118. Am I a generalist or a specialist?

career advancement job hunting personal brand Jan 24, 2022
The Job Hunting Podcast Episode 118

Do you know if you are a generalist or a specialist?

If you believe you are a generalist, you probably think of yourself as a jack of all trades. That is, someone who can step in and lead or do the job, regardless of sector or industry. You may be surprised to learn that you may not be exactly a generalist. On the other hand, if you are worried that you're a specialist, your niche is too narrow, and you may not be able to advance in your career, guess what? You may also be mistaken!

Chances are, you may be misusing the labels! 

People think generalists are jacks of all trades, and specialists are experts. But this may be a very narrow and limited view of the two labels. It all depends on the context. This is where I see the mistake being made by professionals who try to explain themselves as generalists or specialists to recruiters and employers. Most define themselves as one of the other and believe that whatever they think they are is the wrong thing to be!

Let's understand the idea of context in relation to being a generalist or specialist. Being a generalist or specialist depends on the context or the company they work. For example, suppose a professional thinks of themselves as a generalist in IT knowledge but works for a company unrelated to IT. In that case, they can be considered a specialist by their colleagues. This happens because their knowledge specific to technology is superior to that of their peers. This same IT professional could be called a generalist if they worked in an IT firm. This happens due to their broad knowledge-base of the IT industry, whereas their peers would probably have specialized IT knowledge. 

So writing a resume or interviewing for a new job, it's crucial to either reflect well on your use of these labels or not mention them at all. The essential part of your pitch is likely reflecting on where you want to go with your career, where your previous experience and expertise was built on, no matter what you are considered within your current context: specialist or generalist.

Suggestions on how to present yourself without those labels:

Every professional has a unique and sustainable advantage against their competition that is not easily replicated. For example, undermining that advantage by starting your pitch by saying that you are a generalist and that you can do all types of jobs will not make you memorable in the eyes of a recruiter. 

Indeed, generalists can't always compete with a specialist and vice versa. Still, specialists and generalists can coexist with one another, and in fact, they are both needed for great organizations to flourish.

1. Know your career DNA.

It's important to understand the thread that got you to where you are now. The foundational studies are a good start (e.g., accounting? engineering?) and the common patterns in your work experience.

2. Choose your niche.

If you are an established professional, you might already have determined your niche. If not, start by analyzing your past employment history and look for repetitions, similarities among the jobs you have done, the reputation you have built.

Here are a few questions that can help you identify your current and future niches:

  •  What are the "hot topics" in your profession right now?
  • Can you associate yourself with any one of those? Here is a test: Do you have the skills and expertise in that topic to talk about it for hours?
  • And does this topic bring you joy and help you connect with the listener?

This is so important because so many job candidates are so focused on getting whatever job they can land they may say they are generalists to try to please their audience. Still, it's so much easier to engage with a recruiter or employer and build a strong connection if you're passionate about what you're talking about. So, find the topics (e.g., niche) you are good at and passionate about. 

3. Set your job search for success.

I know that job hunting can get stressful. But it can be stimulating if you treat it as a cool project, invest in it, and make it a personal learning experience. Remember that the goal is to grow as a professional earn more (not always, but most times). And these things don't happen overnight! By Investing in your job search, you can see the results at the end of this project. You may get a job faster, negotiate a better salary, and find a workplace that suits you if you put some time and effort into your job search.

4. Be comfortable with what you are, specialist or generalist, and stick to your game.

You may be surprised that accepting your career and who you are can pay off!

If you are uncertain about your status as a generalist or specialist, work with me. You can book a consultation to refine your pitch, or better still, join my group coaching program so I can hold your hand through the entire recruitment process. I'm soon reopening registrations, and we're starting in February. The best way to kickstart this idea is to attend my free masterclass on the 1st and 2nd of February.

Free Job Hunting Masterclass:

If you are keen to move into a fulfilling role in 2022, where you feel valued productive, and you are feeling stuck, unfocused, and unsure of how to move forward with your job search, I'd like to invite you to attend my first Free Job Hunting Masterclass of 2022. I only teach free masterclasses twice per year. It will be a Zoom webinar on the 1st and 2nd of February. There are two times available for you to choose. And if the times don't suit you, register anyway so I can send you the recording, which will only be available for one week but still, it's better than nothing.

I'm reserving 90 minutes for the masterclass to have enough time to go through my predictions for job hunting and recruitment in 2022 share with you my analysis of the job market and how I coach clients. I also want us to have plenty of time for questions at the end. 

Please register now, as this is a limited opportunity, and there are limited numbers of the two live events.

Episode timestamps:

  • [01:42] Being A Generalist or Specialist Depends on Context
  • [05:28] Being memorable to a recruiter isn't about being a generalist or specialist.
  • [07:13] We need both generalists and specialists, so work on standing out.
  • [08:29] First Tip: What's your career DNA?
  • [09:46] Second Tip: Choose a Niche
  • [11:29] Do you have a skill or experience you can talk about for hours?
  • [13:55] The best way to get a promotion is to have a skill that can monetize.
  • [17:21] Join the Job Hunting Masterclass, and reach out to me. 

Links mentioned in this episode:

Are you new to The Job Hunting Podcast? 

Hello, I’m Renata Bernarde, the Host of The Job Hunting Podcast. I’m also an executive coach, job hunting expert, and career strategist. I teach corporate, non-profit, and public professionals the steps and frameworks to help them find great jobs, change, and advance their careers with confidence and less stress. 

If you are 1) an ambitious professional who is keen to develop a robust career plan, 2) looking to find your next job or promotion, or 3) you want to keep a finger on the pulse of the job market so that when you are ready, and an opportunity arises, you can hit the ground running – then this podcast is for you. In addition to The Job Hunting Podcast, I have developed a range of courses and services for professionals in career or job transition. And, of course, I also coach private clients. 

So there is no excuse – I’m determined to help you! I want you to feel empowered, nail your next job, and have the career you want.

Enjoy the episode and ciao for now!


Renata Bernarde | Job Hunting Expert

[email protected]


I cannot recommend it highly enough.

To my friends and colleagues who are currently job hunting, this podcast is for you. Renata Bernarde and her stellar line up of guests very generously share their perspective, advice, behind-the-scene secrets, tips, and anecdotes. "It's called The Job Hunting Podcast (it is what it says on the tin!) Guests include Anita Ziemer, Michelle Redfern, Mohit Bhargava. I cannot recommend it highly enough. Run. Don't Walk." - LinkedIn post shared by Amber Knight.

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