I recently read a blog post on BrazenCareerist by Emilie Wapnik titled Specialization is Overrated: Why You’ll Benefit from Being Kinda Good at Many Things. In the post Emilie postulates that having a broad set of skills and experiences will benefit you more than being an expert in a narrow field. My first reaction was “right on!” Being a jack of all trades myself this played right into my own beliefs. But as I got to thinking about my current search for a new job, I began to ask myself does it really?
|photo by justinplambert||via PhotoRee|
To be fair, the brunt of her post was focused on starting a new business or working for yourself, in which I totally agree. Entrepreneurs really do need to be able to wear a lot of different hats to be successful. But what if you aren’t looking to start a business or be self-employed?
Personally, the fact that I am “kinda good at a lot of things” has been a major contributor to my past success. It has allowed me to adapt to everything from data architecture to corporate strategy and planning, and permitted me to continually learn new skills and leverage old skills in new situations. But this has always been in the context of an existing position.
As you may know from previous posts, I voluntarily left the safety of my last position to pull up stakes with my wife and move to Denver. In doing so I really thought that my generalist successes, would make me widely marketable for a new position. Instead, what I have found is that it has become a little more of a curse. I have continually heard from potential employers that I have an impressive set of experiences and would be an excellent cultural fit, but there are just so many other candidates on the market with the exact expertise for the role.
I am sure that the current state of the economy has a lot to do with their approach. If you are an employer, are you going to take a risk on a rock star generalist who has all the “transferable” skills or go with someone whose resume reads exactly like the job description and has 5+ years of experience doing the exact same thing? I think in a good economy a company is more willing to take chance on the generalist with the transferable skills and long list of accomplishments.
So, I have recently found myself at a crossroads. Do I repackage myself as an expert, or double down on the adaptability and experience I have gained as a successful generalist? Personally, I think the adaptable generalist is who I am and I need to be true to this strength, but at the same time I need to be better at marketing this value.
Any other generalists struggling with this? If so, how have you overcome this obstacle? Specialists, what do you think?