Is it better to be a specialist rather than a generalist?

Posted in: Career Choice

I am writing this after spending some time looking for people to invite to our Careers Event for the Charity Sector which we run in March. I love looking through people's profiles on LinkedIn to learn more about the journey they have made to get the job they currently hold. It is pretty clear that in this particular sector it is common to take a few stepping stone jobs for short periods of time before eventually reaching a job that has a clear level of responsibility. However if you look behind the job titles of the roles of any one person there are common themes. Sometimes the theme is around the skills or expertise being used or the type of clients they are working with, or, in the case of the charity sector, the issue or cause that the organisation is concerned with.

There is a bit of a contradiction going on when you compare the Charity Sector with Graduate Training Schemes. If you are applying to these you will need to be clear about the business function you want to work in as very few offer generalist training schemes. The same may be said if you decide to go on to further study where you will more than likely pick one aspect of your subject to study in more detail unless you are changing subject direction completely.

It can be very confusing and we often talk to students who are worried about specialising and then later discovering it's not for them. Where do you go when you discover your specialism isn't what you wanted? I don't think you should be put off specialising because I don't believe the choice you make now pre-determines the rest of your career. I certainly never had a plan to be a Careers Adviser. What I did learn about myself through my early career was that I was very good at really listening to people, that I had a capacity for researching and conveying information well and had an ability to see connections between sometimes disparate ideas that people had. My work has subsequently revolved around these skills. The fact is you are more likely to have a career that spans a variety of jobs rather than follow a linear progression in one field. As long as your career choices are focused on work activities that embrace things you enjoy doing and that you are good at then you will find a way of transfering those skills to different fields of work in the future if you remain mindful of your skillset and learn how to read job adverts carefully.

The thoughts I have been having on this topic over the past few days were consolidated today when a Tweet drove me to this article by David Schindler "Career Breadth v. Job Depth". I finish with a quote from the article. "This is not an either/or debate – if you’re a specialist, flaunt it; if you’re a generalist, be yourself and promote it."

Posted in: Career Choice


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