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  • Job Seekers: Branding Yourself As A Generalist Doesn’t Work

    It used to be, the further you got in your career, the more you described yourself as a generalist.

    You’d brand yourself as a generalist because that’s what you’ve learned your whole career – that being a generalist was valuable, demonstrating your ability to quickly adapt to new situations and learn new skills.

    The generalist idea

    We all learned that it was a badge of honor being able to describe ourselves as a generalists, signifying we had experience in many industries and many job functions.. It was kind of like you had fought in many wars…

    This is why so many of us still brand ourselves as generalists. It shouldn’t surprise you that the older we are, the more likely we are to cling to the tradition of generalist branding. Also, many of us just don’t know another way or can’t picture ourselves as anything other than a generalist.

    For many years, this worked and worked well. From the 1940’s until 2007, we had a candidate and skills shortage, so employers had difficulty finding managers and workers with the right basic skills – finding a subject matter expert was rare.

    In addition, during the last 17 years, we’ve transitioned to a search based economy – Now if we want something, we just Google it. A searched based economy allows employers to be specific, more precise in what they want … and encourages providers (including job seekers) to be more specific and precise in what we can provide.

    As marketing guru Seth Godin blogged:

    “When choice is limited, I want a generalist. When selection is difficult, a jack of all trades is just fine. But whenever possible, please bring me a brilliant specialist.”

    Seth’s right … why would employers settle for a generalist with shallow knowledge of many things, when they can find a subject matter expert with deep knowledge in solving their specific problem?

    Generalist and the expert

    When I’ve written about the death of generalist branding in the past I’ve gotten interesting responses. Basically, there’s been an outcry of responses from candidates, generally older workers, who spend much effort describing what businesses should do differently and arguing that businesses should hire generalists. Rather than change themselves, instead these job seekers argue that industry trends should change. Even if it’s true that industry trends are flawed, tilting against windmills won’t help these folks find a job.

    Even small companies who are more likely to need generalists and who have truly generalist positions, still hire subject matter experts, not generalists.

    While small companies may need people who can wear many hats for certain staff and managerial roles, small business hiring managers typically have one or two overriding priority problems. They typically hire a subject matter expert in solving their priority problems … who is also able to fill a number of roles and adapt to new situations.

    And that’s the order of how companies hiring generalist positions usually make hiring decisions. First – Find a subject matter expert who has already solved the most pressing priority problems the hiring manager faces. This is almost always done via Applicant Tracking Systems and HR pre-screening. Next – choose the subject matter expert who also has other skills and the ability to adapt to many roles. The decision of which subject matter expert is also the best at a generalist role is nearly always made during the interview.

    If employers first look for subject matter expertise and look via your resume … why would you brand yourself as a generalist?

    But if you don’t know another way to brand yourself (or think of yourself) than as a generalist stay tuned till next week’s article.

    Author:

    Phil Rosenberg is President of http://www.reCareered.com, a leading job search information website and career coaching service. Phil also runs the Career Central group, one of Linkedin’s largest groups for job seekers and has built one of the 20 largest personal networks on Linkedin globally. An active blogger about social media, career advice and job search information, Phil’s articles have been published by The Wall Street Journal, Business Week, CNN, CBS, AOL, FastCompany, CIO, ZDnet, The Examiner, and leading job/career/recruiting publications and sites. Check out one of Phil’s complimentary job search webinars at http://ResumeWebinar.com .

    avatar

    Phil Rosenberg is President of reCareered (http://www.reCareered.com/newsletter/), a leading job search information website and career coaching service. Phil also runs the Career Central group, one of Linkedin's largest groups for job seekers and has built one of the 20 largest personal networks on Linkedin globally. An active blogger about social media, career advice and job search information, Phil's articles have been published by The Wall Street Journal, Business Week, CNN, CBS, AOL, FastCompany, CIO, ZDnet, The Examiner, and leading job/career/recruiting publications and sites. Check out one of Phil's complimentary job search webinars at http://ResumeWebinar.com .

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    Posted in Career Development, Job Search, Personal Branding, Success Strategies
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    4 comments on “Job Seekers: Branding Yourself As A Generalist Doesn’t Work
    1. avatar
      EXPERT

      I believe that you are right – most companies want specialists. However, when they write job requirements for Information Systems positions, they include a laundry list of every programming language, operating system, and technology that they have ever used, or may ever use. Meanwhile, the position is basically something like “C++ programmer”. That’s what they need. But the job includes a dozen or so other technologies, including many that a C++ programmer is unlikely to have.

      I’m sure this varies by industry, but when I used to interview for jobs, it was very frustrating. In one case, I was hired for a position which had nearly a dozen programming languages listed. I got the job based on my primary skill set (which was about 9 items less than listed on the job requirements). When I was later assigned to a project team that did one of the things I DIDN’T know, I struggled. I suggested to my manager that I should be on the team utilizing my primary skill set. He pointed out that what was being asked of me was in the original ad.

      The lesson-learned was to ask about these things during the interview, and not hope that it wouldn’t come up later.

    2. avatar
      EXPERT
      Jay says:

      I think you need both. Specialists are great if the work is repeatable and predictable. If it is non-routine and uncertain, then you need generalists.

    3. avatar
      EXPERT
      Josh Tolan says:

      Good insights. Branding yourself as a specialist is really key, especially when looking for great jobs. Whether you are working on your traditional resume or your video resume, you should focus on the things that make you special. What can you do that other candidates aren’t bringing to the table? If you focus on your specialized skills and apply for positions in which those skills will be prized, you’ll be on your way to nabbing a great job.

      • avatar
        EXPERT
        Kelly Studer says:

        Well said, Josh! I tell my clients this all the time. Often times people try to bend themselves into pretzels to be whatever the employer is looking for. Instead, they should attempt to demonstrate their unique talents, skills, and knowledge and why that would be a fantastic fit, even if it’s different than what the employer “thinks” they need. It the employer doesn’t want to leverage those talents and skills, then that person is better off continuing to search for a place that will tap into their special offering – where they can shine and do their best work.

        An analogy to consider that relates to this is…if you had a blazing headache, would you go to the store and buy a pain reliever that specifically helps reduce headaches or a bottle labeled “Medicine”? I doubt you’d pick the latter as it is too general and may not get rid of your headache. Would you take that chance?

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