Are you a Generalist or a Specialist?

IR #043

In all offices you have 2 distinct types of employees: generalists and specialists, and they are constantly at odds. They are present in all domains and it depends on which domain you are referring to determine who will have an upper hand in the long run.

To make my point here let me stick to my domain: Marketing. In this domain too we have a healthy mix of specialists and generalists and there is a perennial battle to determine who should have a bigger role in the opinion and insights market.

A specialist in marketing is one who has stuck to one aspect of marketing his entire career and has in depth knowledge of his chosen sub domain. Now, with marketing being such a wide and intricate domain, there are various specialists you will see out there. It can be as straightforward as a Digital specialist to something as obscure as a Trends Analyst.

On the other hand, a marketing generalist is one who has dabbled in multiple sub domains like PR, events, digital, social media, ATL, BTL etc and has a general understanding of how the marketing or brand ecosystem works. He or she has a decent understanding of how to utilize the various avenues in marketing available for best results.With the explosion of the digital era, the number of specialists in the digital space has also increased at an exponential rate. You have your Social Media Marketing experts, SEO experts, etc etc etc. Even specialized fields such as ad buying have now been broken down.

Generalists usually tend to fit into multi disciplinary teams and are more tuned to go towards the strategy and planning aspects of marketing and tend to handle a lot of the coordinating work within the department. They are expected to be able to handle any work given to them.

Which of these roles excite you?

In a way, it all depends on the opportunity that presents itself before you once you join an organization. More than that, it also depends on what sort of individual you are and where your core competencies lie. A person who is not very comfortable going outside his or her comfort zone may prefer to stick on to a single role and get deeper and deeper into it. On the other hand, a naturally curious or “impatient” personality can only be satisfied by doing multiple things.

Now the most important question… Who ends up being more successful?

The specialists tend to have a greater say in matters pertaining to their particular expertise while the generalists tend to end up being the final decision maker. In major companies the head of the marketing division tends to be a generalist who has worked across various verticals of marketing and has a sound understanding of how all the elements work together.

Directly below the head of marketing, you find the specialists. They tend to be the key players in the team determining how and what everything in their sphere (branding, advertising, digital etc) will play out. Below them they have a mix of both generalists and specialists who go about the regular marketing operations as per their assigned role.

If you noticed… the higher you go, the more and more of a generalist you become. It is just the level of that is different. You tend to learn and practice more and more skills that are not directly within your allotted expertise area. Some might say this is essential to climb the corporate ladder.

In that case… Who will survive in the end?

In my opinion, if there was a direct toss up between the two, the generalist might just edge the specialist as it makes more business sense – someone to handle multiple roles for the price of one. But you definitely need to start somewhere. After all, how many times have you heard your boss say…

“Basically, I am from a ____________ background.”


This article was originally published on The Arabian Post


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