The trend toward specialization

“I can do it all.”

It’s a phrase that most people think paints a proactive picture. The candidate who says this has experience in many different areas, and if she doesn’t, she can learn. This is the generalist that typifies our independent, entrepreneurial spirit. The go-getter. The person who makes it work.

But for all the romance, the generalist is no longer the candidate whom employers are going after in most cases.

“The trend is to go toward specialists,” said Sandy Charet, president of communications executive search firm Charet & Associates. “What I see is that there are a lot of candidates out there, but my clients tell me they have difficulty finding the right specialist for the job.”

The search for specialists

With today’s technology, it is possible for search firms to use the Internet to discover exactly what they want, rather than shotgunning a classified ad in major metro papers. Criteria have gotten ultra-specific to focus the search on a defined vertical wherein the candidate has specialist knowledge.

For example, if you're with a law firm looking for someone to get the company in the press, why hire a generalist PR pro, when you can hire a PR expert who focuses solely on the legal industry? In fact, why hire a legal PR expert, when you can find someone who deals directly with, say, real estate law, if that's what you specialize in?

You get the idea.

Why it’s not that easy, a fishing metaphor

Specialist or generalist, it’s still important to understand the search and recruitment process.

Before technology, employers had to cast a line into an ocean of candidates. They would hope that their bait was enticing enough to attract qualified prospects. But they were sitting on top of the ocean, and they couldn’t see where the fish were. If employers didn’t get the catch they wanted, they would hire a headhunter to guide them to better waters.

With new technology, the ocean has become transparent. Employers can see the fish; but the problem is they can see the entire population of fish, not necessarily the one they want to hook. Again, the recruiter is there is find out where the schools of specialist fish are migrating. They're not answering the classified ads, and they're not even hungry. But they are on LinkedIn. Or maybe their favored current is Twitter.

It’s still a game of searching for the most desirable catch, which is most likely not out in the open. The more specialized the professional, the harder locate, attract and hook.

Now, job seekers must make themselves appealing with specialist experience and know-how. Employers must decide which specialist will be right for their team and then find out where that ideal candidate is located. Both candidates and employers are faced with the ultimate challenge of striking a balance between generalist and specialist.

- Britt Perkins
Photo via Flickr by kevin dooley


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