Once upon a time, the time was when students could easily identify career specializations sought out in the market and pursue specialized and focused training for niche skills. This, in turn, helped them create specialist CV’s, aligned with only a selected number of profiles. However, the situation today has changed drastically. For both entry-level and leadership positions, companies are looking for professionals who can handle multiple responsibilities like a pro. Every student who is preparing to hit the corporate, and hopes to perform a managerial role in the near future, has to wonder at one point or the other, ‘should I be a Specialist or a Generalist?’
The only way to escape this dilemma is by understanding the need for both types of professionals in the corporate world today. There is a demand for specialists in various industries, where technical or sector-specific skills determine the performance levels of an employee. But, as these employees grow in the organizational hierarchy, they are required to handle cross-functions and diverse responsibilities along with having skills of a generalist to manage multiple projects and teams of professionals. This clearly indicates that companies need both specialists as well as generalists, depending upon the sector and profiles.
Therefore, what you should aim to become is either a Specializing Generalist or a Generalizing Specialist.
With this approach, you can begin your career as a generalist and then start acquiring certifications, develop niche skills and expose yourself to specific organizational needs to drive towards becoming a specialist. Generalist profiles develop multi-dimensional skill set and competencies, requiring a significant amount of multi-tasking and coordination. Therefore, if you choose to be a specializing generalist, you can capitalize on your managerial skills and garner a diversified experience.
This approach also allows you to introspect yourself on your strengths and suitable job roles. More often than not, professionals select career domains which are trending and which are most rewarding in terms of monetary compensation. This leads to a fast burnout and eventual loss of interest in the career altogether. But, choosing to become a specializing generalist is definitely a long term career approach, which gives you immense freedom and flexibility in having a taste of various organizational roles. As you acquire more experience and develop new competencies, a better understanding of your career preferences also develop. And eventually, you can choose to specialize in areas where self-actualization motives can drive your performance.
This conflicting approach requires you to start your career with very niche skills and perform in limited job roles. But, when presented with job enlargement and diversification opportunities, you go on to generalizing your profile thinking that it might fetch you more responsibilities. The Generalizing Specialist approach helps you steadily grow in your preferred domain and remain relevant in the job market, always.
As a specialist, you get to capitalize on your technical training at the onset of your career and develop leadership skills, as you become an expert in a particular domain. Eventually, your role within an organization becomes cross-functional making you more of a generalist and less of a specialist. Such growth opportunities allow you to perform roles your organization expects you to take up that in turn would develop your professional competencies.
In conclusion, it can be said that deciding to become a specialist or a generalist is a dated theory and what you should rather consider is to becoming someone you would enjoy being. The decision should, of course, depend on your current skill set, career goals, and professional expectations. But, make sure to choose the path that favors you in the long-term and not just helps you achieve your fancy little dreams.