Ross Brown, fellow #EdCM attendee, has recently started a heated debate on Twitter when he tweeted looking for advice on his CV and asked “Is is wrong to say I am a ‘generalist’ in my CV personal statement?” The consensus seemed to point towards, whoa you don’t want to call yourself a generalist, and being a generalist myself I’m hoping to launch a spirited debate to try and convince myself and others that I am not suddenly completely unemployable.
A “Generalist” is the opposite of a “Specialist” (also not to be confused with Generalissimo, which is something different altogether) and is someone with a wide range of knowledge in many areas. This kind of person was traditionally called a Renaissance Man in the early 20th century and were celebrated as well educated men of the world. So why is it that being considered a Jack of all trades, master of none is the kiss of death for your career?
The most obvious reason I can think of is that people believe that being a generalist means you aren’t very good. A specialist focuses in on one aspect of their career and as such is amazing at what they do, where as a generalist is merely average at everything they do. It’s a little narrow minded to think that because someone has a wider skill set they can’t be very good at what they do. I know a lot of (slightly annoying) people who are seemingly brilliant at everything they turn their hand to and I wouldn’t dream of assuming they can’t their do their jobs. Then again if you were having heart surgery would you want a specialist or a generalist doing your op?
Small businesses, who can’t afford to hire someone for every role, rely on generalists to do a good job in a lot of different subject areas, so generalists are employable. In a job market that’s seen many people laid off and those left behind expected to cover the slack, its surely better to have a wide skills set than narrow.
Being a generalist myself I’d like to think that I am more employable because I have such a wide range of experience, however I’m still young and specialism comes with age, so perhaps I just haven’t found a niche to pigeonhole myself in to. Since I’m not a recruitment expert I can’t really say which is right either way.
What are your thoughts? Is it better to be good to be a jack of all trades or a master of one?