We’ve all heard the ‘Jack of All Trades, Master of None’ figure of speech. It refers to a broad categorisation of people who are skilled in multiple fields, but lack expertise in any one of them!
However, in recent times, this term has shed its negative connotations and has evolved into a new version that doesn’t denounce the ‘jack of all trades’. Such employees are now referred to as generalists, while the ‘masters of one’ are called specialists.
But, with the advent of these terms, comes a whole new dilemma – Whom do you hire?
Whom Should You Choose – A Generalist Or A Specialist?
The answer to this question depends on a lot of factors including the type of industry, size of the organisation, demands of the role and more. Both generalists and specialists bring their own strengths and weaknesses to a role. Understanding the difference between both would make it simpler for you to decide who the right choice for your organisation would be!
Benefits of Hiring A Generalist or Jack of All Trades
Here’s what you will get when you hire a generalist…
1. Diverse Set of Skills
Usually, generalists don’t enjoy a favourable reputation, since being a ‘jack of all trades’ is equated with not being an expert in any particular field. In reality, these candidates are versatile and proficient in several key skills. Given their diverse abilities, they can be assets for an organisation!
2. Well Suited for Startups
Given that startups have a paucity of resources, they can leverage the abilities of a multi-skilled candidate. Instead of hiring multiple people for different tasks, hiring a single candidate will suffice. It can also save costs for startups who are already running on a tight budget.
The expansive knowledge base of these candidates makes them flexible and adaptable for multi-tasking and taking on a wide range of situations they are exposed to. They might not be experts in the field, but they can definitely contribute a lot to resolving specific matters.
4. Fast Learners
Being generalists, these individuals are adept at learning quickly. They can go through multiple learning opportunities at varying levels of complexities and frequency. This can be beneficial to organisations in the long run as these candidates are always ready to learn new things!
5. Fits Well in Leadership Roles
A leader who is well-versed with all aspects of the business can definitely gain the upper hand as opposed to an individual who rises through ranks doing a single job. A person who is versatile can effectively inspire and establish authority over subordinates.
Benefits of Hiring A Specialist or Master of One!
Here’s how you can benefit by hiring a specialist…
1. Niche Expertise
Expertise in a particular field, especially niche technologies, can come in handy for any organisation.
2. High-Quality Productivity
Being a master of one trade, the individual will be an expert in what they do and perform work with greater efficiency and minimal flaws. On the other hand, you cannot expect the same level of productivity from a generalist candidate, whose knowledge may not be sufficient to handle all the challenges a particular role offers.
3. Can Become a Jack Too
A person who attains mastery in a specific skill can also learn more skills when given the right opportunity. And, once they convert one skill into others by learning more aspects of the trade, they can become generalists too – more effective ones!
4. No Need for Training
If a specialist is hired for a specific role that requires expertise, then they do not need any kind of training to get started. However, when a generalist is hired, they would need to be trained to reach the level of an expert and so, will require more resources.
5. More Reliable
According to former Yahoo technology lead, Nicholas Zakas, businesses hire specialists when “good enough” is no longer good enough. Specialists are designed for the job that needs doing without any chances of failure. They are reliable and have the ability to deliver the solutions they need to.
Who’s Better: Generalists or Specialists?
If you are planning to expand your team, how do you decide whom to choose? Let’s take a quick look at who’s better between both!
Generalists are flexible to switch gears quickly and best suited for a dynamic environment. On the contrary, specialists can concentrate on a specific area and drive strategic growth.
In simple words, generalists know less about more and specialists know more about less. Of, course there are pros and cons to both approaches. So, the important thing is to first analyse your requirement for a job opening and then make the right fit.
For instance, if you are a startup with limited funds and resource, a generalist can be very helpful to pitch in and multi-task without any hassles. For a growing organisation, specialists can be helpful to focus on and improve one area.
Moreover, if the pace of change within the market is slow, organisations are likely to benefit from hiring generalists who can challenge the industry’s stagnation and bring in new ideas. However, if the pace of change is rapid, teams can benefit from specialists who are likely to build progress in their field and seize opportunities emerging at the frontier, becoming thought leaders.
Who Will Rule the Future of Work?
Ask any company if they’d prefer generalists or specialists, and the answer would most likely be ‘it depends’. The best way is to adopt a middle path and use the combination of both generalists and specialists in your workforce.
Finding the right balance of expertise and flexibility is ideal. Most employers today prefer candidates who are ‘generalizing specialists’ and have a T-shaped skill set. A combination of generalist skill sets represents the horizontal line of the T, while underneath it, the vertical line signifies the ability to dive deep and specialize in a particular field.
The future of work around the globe will be dynamic and therefore, only a combination of both worlds will work best for any organisation. With each individual candidate bringing in their own forte to offset each other’s weaknesses, a collaborative approach is what we call a win-win situation!