Are you a Specialist, Generalist or In-between?

If you are just starting your career, you are probably considering which route to take. Or perhaps you might be very much into your career and now beginning to ask yourself if you have made the right choices. Baring this in mind a job candidate can be loosely categorised into two types - a generalist or a specialist. A generalist often possesses a varied skill-set acquired by the pursuit of a broad range of disciplines. A specialist on the flip-side is more likely to be the go-to person in their field as they are seen as the expert. This post will dive into the benefits and drawbacks of each career approach.

With the focus on depth over breadth, there are certainly numerous reasons for why individuals might opt more towards the specialist pathway. Perhaps they wish to invest time and effort in becoming the go-to person for their niche or have a desire to stand out with a competitive edge when applying for a job role or maybe they just love their subject area so much that they want to be a true expert in their field. This section would explore some up and downsides on pursuing the specialist approach. 

Higher salary and paychecks
People opting to specialise have spent large amounts of time focusing on their niche/field. This makes it more advantageous for them to seek scarce job vacancies. It is said that a specialist is more likely probable to earn a higher salary even for entry-tier jobs simply due to their advanced technical abilities. Therefore for those with bigger financial goals could benefit from following this pathway especially if they are motivated financially.

Expertise and leadership
People more often listen to experts for advice on specific problems than generalists. Having strong subject knowledge can be more advantageous than just leaving it for the generalist's guess-work. Not only does being a specialist increases the opportunities to earn a higher salary, the specialist might also gain a greater sense of internal power. For instance, when a company looks to implement particular organisational reforms, the specialist could find themselves being called upon to negotiate in these situations.  

Bright opportunities 
It is said that the skills gained by a specialist can be more valuable as they are harder to teach. Many experts claim that there has been a shift in the recent shift of organisations who look to achieve more for the cost of less. This is especially true in this pandemic where many professions have become redundant. Furthermore, clients may also recognise the value of good service offered from a specialist expert. They might feel more persuaded by an individual who can offer high expertise at a reasonable price. 

Career Inflexibility
When the job market shifts, specialists could find themselves losing enthusiasm about their work. Being able to adapt to different professions under these circumstances can be very difficult and at that point, it may be nonsensical to continue hunting for the same type of role. A person is not fully confined to a specific job title but it can be expected for there to be fewer job opportunities available. Strategies like interleaving can help at times like this where an individual spends their spare time learning other subjects, skills, or methods.

Lack of breadth 
Although a specialist person is likely to be the go-to expert in their field of work, their opinion on other issues might not be as valid. A scenario could be that the specialist's input and opinion is appreciated but only if the topic at hand involves their direct area of expertise. It is always recommended for someone to have other things under their belt such as extracurricular activities or personal projects. This could greatly help to enhance an individual's employability and character. 

Search for the multitasker 
Specialists also have a risk of being replaced. If we refer back to history, there are plenty of instances where some form of human skills had been taken over by technology. Take printing technology as an example which has now been substituted by computers. A focused specialist could also find themselves falling short when applying for job positions at a company with a distinct company culture. The company might value employees with a resume including recent extracurricular activities as it shows they have a strong work life balance. 

The contrasting opposite of a specialist. Adopting a stronger focus on breadth over depth, there are plenty of reasons why people might find themselves following approach. A generalist offers a broad range of skills and experience across a variety of disciplines within their field. They are wary of what it takes to get the job they love and so work hard towards earning transferable business skills using curiosity as their guide. This section will look at the up and downsides with taking this career approach. 

Focus on the big picture 
Focusing on keeping a broad range of interests, experimenting and changing course now and then are essential for one to find their true passion. It is also true that being able to apply knowledge in different ways is something desirable to employers. There is a saying that the more contexts in which something is learnt, the more likely it is for the individual to be able to construct better abstract models. The learners become better at applying their knowledge to a situation they have never seen before by using their creativity. 

Gaining transferable skills
There is wisdom to the idea that the higher up the career ladder an individual goes, the more necessary it is to have general and managerial skills, especially in a fast-changing workplace. This is particularly important if an individual's hope to become the leader or manager in their organisation or company. Some companies also dream about having one employee who can take on several hats as it can saves on overhead costs so a generalist might see fit with this.

Offering career flexibility 
A broader understanding of different subjects paired alongside a wide range of transferable skills can help facilitate with greater career flexibility. This is quite relevant for those who are first starting out with their careers. A generalist is able to look at the big picture and think out-of-the-box. This makes them better able at navigating through uncertainty. Generalists could find themselves at an advantage in an unpredictable and unknown future. 

Lack of job security
In times of economic uncertainty, a person might end up losing their jobs if they are not seen as a priority of the company. The more that kind of expertise is based on either pattern recognition or repetitive motions, the more likely the chances are for it to go automated. This can lead to job cuts and thus a greater need for talent that can offer higher technical expertise. It brings to attention the possibility that people with more technical capabilities are better likely to succeed in the corporate world. 

Need to work harder for approval 
A generalist could find themselves needing to work much harder in order to show their worth and gain recognition. They might not be as prized as a specialist to a company who is able to showcase their focused niche. One of the most common criticisms against generalists is that they lack in-depth understanding over breadth of knowledge. In situations where an employer is seeking credibility, the individual with a more generalised background can expect themselves get turned down.

Less technical understanding 
Being a generalist might imply that you do not have the particular expertise that the company is looking for. Perhaps the company would need to spend some time coaching the individual before they commence their role. This time could have been better spending for the new employee to get right in with tasks instead of being spent training. For this reason, if a potential employer is unable to easily a candidates specialisation across their resume then there is a high chance that the individual could miss out on the opportunity. This is simply due to the lack of relevance easily spotted. 

Perhaps supplementing one’s broad base of skills with a sprinkling of expert knowledge can be an individual's best. Especially when hoping to climb up the career ladder and reach leadership and managerial titles as generalist skills are widely sought after. The success of an individual in finding a new job title can vary according to many things such as how far they are into their career, the industry sector they are applying for, the location of the office, a candidate's personal background and so on. Hence it is probably best to weigh out one's options before figuring out which route to take.

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Elicitfolio said...

Excellent post! Especially when you’re at a crossroads in your career! I think it’s good to have both until you find your passion. Then grow that skill set to become an expert!

Kileen said...

Such a great post about how to handle that crossroad dilemma! Becoming an expert takes a long time to achieve so I think its good to have both in your pocket to have something to fall back on.

Emily Fata said...

I feel like I'm on the cusp of being "in-between" and being a specialist. I do a lot of niche writing for particular industries, but I COULD write about most things with ease.

Yudith said...

I can be both. The specialist or generalist depending on the situation. During the interview process, you also want to demonstrate elements of both because you have to be both deep (the specialist) but flexible (the generalist).

Vera Ida said...

This great post When you are starting out your career path, you’ll often have to consider either of these roles.

Marie at Complete Literature said...

I think that for now I am a specialist that would rather be closer to in between, lol. They all have their pros and cons, so I think it is good to go with where your personality takes you, as long as you are giving whatever you do your best shot.

Ntensibe Edgar said...

I conside myself a generalist, on many occasions. When it comes to writing, I consider myself a specialist of sorts, hihi!

Sahanaannappaofficial said...

Very informative!! Hope i can write like you some day! 😊