Platt Perspective on Business and Technology

Specialists, generalists and navigating the path to career advancement 1: a more traditional approach to understanding these career path options

Posted in career development, job search, job search and career development by Timothy Platt on March 17, 2014

I have written a few times in this blog already about specialists and generalists, and both as these career path options impact on job search and the immediate here-and-now of employment and employability, and on longer term career advancement opportunity (see for example, Offering a Unique Value Proposition as an Employee 28: specialists and generalists.)

A more traditional approach to taking a specialist or generalist career path would begin with more immediate here-and-now considerations as you have to have a job and be in the active workforce if you are to develop and advance along an active, working career path.

• Employers primarily hire to meet their more immediate here-and-now needs, where they have operational or strategic gaps in the skills and experience already available on-staff that the need now,
• Or where they have needed skills sets and experience in place, but do not have enough staff available with them to meet currently and more immediately needed headcount to get all of their necessary work done.
• This creates very specific pressure to hire specialists who have the specific skills and experience that are more pressingly needed now.
• So employers are more likely to hire specialists for the immediate here and now and for the immediate future.

But businesses also need to hire for the long-term as well, and people with specialist skills that can help them get their foot in a door, can also have more generalist skills and inclinations too.

• When employees advance to higher level positions, they progressively spend less and less of their time working hands-on and more and more of it supervising and managing others, and organizing overall tasks and projects that require group effort.
• The further an employee advances into management, the more of their time they spend working with and managing employees who have skills and experience that they do not have. And this means holding a generalist big picture understanding of what has to be done, and of how that could more effectively be accomplished.
• Hands-on employees generally are, and need to be specialists, and managers and certainly more senior managers need to be progressively more effective as generalists – generalists with really effective interpersonal and communications skills.

So far I have been presenting an approach to this set of issues that I have touched upon multiple times, at least as a presentation of scattered details throughout my Guide to Effective Job Search and Career Development, and its Page 2 and Page 3 continuations.

And I can also add that I have touched upon issues that are crucially relevant to this approach to professional specialization and generalization in my Startups and Early Stage Businesses directory and in other directories as well, and certainly when you consider starting your own business as a path forward for generalists who do not seek to start out as specialists, or who face frustration from being typecast as just being specialists and therefor out of consideration for further advancement. And with that point, I also bring up the challenge that successful specialists face, from their success as such and even if they are primarily generalists by inclination and ability. Specialists might find it easier to get hired but concomitant with that, they can and frequently do run into “specialist-only” labels and the barriers to career advancement that this creates.

And with this, I finish, at least for now, my presentation of the more traditional picture of career specialist and generalist approaches with their strengths and weaknesses. I am going to continue this discussion in a next series installment where I will turn to consider the changing and still forming roles, and the strengths and limitations, of specialists and generalists in our emerging 21st century workplace and jobs market. Meanwhile, you can find this and related postings at my Guide to Effective Job Search and Career Development – 3 and at the first directory page and second, continuation page to this Guide.

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