By Monique Lung, RCC
Once upon a time, we would say, “the riches are in the niches,” suggesting that one’s greatest opportunity for rewards and recognition lies in developing an expertise and staying in that lane. Sure, if your craft is one of brain surgeon or the like. Indeed, I would not want to be the patient of someone who had simply dabbled in the study. For most industries, specializing has typically been all the rage, yet in recent times, and certainly never more than in pandemic and post-pandemic times, generalization is gaining popularity and more importantly, demand.
As a product of a mosaic of careers, this revelation delights me. Along with many career transition clients I coach, I had my work cut out for me making sense of the myriad of hats worn and the experiences that molded me into the risk–averse, adaptable, confident, and creative professional I am today. As supported in the book, Range, by David Epstein, a broad array of experiences and interests drives creativity and innovation. He is a proponent of “a wide-roaming, disorderly path of experimentation.” He refers to this as experiential diversity.
One would assume that a person who can do many things has more to offer, such as an athlete on a team, whose value increases relative to their range of talent. While it seems common sense to hire someone with a range of talents, hiring generalists has been out of fashion in recent years. Only recently are employers, who once preferred hiring experts with a specialty, seeking talent from across industries and opening up to broader and fresher thinking. The new pandemic era has struck an “adaptability nerve” among many and ushered in the need to seek out and reward those with experiential diversity. Not only job seekers, but also employers benefit richly from hires with vast experiences, varied perspectives, and from diverse environments. The companies who want to survive recognize it’s flex or fail, and generalists typically have a flex mindset.
In her Harvard Business Review article of 2016, Nicole Torres reports on studies done as early as 2008 and 2009 exploring the value of generalists, with impressive and unexpected findings. She recounts that specialists are easily substituted, and their worth is easily calculated, in contrast to generalists whose broader value is more challenging to acquire and retain. The studies described a $50k salary differential favoring the generalist, and also showed that generalists had a stronger background than the specialists, enabling them to be more effective as leaders due to their ability to shift and adapt in multiple areas.
Past favoritism toward specialists contributed to a climate of shaming for those of us who were champions of experiential diversity. Stepping out of the shame and owning one’s chaotic career path is not easy. Finding common threads and developing sense-making stories of one’s patchwork past can be challenging and disheartening. Job seekers need help now more than ever, in this time of high unemployment and low applicant confidence. Thankfully, a seasoned career coach can not only wordsmith your story but can also help you identify your many accomplishments, evidence of resiliency, and creativity that you may have overlooked. A career “mosaic” can be made more sellable with the support of a skilled career coach, a professional who champions your potential and is talented at mining for the buried gems to spotlight the true value of a generalist.