When you think about the job market, you can probably see that, in a simplified way, it can be divided into two parts – jobs for specialists and generalists. If you want to start your career, at some point, you will have to decide what you want to do, and how would you like to achieve it?
Going to college requires choosing classes and subjects you want to major in. If you are interested in biology, would you rather choose a broad spectrum of the field or the more specific one, like reptiles and amphibians’ biology? If you decide to follow the first one, you can look for various jobs in the future, from biochemist to a financial analyst. Otherwise, if you decide to follow the more specialized path, you probably end up as a herpetologist or something very familiar.
So what exactly are you facing, and which one is better for your future? Hopefully, this article will help you understand both paths a little better, and you will have an easier time when making up your mind.
What Are the Differences?
According to Wealthy Gorilla, a generalist is basically a person whose knowledge is widely dispersed. They know a lot about a variety of subjects in their field and, most of the time, other areas as well. However, in contrast to specialists, a generalist’s knowledge is usually superficial. For example, a general practitioner can help you diagnose the illnesses of your brain, foot, or nose, but they won’t be able to perform neurosurgery.
A specialist is someone with a deep knowledge of the one subject they are interested in. They are experts devoted to one occupation or a branch of learning. They can spend days studying one case, and for years hold their interest in the one thing they like the most. By analogy, a neurosurgeon will operate your aneurysm, but they probably won’t help you repair your stomach.
It turns out that lots of the richest people in the world are generalists. On the top list, you can find names like Warren Buffett, Elon Musk, or Mua Huateng, and the one thing that connects them (besides lots of money) is that they are all generalists. They have a broad understanding of the modern world and various fields they want to invest in. While you can say that Musk is taking interest only in technology, let’s take a look at some of his projects.
Space X is a company that specializes in space launches, telecommunication, and satellite internet. Even those three fields vary from each other, but if we add Neuralink to the equation, which is best known for making prosthetics and medicine for severe illnesses, we will see that Musk’s empire isn’t very consistent in the matter of the field. Even though everything he is doing is linked to new technologies, the differences between all of these fields are immense.
Getting back on the ground, to the more regular people, generalists have this one big advantage over specialists, that they can be employed for a variety of jobs. As the 2008 recession showed, there are times when being a generalist provides more security than specialization. As a general rule, smaller companies need more people with general knowledge, who can perform many different tasks to save money on hiring other people.
Career flexibility can be an important factor, especially for those who can get bored pretty fast. With more universal career skills come greater opportunities, like an easy change of the country you work in. Online courses made life easier for generalists, allowing them to start a career in any field by learning at their own pace, whenever and wherever it’s most convenient for them. As an alternative, there’re many offline opportunities to get desired qualifications in your area and even get government funding to pay for your education.
The most significant disadvantage of being a generalist is sacrificing the depth of knowledge for breadth. When you decide to choose this career path, you will probably give up studying an in-depth understanding of things. Your knowledge may be vast, but it will always be less specific than that of a specialist.
On the booming market, being a specialist usually means more money on the table. Specializing involves spending a lot more time on studies and licenses, and the positions you want to look for are narrow. Bigger companies have the means for employing more workers, so they prefer to look for specialists in their fields. If your skills are desirable and rare, you can expect bigger salaries and better working conditions.
For some specialists with particular and unusual skills, job safety is practically guaranteed. With security comes more internal power and more places for negotiations, but on the other hand, it’s important to remember that technology is changing rapidly, and some skills that are useful right now may become obsolete in the future.
While generalists can enjoy their freedom, specialists have fewer work options compared to them. Because of the narrow focus and skills, it is more difficult to find a job in different industries and environments, as the possibilities may be limited. In some cases, there are plenty of other people competing for the same specialist job.
The path you should choose depends on your personality and what you are looking for in your career. If you want to go for the positions that allow you to manage others, to move all over the world, and you can get bored doing the same all over again, you probably will be suited better for more generalized jobs. However, if you like digging deeper into the same subject and your goal is to become an expert, try going for specialization.
Remember that not everything is black and white, and you can mix them if you want. It is not a matter of intelligence or abilities. Most experts are no geniuses – they just worked really hard to achieve what they have, and you can do it too!