Specialist Vs Generalist…

As part of my job I often I get asked “should I specialise or should I keep my skill set broad to appeal to a wider prospective Employer base”? Well, I think there’s pro’s and con’s to doing both and whilst not an easy question to answer, for what it’s worth, I do have an opinion on what could be best for you!….

First let’s look at both sides of the argument…..

The Specialist
As someone who specialises within a certain field typically you’ll have a greater depth of experience in that said area. You’ll focus all of your effort, knowledge, training and development etc. on that one specialist area. You are seen as an expert in your field. You often are paid handsomely because you hold a knowledge and skill level that can be in demand and not easily matched. When presented with job opportunities that match your skill set you will find it easier in securing positions given the deeper level of expertise compared to the wider population.

On the flipside, if you’re in a market where there is a downturn in demand for your skill set then you run the risk of having to re-train in new areas if your specialty becomes obsolete. In addition, often most people at some point in their career will fancy a change or have the desire for something fresh and if you’ve only ever worked in one area this change can be challenging, although not impossible.

The Generalist
As a generalist you will poses a greater variety of skills and may be very good at doing many things in differing environments. However typically as a generalist whilst you may poses a broader set of skills you may not always be at the same level of expertise as specialists at any one area. A great advantage of being a generalist is that you can appeal to a broader range of Employers. You can also diversify into different areas as the economic landscape and demand on said services peaks and troughs. On the downside you may miss out on certain jobs because you’ve been beaten to the post by someone with more experience which I’m sure we’ve all heard before!

My advice is that in the early part of your career it’s important to develop a wide range of skills within a particular industry – critical in fact. Allow yourself time to gain as many useful skills as possible and in doing so, try to understand what you enjoy doing the most. Its fine to have an ‘end goal’ position your striving to get into however often to get into those dream jobs you’ll need to gain other closely related experience. For example, some of the best Marketers I’ve worked with have spent time in Sales and some of the best Sales people have spent time in Marketing. Often to get to a senior level you have to experience other (related) job roles. The same association can be made of Finance & Operations, HR and Operations, NPD & Technical etc.

So in summary, don’t be afraid to broaden your experience in your early career. Identify what your good at and importantly what you enjoy. Once you have that then don’t be afraid to develop into that specific area further and excel in it. You’re better off doing a few things brilliantly in a well selected (in demand) area than being a ‘jack of all’ in many. Because after all, no one cares much for Mediocracy.

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