Professional profiles: differences between a specialist and a generalist

We all know that, when it comes to professional profiles, knowledge does not stand in the way, in this article we are going to take a look at two professional profiles: the differences between a specialist and a generalist. Sometimes, after working for several years, having had a flexible attitude and are given the opportunity, we can develop a diverse professional career: we play many roles within the same profession and this leads to an increase in our added value. Therefore, gaining experience in different fields instead of being pigeonholed in a certain position for years makes us better workers. Does this always happen? And does it happen in any company? 

Not necessarily, let’s see why.

As HR managers, we are supposed to look for the highest level of skill and talent when we search through different professional profiles. However, we run the risk of looking for the perfect candidate or of demanding from people who are already part of the team: to know how to do everything and to do it perfectly. In other words, we are looking for the perfect hybrid between a specialist and a generalist. 

There are very gifted people in the working world, it is true, but most people do not fit so neatly into being either a specialist and a generalist nor do they combine both, so the search for excellence should not be done outside the space where most of the actual individuals dwell.

Specialist and a Generalist

Different professional profiles: specialized or generalized work

On what do we base the level of development, evolution, or growth of a worker? There can be several criteria, such as the ones just mentioned. The first is the level of skill or knowledge the employee can achieve in an area. The other could be the diversity of areas in which they can have a solid development, even if they aren’t specialists.

Both criteria complement each other, they are not mutually exclusive. Both help us measure the suitability of a worker during the interview and should be taken into account throughout the selection process and in future performance reviews, even if we give more importance to one than the other. 

There may be workers who score high on both criteria: someone who can do many different things and do them (or all of them) very well. The important thing is to know what professional profiles we are looking for to avoid getting lost.

In the first criteria, we emphasize the individual’s expertise: the focused skill, the level of specialization. Sometimes it can take a long time to reach that level (unless you’re a child prodigy).

In the second criteria, we emphasize versatility, the amount of ground an employee can cover within the spectrum of their profession with a good or very good level of performance, beyond being highly specialized in a specific area. This “panoramic talent” has also required significant personal resources to be brought to the table. 

As you can see, both a specialist and a generalist profile bring positive things to the team. Both share a complex development up to the current point: behind each one there is a person with a valuable set of technical and personal qualities that have made them the valuable employee they are today

At a basic level, what differentiates them is that the specialist has focused on a specific area, while the generalist has focused on the entire area. A good leader must know how to spot them and get them to cooperate.

We look for different types of talent: specialist and generalist

When recruiting new employees or conveying a certain company culture regarding the most valued skills in your company, ask yourself the following question: are we looking for specialists, are we looking for generalists or are we looking for both? 

All three options are good because any of the three can boost your company’s performance as long as there are no obstacles. This means that it is not enough to have the right people: make sure you keep those factors at bay that do not improve self-esteem at work, boycott team cohesion, or prevent you from retaining talent instead of encouraging it to stay

In addition to being clear about what your company is explicitly looking for, other questions you should ask yourselves at a managerial and HR level are: what kind of professional profiles are encouraged in our company? Is it consistent with the profile we are looking for, and with the profile we need?

Even if some people have outstanding qualities, there is a temptation to consider highly specialized workers limited to a certain subject, and to consider highly versatile workers as generalists and therefore good in their own right. 

On the other hand, although being good in different areas is usually useful for the day-to-day running of the company, there can be a feeling of not having anyone who excels in anything and, therefore, never achieves excellent performance in any area. These are not entirely bad assumptions, but in reality, things are more complex. 

When we start a recruitment process or when we try to carry out a good team-building exercise we may find specialist and generalist profiles, both located at the extremes: someone who does one thing great but only that one thing, and another person who is perfect at everything. However, we have already said that most workers fall along the spectrum between focused mastery and distributed high ability

Specialist and a Generalist

For this reason, the best thing to do is to evaluate at each moment and for each task what level of specialization and versatility that moment and that task require. We must follow a coherent line in the construction of our team, but we must not allow ourselves to be weighed down by old needs, since each moment requires a different organization to meet the present challenges. 

Therefore, for the team to adjust to this, it is necessary to know what is the level of specialization and flexibility of the employees.

Carrying out this evaluation and tracking the different types of professional profiles, specialist and generalist, is not easy. In fact, stimulating the environment for the team to achieve the highest performance of which it is capable is a talent in itself. 

Ifeel has developed an emotional well-being program for companies through which HR managers can receive ongoing advice on workers’ psychological characteristics that influence both their well-being at work and the company’s performance. 

Get in touch today and find out how we can help you improve your performance. It will be worth it. 

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