a carpenter."

If you are looking for something more negative, there's always "You can't put lipstick on a pig," used to imply that something's nature can't be changed by trying to force it to be what it is not.


How about, “Never send a boy to do a man's job” or some variant thereof?

From The Big Apple:

“Don’t send a boy to do a man’s job/work” means that one should not have someone do what that person cannot do. “Hire a boy to do a man’s business; he will make up his wages in the spoiling of your tools” was cited in 1860.

From tvtrope's Never Send an X to Do a Y's Job (I apologize in advance for ruining your life:

A character is sent to take care of something another tried and failed to do, and some essential difference between the characters in question is pointed out. This often results in a stock phrase of the form "Never send a boy to do a man's job."

The only issue I see with this phrase is it connotes a sense that the "boy" doing the job is not only ill-equipped to perform the specialized job, but is not as good at jobs in general.

  • Thanks. I am not sure this works in the original because the speaker isn't being derogatory about masons, he's just saying he needs a specialist, not a general worker. Meant without disrespect. Interesting to see the answers though and I am grateful for your time to answer. – Праид Джуди May 16 at 21:14
  • There is a slightly more amusing version "Never send a boy to do a man's job, they will only steal his bike." – Peter Jennings May 16 at 23:28
  • I like the second version Peter :D – Праид Джуди May 17 at 20:10
  • I'm really grateful to all the replies. I've learned a lot. Still didn't find an idiom that was a precise fit, so just had to translate the meaning. Enjoyed the learning though so thanks to everyone for sharing thoughts and suggestions. – Праид Джуди May 17 at 20:11

There is a kind of reflexive turn of phrase that fits this. It comes in the for of advice commonly given to people, which is to "stick to the knitting." It means to avoid going into a business that is beyond one's expertise. To apply it in a structure similar to what you are after, one could say something like: 'When hiring, make sure that your prospective employees will be sticking to their knitting.'

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.