Specialist vs Generalist – What is The Role for The Future?

Should you be a ‘jack of all trades, master of none’ or ‘master of one’? This is tough question  become the ultimate career dilemma for a lot of job seekers. Irrespective of whether you are a beginner or at a mid-level in your career, choosing between specialist and generalist profile is a tough choice. Both these profiles have several advantages and disadvantages. So, let’s dive deep into the debate of generalist vs. specialist profile.  

The generalist at work

Generalists have knowledge about a lot of subjects, which is why they tend to have loosely defined roles, with flexible KPIs, within organizations. A general medicine practitioner, for instance, might attend to patients of varying age groups, presenting with a broad range of symptoms.

The advantage about being a generalist is that the different skills you have offers a greater scope to market oneself and ensures better future of work. Given today’s gig economy, generalists can take up multiple freelance jobs as they have ‘career flexibility’. 

On the corporate front, as the world becomes increasingly interconnected, organizations are valuing generalists for their ability to multi-task, see the bigger picture, and work with different departments to solve issues. Generalists also have more transferable skills - a critical aspect in ensuring business scalability.

The biggest disadvantage of being a generalist, however, is the trade-off between depth and breadth. Having knowledge of several things prevents one from mastering a single discipline to the best extent possible. This makes generalists more replaceable and increases job insecurity.

The specialist at work

It takes more time to be a specialist in any discipline and that’s the reason specialists often earn more, even at entry level jobs. They have tightly defined job roles and organizations often employ fewer specialists than generalists, meaning that the dependence on specialists is high, making them more valuable and difficult to replace. Over time, specialists have the potential to become thought leaders in the area of their expertise, making them highly sought after professionals. 

However, there is a flip side in being a specialist for a number of reasons such as career inflexibility, limited opportunities pool, and the fear of being replaced by robots and other emerging technologies looms large for specialists.

Specialists vs. Generalists: Who will rule the future of work?

The question is do employers prefer specialists or generalists? While most would answer ‘it depends’ when faced with such a question, the reality is, adopting a middle path might lead candidates to a better predicament. T-shaped employee skill set – a combination of generalist and specialist skills is increasingly becoming popular among employers as a best of both worlds solution. The horizontal top line of the T represents generalist skills and capabilities, while  the vertical line represents the ability to specialize in a particular aspect.  The future of work will be dynamic. The most important skill for jobs in India will be the ability to unlearn and relearn constantly and a T-shaped skill set will prove to be ideal in helping one do just that. 

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