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Generalist vs Specialist

#1 Generalist vs Specialist
08/01/2011 00:53

It is very clear that in consulting we sometimes end up doing bits and bobs that are not directly aligned to our expertise and/or interest. I have heard some Partners say it is a good thing as it gives one the opportunity to learn new stuff. But where does that lead you to in the long run? Is it better to filter the projects that come your way in line with the sector you want to specialise in or to just literally throw yourself at any project from any sector for the benefits of wider exposure? What would you advise?

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#2 RE: Generalist vs Specialist
08/01/2011 06:44

anon to (#1)

It's horses for courses, mate. Most people move ahead in their early-mid career by specialising in one area. Being clear and disciplined about the work you do can allow you to make best use of your time to develop deep expertise in that area, help you build a reputation as the go-to specialist, and ensure others don't take advantage of your time.

However, unless you try a few things you won't know which area you will most enjoy specialising in. Staying generalist long enough to build a few strings to your bow has some advantages:

- building greater resilience to layoff as you can switch into different kinds of work

- getting a positive reputation for being accommodating and flexible

- allowing you to shift track if you get bored later in your career

- making you a bit more informed should you be called upon later in your career to manage across multiple areas

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#3 RE: Generalist vs Specialist
10/01/2011 20:24

An to anon (#2)

Good points. But it is still difficult to decide which route is better!

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#4 RE: Generalist vs Specialist
11/01/2011 18:51

Jack of all trades... to An (#3)

There is no better route. Specialist will probably make you more valuable externally but playing the generalist card properly will get you progressing faster. You choose

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#5 RE: Generalist vs Specialist
11/01/2011 19:55

jr to Jack of all trades... (#4)

Definitely specialist for 90% of your time. No harm in occasional generalist or new experience.

Almost all recruitment is for a specific job. So you need to be best candidate for that. Best way to achieve this is to get deep and more senior experience in one area.

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#6 RE: Generalist vs Specialist
11/01/2011 22:14

Specialist to jr (#5)

Then the question becomes how specialist? Its easy to become too specialised also

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#7 RE: Generalist vs Specialist
12/01/2011 14:23

jr to Specialist (#6)

Look at the job ads and aim to meet the requirements for a sufficient number of senior roles in your field.

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#8 RE: Generalist vs Specialist
14/11/2012 16:54

Generalist cons. to (#1)

I'm a generalist consultant. I still fairly young, but old enough to have worked with various business principles and sectors.

My personal point of view of things is: when it comes to being Business Consultant per se and learning the success formula of businesses in generally, in comparison I can see a superiority from specialized colleagues that I had. You learn all the elements of the formula much better and you learn "tricks from many trades".

Having said that, may I now add that I have been unemployed for 2 months now and I find that If i was really specialized in a sector or principle my task of finding a new position would be 10 times easier now. I am now forced to focus on, and emphasize my strategy management consulting points, and forced to become specialized to have shot at positions.

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#9 RE: Generalist vs Specialist
14/11/2012 17:57

marsday to Generalist cons. (#8)

The reality is there is no such thing as a 'generalist'.

Even someone who defines themself as such, if they look at their experience constructively, will be able to isolate either sector or functional axis in their experience, and it is this 'spike' with some supporting breadth that employer want to see. A consultant may have worked on varied projects etc but the core issues are likely to have been similar/complimentary. Likewise someone working in a niche will either have developed a deep sector niche or a functional one which cross muliple sectors.

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#10 RE: Generalist vs Specialist
14/11/2012 18:28

baykus to marsday (#9)

marsday - this sounds a bit like a 'no true scotsman' thing.

In the long run, I guess everyone specialises. In the short term you can be quite generalist. I've just had 3 years of conspicuous generalisation - nearly even split of my time into strategy, operations and organisation topics, and again pretty evenly distributed across pharma / banking / healthcare / consumer goods.

If I were forced to could I come up with a theme? Sure I could - but it would be forced.

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#11 RE: Generalist vs Specialist
15/11/2012 09:18

Bushy Eyebrow Partner to baykus (#10)

that's the thing about working for MBB and the like at a junior level. when you leave, you've had such broad exposure to virtually everything that it becomes more difficult to sell yourself to the outside world where pigeonholing is rife and expected

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