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Generalist vs. Specialist – The Difference Between Them

Generalist vs. Specialist

When preparing for the job search, one question to ask yourself is, “Am I a jack of all trades or an expert in one area?” In other words, are you a generalist or a specialist?

In this article, we will cover the basics of generalists and specialists and provide examples of careers in each realm. This will help you determine which category you fall into and how to best market yourself to potential employers. Or, if you’re an employer, which one is best for your needs. 

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What is a Generalist?

A Generalist refers to someone who has an understanding of multiple subjects. Essentially, they help resolve various issues (at least basic ones), questions, and tasks. Generalists tend to possess a broader understanding and greater competence in different yet often related aspects of a single domain or industry. For example, an app developer who can also reconfigure your computer system is a generalist. 


Generalist Pros

  • Generalists are more open to challenges since they have familiarity with different subjects. They feel competent enough to tackle new roles and responsibilities. 
  • Smaller organizations may not have the resources to employ multiple individuals for specific but related roles. In this case, a generalist is a more desirable candidate. 
  • Leadership roles require individuals who can provide guidance and sound judgment to diverse teams and their numerous requirements. While specialists tend to be high performers, generalists tend to make better leaders. 


Generalist Cons

  • A generalist rarely has the time to devote to one subject/field, which means they rarely become experts. They might require specialist assistance on multiple counts, especially when working on niche projects. 
  • Being a generalist may require someone to take on multiple functions across different teams – something a specialist would not be expected to do. This may lead to overburdening and eventual burnout. 
  • It can be more challenging for generalists to find their footing in an organization. Since their skillset is more varied than specialists, they might have to explore tasks and opportunities before finding where they fit. Not every organization may provide them the time or environment to do this. 
  • Even if a generalist has proficient knowledge and experience, specialists are usually included when working on unique and technically complicated projects. 


Examples of Generalist Careers 

    1. Sales
    2. Project Management
    3. Human Resources
    4. Business Operations 


What is a Specialist?

A specialist has a deep, sustained interest in one particular subject, topic, or domain. They delve into their chosen area and are considered seasoned experts. Generally, specialists possess a very high skill level within their specific (and usually restricted) domain. 

For example, think of a C# developer. Most likely, they will not be the best Swift developer, which caters to Apple operating systems. A hiring manager would probably decide based on the depth of experience and expertise in the development language necessary to build a successful product. A specialist’s skill is of great value, though it may only pertain to a specific area. 


Pros of a Specialist

  • Specialists tend to make more money when beginning their careers. To specialize in one field requires extensive studying and experience. Specialist positions are also more niche, narrowly defined, and harder to fill – thus yielding higher salaries. 
  • Once employed, specialists generally need less training. Employers can expect them to fit into their role and start producing results, given they have the proper experience for the position. 
  • By virtue of their deep knowledge and dedicated training, specialists do not face the same degree of competition in the job market. Few people put in the time and effort to become a specialist. 


Cons of a Specialist

  • Unless they stay abreast of every development in their field, specialists can quickly fall behind. Staying updated can be difficult, given how quickly technology, social trends, and consumer behaviors are changing in the current era. 
  • To become a specialist, one must sacrifice learning skills in other areas to focus on their domain. This limits the positions specialists can apply for. 
  • Generalists more commonly fill leadership roles. This is because specialists are valued in their specific, chosen field. 


Examples of Specialist Careers

    1. DevOps
    2. Graphic Designer
    3. Machine Learning Engineer
    4. Accountant 


Generalist vs. Specialist: What Should You Choose?

This often depends on an individual’s priorities.

Generalists may not make as much money at the onset of their careers, but they have a higher chance of climbing the organizational hierarchy and gaining leadership positions. They also may have an easier time finding jobs to apply for since they are more readily available; however, there may be more competition. Lastly, a generalist education and experience may require less time than specialists. This is because it focuses more on an overview of different areas and less on in-depth analyses.

On the other hand, specialists tend to start with higher salaries and are generally highly sought out within their domain. However, they are less employable outside their field of expertise, which narrows their options, especially when their particular industry is taking a hit or slowing down. 

When deciding which is suitable for you, it is best to determine your interests and professional goals if you’re a job seeker. If you’re an employer, consider your business goals and what your organization will benefit from most. Furthermore, by gaining clarity on the differences between generalist vs. specialist, you will be able to decide which forms of education and experience to pursue. 

Are you looking to change your career? eNamix can help. Visit our job board today to check out the job openings our senior recruiters are looking to fill. And, if you’re a hiring manager, contact for help in sourcing the best candidates for your unique needs. 

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