There are two approaches to being successful as a professional and adding value to an organization. First is becoming a Generalist who can wear multiple hats and perform in different roles at the same time. These people have a mixed bag of skill sets and do not mind stepping out of their comfort zones to try new things. The second are the Specialists who have dedicated themselves to a particular skill and have a good command in their field. They know the ins and outs of the stream and are the go to guys for any issue and fixes. So which one of these should you aspire to be? Well, it depends.
Both these type of resources are important for any organization. Having a specialist on board is great for a company as it can target a niche domain as they know they have someone to rely on. For companies that are product or technology driven, having an in house specialist is a must and provide an opportunity for employees to focus on a single path and the deeper they go, the more their value for the company increases. On the other hand, a company in expansion mode or in services sector would be eager to hire a generalist with multiple skills so that they can offer a more diverse portfolio to their clients. It is also helpful in having a person who has worked in different environments to get a broader perspective of things and prepare for unknown situations.
HR consultant Neeta Mathur of People Solutions Inc concurs. “We have [software development] companies coming to us that are looking for either a particular skill or as many similar skills as possible depending on the nature of company and position. Typically, for a 2-3 years experience candidate, companies prefer someone with hands on knowledge of multiple platforms while for a senior profile; experts in a particular domain are preferred.”
Apart from skill set, what specialists and generalists also bring to the table are different viewpoints and mind sets. A generalist is exposed to a broader range of disciplines and learns to think out of box while specialists having deeper knowledge in their field can easily identify risks and provide exact solutions.
While both approaches are required and important at different times, it is crucial that we do not let ourselves be pushed to either extreme. Being an expert should not stop you from handling a broader range of duties, and should not quell your desire for learning and growth. Similarly, being a generalist has no value if you are mediocre in what you do and no organization would want to work with such person a long time. Best approach would be to become a hybrid or “Specializing Generalist” by starting out as either ‘broad’ or a ‘deep’, seeking opportunity to learn more and in so doing, increase your value significantly.
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