There is plenty of advice around about finding a niche and specialising so that you can stand out. But what if your speciality is as a generalist? What if you are a person people turn to for advice on a wide range of topics? What if the only common thread you can see between the things on your plate is that you are responsible for them?
The nature of work these days requires people to learn, unlearn and relearn so quickly that the generalist is in a niche of their own. I would consider the following as examples of roles where being a generalist is advantageous:
Project Manager. Every project is unique!
Researcher. If research didn’t require the bringing together of a number of skills and fields of practice then they would just ask a specialist and not waste time with a researcher.
Consultant. As a consultant you will be asked to advise on a broad range of topics. When it is outside of your field of knowledge you need to at least find out enough to work out who can help and what should be their brief.
Manager. In the work required to operate an organisation you will be regularly called upon to make decisions about things that are new to you. If you weren’t then there would be a simple manual or FAQ list that everyone would be referred to. Appreciating the broader context of your decisions is essential to many of the decisions you will make.
The common thread across this short list of roles is the requirement for transferable skills. A transferable skill is one that can be used in a range of different scenarios. Examples include listening, analysis, planning, presenting and writing. This list is by no means exhaustive.
Considering yourself to be a generalist has its limitations though. At times there will a perception that specialised input is required because the challenge to be tackled is too complex. But once the specialist is finished with their work this will need to be interpreted into everyday speak for the people left to carry on in their wake. Who is best placed to perform this vital role? I would consider that the generalist is in an excellent position to do so.
Generalist sub-topics that I will cover in future posts include the following:
- Skills analysis. How to do it and what most generalists can expect to find
- Resume writing for the generalist
- Communication for the generalist
- When does a generalist need to display a speciality?
- When does a specialist need to display their capacity to generalise?