I had a discussion with a friend the other day about specializing versus being a generalist.
The thinking for specializing (over being a generalist) was that specialists are more employable because they are easier to typecast (Personally, I found myself partial to the idea of specializing because it follows one of my life themes of following one’s passion).
…Conversely, the argument for being a generalists (i.e. having broad but shallow knowledge of one’s entire industry and functional space) was that leaders at the executive level should have broad enough knowledge to manage a department of specialists. Put another way, an SVP of HR should have enough knowledge of the HR function as a whole to have a VP of compensation / benefits / labor / talent / HRIS etc. reporting up through him or her. If one is a specialist that has gone deep in only one or two spaces, however, their ability to lead multidisciplinary teams is limited.
I initially disagreed with the latter assertion: Former CEOs like Carly Fiorina at HP (marketing specialty in tech) and current CEOs like Marissa Mayer at Yahoo (products specialty in tech) were hired not because of their broad industry knowledge but because they were very good in the areas the boards conducting their CEO searches viewed as most important to their organization’s successes at the junctures in which they were looking at succession.
In essence, companies (and markets in general) look for need. It’s a basic rule of supply versus demand.
…To this point, though, in the end we both recognized we were saying the same thing. Specialization versus generalization is in many ways besides the point. They are both relative terms because you can almost always go 1. (i.e. a compensation analyst is a specialist to a generalist, but to an executive compensation analysts a compensation analyst without a job niche isn’t really a specialist at all).deeper. 1
The critical thing here is to define yourself.
Who are you, what are you good at and why? Make sure people know this about you; then if you’re what they’re looking for they’ll know it when they see you.
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