To Be a Specialist or Generalist? The Case for Each

A recent study by TalentDrive analyzed reactions to the current job market by 79,000 job seekers and 20,000 employers. The most interesting part of the study certainly wasn't that 71% of job seekers are pessimistic about their career search. We've all been a little doom and gloom about the economy, unemployment, and the tedious recruitment process. The most fascinating part of the study was why certain candidates weren't hired.

It turns out that 71% of hiring managers were looking to fill "specialized positions" while 61% of job seekers considered themselves to have "broad skill sets." The reason for this is most likely the fact that there are very few vacant positions right now that require a core skill focus. For instance, a company might be looking to hire a software programmer who has an advanced knowledge of C++, instead of just another software programmer. It's harder to fill a specialist position, but they are in more demand, so it's important to become an expert at something!


Why you should be a specialist

Specializing makes it easier for you to target specific jobs, while avoiding others. The challenge is, and has always been, figuring out what you want to specialize in. I recommend that you try as hard as you can to unearth your passion and then become an expert in that. That way, you'll be able to make money doing what you love. Specialists must constantly refresh their skills and advance them in order to stay on top. Malcolm Gladwell states that it takes 10,000 areas to assume mastery over something in his new book, Outliers.

Example: A specialist could be someone who is an expert in billboard advertising.


The top 3 reasons to specialize:
  • You have to be known for something if you want to be remembered.
  • Hiring managers are looking to recruit for specific positions that are hard to fill.
  • You become more confident because others will perceive you as a valuable asset.

Why it's still important to be a generalist

With an unemployment rate of 9.6% (Bureau of Labor Statistics), if you're only a specialist in a field that isn't in demand, you are jobless. Specialists are at risk of being obsolete too. There are even positions in companies, including "HR Generalist" positions that are looking to be filled with generalists.

Example: A generalist could be someone who has knowledge in various areas of marketing, from advertising to direct marketing to public relations.


The top 3 reasons to be a generalist:
  • It makes you highly adaptable to organizational demands in an ever changing economy.
  • You can expand your job search by applying for more positions in a variety of industries.
  • It gives you more career options, and an expanded network to draw from.

Being a specialist and a generalist simultaneously is the best route to being successful in a good or bad economy, but it's ten times more important in a bad one. For instance, let's say you specialize in public relations, but generalize in all of marketing. If your company outsources your PR responsibilities to a PR agency, then you would be laid off if you were only a specialist. Since you're also a generalist, your company can still leverage your marketing skills in a new role that might open up. Protect yourself by being a specialist and generalist in your field. Although, it might take more effort, it will help you out in the long-run.


How to become an expert in your field

With time and commitment, you can be an expert in your field. I recommend that you develop expertise during your job search so that you become more valuable as you're interviewing.


Here are a few tips:

Gain knowledge. Purchase books or eBooks on your topic on Amazon, the iPad, or any other site or device that you use. Also, you should register for google.com/reader and subscribe to blogs and traditional news sources in your area so that you'll always be up-to-date and relevant. You could also take online classes or on-site classes at your nearest college if you want to spruce up your skills.

Share your voice. A resume describes what you did in the past, but status updates, blog entries, and contributed articles have your voice and ideas in them. Employers are looking for candidates that can make change and have personality. By sharing your voice online, more people will know about you, and thus you'll have more opportunities.

Become networked.The more people see you at networking events, the better. If no one knows about you and what you can do, then you won't be known as an expert. You can also learn a lot from the current roster of experts in your field. Ask them questions, share resources, but never take advantage of them. There is a correlation between job search success and the size and quality of one's rolodex. Make sure you meet as many people as you can during your job search because you never know when a new position is going to open up.

Next: Career Advice from My Dad >>

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