Should you be a generalist or a specialist?

Way back in 2009, I read a blog post on whether you should be a generalist or a specialist.

Sure, the post's focus was on freelance commercial writing, but every now and then, I would think about its premise: Can you earn more as a generalist or a specialist in a certain career field? Do generalist careers or specialist careers earn more overall? Is it easier for a generalist to be hired? Or does a specialist always rise to the top of the resumé pile?

Note: I'm defining a specialist as someone with a degree that narrows down the job possibilities. For instance, two people with business degrees may have two very different jobs in any number of sectors. Conversely, two nurses will have more similar jobs in the health care field.

Although I have specialized experience in health care, I wanted to see what the Bureau of Labor Statistics had to say about occupations in general. They divide jobs into 25 occupational groups. They also published a table with the 20 highest paying jobs.

In that list, according to my hastily applied criteria (see “note” above), I think three out of 20 are general (Natural Sciences Managers, Marketing Managers, and Financial Managers). That means that the majority are specialized careers. (Of course, my methods are unscientific.)

Then I looked at the 30 occupations with the largest job growth. Of this list of 30, I think about 15 were specialized.

That doesn't tell the whole story though. This table also gives the median salaries. More general positions (or those with a low barrier to entry) generally pay less than the others, according to the table. That correlates with what I've observed, too.

My Experience

In college, I specialized in radiologic technology, one of approximately 300,000 (compare that to nearly 4.5 million retail salespeople or 5,800 Oral/Maxillofacial surgeons) in the U.S. When I graduated, I chose to specialize even more; this decision resulted in a $3,000 bump in my annual salary.

When I decided to specialize in a different direction, I got a generic Bachelor's degree. And that job led to my current educational position requiring my (specific) Master's degree. I mention that my Master's degree was specific to my current position because it's essentially worthless to almost all other jobs.

As I analyzed my experience, I found it interesting that specializing the first time did cause me to earn more money. While I don't directly earn more money from my current day job, it led to a side gig that's helping me pay for our DIY projects. Without the experience and degrees, the side gig opportunity would never have presented itself. So, even in job #2, specializing paid off for me.

Is my situation unique or not? Let's go deeper…

Why specializing might be worth it

After years of observing students, I think Woody Allen is right: 80% of success is showing up.

In my day job, I'm the program director of a selective admissions program, meaning we only have a certain number of spots…and a lot of applicants.

Many students call or pick up an application. Fewer actually fill out the application and turn it in. Still fewer prospective students turn in the required paperwork. By the time we get to the last step, we have an applicant pool of about 5 percent of the original number. Although not everyone gets into the program, I can say that no one gets into the program without “showing up.”

Are there parallels to specializing here? Perhaps specialists deserve to get paid more because they are persistent in accomplishing which specialization they want. It doesn't mean they work harder necessarily. In fact,
one of my lowest-paying jobs required the most physical effort.

Even after researching this article, I don't know what is really true. What I've read seems to indicate that people who specialize make more money. And my anecdotal experience supports my theory.

Maybe my theory has holes. But here's one thing I do know: As you specialize, fewer and fewer people are vying for fewer and fewer jobs — because not everyone, sometimes for valid reasons, wants to get the degree/get the experience/take the test/or whatever that will allow them to specialize.

On the other hand, by being a generalist, you may get many different types of jobs, but more people are vying for those positions. And according to the BLS chart, many general occupations are entry-level, requiring little to no education. (Not all of them, of course, but a large percentage.)

Which is better?

Again, I'm not sure. I can share more anecdotal experience, this time from a recent conversation with a colleague who has the same job I do, just at a different institution. He wants to retire, but he's afraid there won't be qualified applicants.

“It's crazy, Lisa,” he said. “Within a 100-mile radius, I think there are only four people who are qualified to take my job…and they are already doing the same job with their current employer!”

Of course, if everyone worked to be qualified to take over his position when he retires, then my specialization theory is full of holes. Being specialized wouldn't help you if there were lots of qualified people for a handful of jobs.

This brings up my concern with specializing. Is it possible to become too specialized and pigeonhole yourself so you're only qualified for a few jobs — and they're not available?

To Be a Generalist or Not to Be a Generalist

After a long analysis, I don't think that being a generalist or specialist is really the point. Er, so thanks for reading this far :).

What's more important is selecting an occupation you're interested in, one that will pay you enough to maintain your desired style of living, and then figure out how to specialize within that occupation (if you want to).

So what do you think? Can you earn more money with increased specialization within your field? Do specialists earn more in general? Can you be too specialized? Or does this even matter?

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Jerome
Jerome
8 years ago

Based on my own experience positions where a generalist fits are easier to fill, and thus generalists are seldom rare. And thus they cannot demand much money. A specialist function is almost always difficult to fill and thus, when essential to a business, the candidates can ask for a lot of money. But there are some problems with being a specialist. For one there is the risk that your speciality goes out of fashion. Than suddenly you change from specialist to ‘untrained, out-of-fashion and old’. And second it is very difficult to plan to become a specialist. You usually end… Read more »

William @ Drop Dead Money
William @ Drop Dead Money
8 years ago
Reply to  Jerome

This is a different take on the “high risk, high reward” concept. Being a generalist is low risk but low reward. Specializing increases reward but also increases risk due to fewer job options. In the general marketplace, the most effective and proven strategy is to start by becoming a super expert in a micro-niche, the ultimate in specialization. Build a good reputation as the expert in some little thing. Then branch out from there by adding more and more capabilities. Federal Express did that. They were a struggling small package shipper until they began to specialize in one single niche… Read more »

Pauline
Pauline
8 years ago

I worked in IT and specialized in a niche software people were happy to pay a good amount for. Now I find that employment as a generalist would be easy too, since the basics are the same. The specialization didn’t cost me a dime, I would have been cautious if it had because IT changes so fast.

Claire
Claire
8 years ago
Reply to  Pauline

I agree with the concept in this comment. I am in accounting (was in general accounting). Then I moved into two different accounting positions, the most recent being considered a specialty (it helps that I also got a certificate for the specialty). I am getting paid more and I have less stress than I did in the previous more general positions. Yes please! But because of my background, if I could not find a position in my current specialty, I could easily go back to general accounting. PS Why do you think so many doctors choose specialties (dermatology, ENT, etc)?… Read more »

Epell
Epell
8 years ago

Get hired as a specialist.
After getting hired, develop a second trade just in case your specialty goes out of fashion.

getagrip
getagrip
8 years ago

I believe a specialist is typically something you tend to become, either because of the job you are doing or the career you have chosen. Often you are given tasks at the job, and if you do good work, more tasks of similar nature come your way. After a while you become the X task specialist where whenever a question comes up on X people are told to run it by you. Additionally, particularly in the technical arena, when you specialize it often means you’ve taken on additional training, achieved additional certifications, and are now expected to provide more to… Read more »

Carrie
Carrie
8 years ago

I have a degree in a specific field (Speech Language Pathology) and I had well-paying work lined up before I graduated. My husband has a more general International Business degree and still has a hard time finding well-paying positions. He is currently doing manual labor in the oil field and while I earn more per hour, he is now earning more overall only because he works three times as many hours as I do.

TB at BlueCollarWorkman
TB at BlueCollarWorkman
8 years ago

Well I didn’t go to college so you might say I’m a generalist. Doing blue collar work, which is something lots of guys can do, I definitely started out that way. But now, over time there are some skills I developed that not every blue collar dude can do, and so I’ve become a little more specialist. Which has made my salary go up just a little bit.

So you don’t need a college degree to be specialist!

Pam
Pam
6 years ago

I think you have a point there. I will soon have a degree in graphic design, and work toward a specialty because in web design there are too many skills to be an expert at them all. Meanwhile my husband is a “specialist” at painting, with his own business. Not everyone can be as fast and efficient as he is-he’s seen this with hired temp help. It’s just not everyone’s niche. But one thing to look at is that when you get a little older, you may not be physically able to keep up the hard work, and a degree… Read more »

Rya @ bulgarian money blog
Rya @ bulgarian money blog
8 years ago

Specialized vs. Generalized ? We need to look beyond salary ranges. How much a person makes is determined by a lot of factors. Whether their field is S. or G. is just ONE of all those factors. Salary aside, there are other specifics to consider: –job security. S. jobs offer higher job security, because it’s harder to replace an employee with a S. job. –job location. S. jobs are concentrated in big cities and are hard to find in small towns. If you are a neurosurgeon or a water architect, you’re more likely to work in New York rather than… Read more »

Kingston
Kingston
8 years ago

Why are teaching or being a librarian not careers?

Rya
Rya
8 years ago
Reply to  Kingston

Well, where can you grow to from being a teacher or a librarian? How many promotions CAN you get? I think that, at least career-wise, it’s like being a plumber – that’s a dead-end job unless you start your own business.

Katie
Katie
8 years ago
Reply to  Rya

Uh, that doesn’t mean it’s not a career. What weird definition are you using? “Career” =/ job with infinite promotion possibility.

Rya
Rya
8 years ago
Reply to  Rya

#20 Katie, then how would YOU define a career?

Katie
Katie
8 years ago
Reply to  Rya

It’s a bit sticky, but how about “a job or set of jobs that you intend to make or which becomes your life’s work.” Someone who’s been a teacher for 40 years is a career teacher. Someone who leaves the practice of law and becomes a teacher is entering education as a second career. Someone who is a teacher and gets promoted to vice-principal, then principal, then school district administration for a large district isn’t a career teacher but does have a career in education. But no, I don’t think constant striving for promotion means it’s not a career. Nor… Read more »

PB
PB
8 years ago
Reply to  Rya

I have been a librarian for about 35 years (yikes!). I would definitely consider it a career. If your only criterion is that you have to “go someplace” with a degree in order to make it a career, then you know little about librarianiship. Or careers.

In my own career, I went from being a reference librarian, a fairly normal place to start, to being the director of a library. This involves all the management porblems of any such position in any field, plus a lot of specialized knowledge. Sounds like a profession and a career to me.

Tonya
Tonya
8 years ago
Reply to  Rya

I’m a teacher, and believe me, it’s a career. The salary goes up every year, and you earn more toward retirement. It’s not like you’re doing the same job year after year because technology changes, the kids change, the requirements change. We have to go through continually training to keep up with the times. I may not make as much as other people with a master’s degree, but I love what I do and it is DEFINITELY a career. (And one of the few job that still provides a retirement plan.)

Rya
Rya
8 years ago
Reply to  Rya

#23 Katie #28 PB Alright, I get your point. To me, a career is when you make a PROGRESS in your field of work – progress in job title, responsibilities, pay and so on. I don’t mean to say that someone who has been a teacher for 40 years is not valuable or that their work is easy. But it doesn’t fit with what I would consider a career. (If the teacher advances to head teacher or principal, then that’s much closer to what I’d call a career.) Regarding what you said about a lawyer being a partner in the… Read more »

Penny
Penny
8 years ago
Reply to  Rya

Another librarian here to say it can absolutely be a career. I have a Masters Degree, a specialization, well documented and laid out increases in responsibilities and expectations (linked to increases in pay) at my current job and options as to progressing both within and outside of my organization. There’s not only the increase in managerial and organizational responsibilities that PB mentions but also possibilities to move into different kinds of libraries, corporations (publishing, library vendors), non-profits/government agencies (granting agencies, professional organizational bodies), startups, etc. Many of which can follow a very progressive career path. If you are interested and… Read more »

jim
jim
8 years ago

Rya, Sorry but I think you have an incorrect definition of what ‘career’ means. Theres no requirement that careers have promotions. e.g. Dictionary.com first definition of word career is “an occupation or profession, especially one requiring special training, followed as one’s lifework: He sought a career as a lawyer”.

Rya
Rya
8 years ago
Reply to  jim

@Jim – well then I disagree with the dictionary, too 🙂

By that definition, being a plumber is also a career.

TinaPete
TinaPete
8 years ago

Librarian Tina here, and a specialist. My UG degree in life science field, masters in library science. Through work (in academic libraries, another speciality) I gained expertise in health professions librarianship, especially for grad students becoming occupational therapists and health educators. Whoa, pretty specialized and busy at it too. 😉 You want your health providers to keep up with the latest evidence-based healthcare practice don’t you? They learn that from librarians.

Peggy
Peggy
8 years ago

It comes down to supply and demand in the end. I was in a specialized scientific field, and came out at the end with so much competition for the available jobs that I gave up on it. (But I discovered that I wanted more generalization anyway.) But I have an online acquaintance who is very much a generalist, and does very well with it. She has the brainpower (IQ 150+) to take in a great many sources of information, and then put them all together into a very accurate Big Picture for her clients. Not many people could do what… Read more »

Matt
Matt
8 years ago

Economically speaking it’s pretty unambiguous. Greater specialization (almost) always yields higher returns (see: competitive advantage). And when you get down to it, we’re all specialists to some degree or another. You probably didn’t build the home you live in. You probably didn’t grow your breakfast this morning. You let other specialists do that for you and traded with them. That said, it’s not always win-win for specialists. For starters, you’ve got to specialize in something the market needs. Specializing in 19th century poetry isn’t likely to increase your income. If you look at that list of top paid jobs, almost… Read more »

Rosa
Rosa
8 years ago
Reply to  Matt

there’s also the two body problem, if you are a specialist with a specialist spouse.

So an aeronautical engineer with a marine biologist spouse, or two professors or researchers, are going to have a lot of problems finding work for both of them in the same location, that may outweigh the financial benefits of either one making more when they can find a job that works for the whole family.

Rya
Rya
8 years ago
Reply to  Rosa

@Rosa
Wow! This is so true. And unfortunate.

Paul
Paul
8 years ago

I work as a specialist. It’s even part of my official job title. When I read the job description for my current position, I thought to myself that the company was looking for me, and I was right. At any given point in time, there are probably only 10-20 people in the country with the right experiences this job requires who are actually looking for work. I think my position was originally advertised in July, 2011. I filled out an application in late September or early October, and after a few interviews, was hired shortly after Thanksgiving. Some previous comments… Read more »

tas
tas
8 years ago

specializing also doesn’t guarantee that there are fewer applicants for those jobs. academia is a good example of a field in which you have to be highly trained in a very narrow range of skills, yet there aren’t any jobs. There are 20-5 jobs this year in my specific field. There are 150-odd people vying for them. I’m not one of them — have decided to try my hand at being a generalist!

Nicoleandmaggie
Nicoleandmaggie
8 years ago

Cal Newport has a book out about how having specialized skills makes you employable. http://www.wandering-scientist.com/2012/10/cal-newports-so-good-they-cant-ignore.html

El Nerdo
El Nerdo
8 years ago

The more you know something, the better you are at it, and the greater the value you provide to others.

Go to any restaurant with 100 disjointed items on the menu and get ready for an indigestion. Go to a place that makes only burgers, and chances are it could be the best burger of your life.

One thing. Well done. Over & over. Until it’s perfect.

General knowledge is nice to have, but when it comes to getting paid, the world loves a specialist.

Rya
Rya
8 years ago
Reply to  El Nerdo

I like the burger analogy. But what if suddenly burgers go out of fashion?

El Nerdo
El Nerdo
8 years ago
Reply to  Rya

Ha! Which part of the burger goes out of fashion? The meat, the bun, or the fixings?

Rya
Rya
8 years ago
Reply to  El Nerdo

It was a *metaphor* 🙂

I meant to say that the deeper you specialize, the narrower your possibilities become should your type of work go out of fashion.

My parents ran a private dance school for kids for years. Recently the government started pouring money into extra-curricular activites for kids, including dancing, so having a private business compete with organizations receiving government funding… was not really a good option.

El Nerdo
El Nerdo
8 years ago
Reply to  El Nerdo

I get it was a metaphor, mine was a metaphor too, and it was meant to say this: burgers are real-world objects with so many possibilities no simple concept can encompass them all. When a specialist looks at their work, they see infinite possibilities, like William Blake’s grain of sand. Sorry to hear about your parents problem. I don’t know anything about dancing, and I don’t know anything about your country’s economy, so I can’t offer any solutions. Since I love food, however, I could suggest a ton of paths for a burger joint: switch the bun, switch the patty… Read more »

Rya
Rya
8 years ago
Reply to  El Nerdo

#25 El Nerdo

Okay, so you mean that even when you specialize that doesn’t nessecarily narrow your future options. Fair enough.

I’m just saying that usually, it’s a common downside.

As for the dance school, we switched to training adults instead of kids 🙂 Changed the bun, so to speak 😉

El Nerdo
El Nerdo
8 years ago
Reply to  El Nerdo

Yeah, see, that was option b) — take the specialty to a new niche where the competition can’t get you. Now think of this– when competing for the grownup market, does it give your parents a competitive advantage to be expert dancer teachers? Can they get a better clientele than someone who is also a part-time juggler and weekend violinist and who does bookkeeping on the side? You bet they do. They can probably say they’ve been teaching for X decades and charge accordingly. The specialist wins again. When somebody is really good at something, they can adapt, evolve, transfer… Read more »

Katie
Katie
8 years ago
Reply to  El Nerdo

I see what you’re saying, El Nerdo, but the specialization vs. generalization questions I feel like I most often see today aren’t at the dance teacher vs. dance/violin/juggling teacher level. They’re at the ballet vs. ballet/tap/jazz level. Or the environmental biologist specializing in mussels vs. environmental biologist specializing in mussels found only in rivers in Western Pennsylvania. And there, which one is better for an individual is going to depend on a lot of things, but I feel like for most of the population, some degree of specialization – and a more extreme on than in years past – is… Read more »

El Nerdo
8 years ago
Reply to  El Nerdo

Katie, I think what you’re describing is not the problem of specialization vs. generalization, but the problem of the size of the market for a very narrow niche, and the intrinsic risk of overspecialization where you end up only with one possible employer/client. I’m not claiming that specialization is problem-free, all I’m really saying really is that in a modern economy with extensive division of labor and trade networks, specialization pays off. I say this as someone who was a jack of all trades for a very long time and had the low net worth to prove it– I am… Read more »

Katie
Katie
8 years ago
Reply to  El Nerdo

El Nerdo, I guess we’re talking past each other. I think what I’m talking about is a specialization vs. generalization issue – I just think, in most fields, for most people, those happen on a more narrow playing field. There’s no longer even the choice of being a jack-of-all trades in a lot of professions. I don’t think specialization vs. generalization only comes up in the broadest sense of “do I speicalize at all?” Because generally, the answer to that will be “of course” and then you have to figure it out again for a number of narrow subsets which… Read more »

Greg
Greg
8 years ago

Started as a generalist, built some specialized skills through work experience, got the company to pay for a specialized degree. Ended up with the same pay scale in the same timeframe that I would have if I had started by pursuing a specialized field, but without the student loan debt, with an additional 4 years of earnings, and with a job already lined up.

Meghan
Meghan
8 years ago

I work for the government so the longer I’m here, the more specialized my career becomes. I don’t feel comfortable with the idea, and need to have a better plan B. For one, I can’t work internationally without being more of a generalist, which is something I’d like to do in the future. I have two masters degrees (urban planning and management), which help, but only somewhat. Have thought about a doctorate if I could have a university sponsor me, and if I could work out something with my employer, but then my studies would then likely reinforce what I… Read more »

Laura
Laura
8 years ago

If you specialize, the trick is to be adaptable. My supervisor told me a story about how Coors Brewing Company managed to stay afloat during Prohibition because they switched from making beer to making malted milk balls during the dry period. I guess you’d call this “having a viable Plan B”. IMHO, specializing without a Plan B is behind the problem of certain businesses lobbying the government to keep the status quo so that they stay in business – e.g., oil companies who don’t want to see a switch to renewable energy. I think adapting your business the way Coors… Read more »

El Nerdo
El Nerdo
8 years ago
Reply to  Laura

Yes.

Halina
Halina
8 years ago

This is a great question. In the freelance mentoring program I offer through Haelix Communications, I advise aspiring writers to specialize in their writing because companies look for writers who know a field in-depth. This also allows the writer to charge a higher rate. However, specialization does make landing that first “gig” harder.

nGneer
nGneer
8 years ago

The key is to become specialized in at least one thing and also have general knowledge in a few other departments.

Maybe I only have this opportunity because I work at a large company but in case my specialty gets “stale”, I’ll have plans B,C and D.

John S @ Frugal Rules
John S @ Frugal Rules
8 years ago

As long as you’re not becoming too specialized, then I think having a specialty is better. It’s a numbers game…with a specialty you’re going to have fewer people to compete against which will probably increase your chances of getting a job. In addition to that, you’ll probably end up with a higher salary as they know you’ll be expecting it due to the specialty.

Jennifer Gwennifer
Jennifer Gwennifer
8 years ago

I think the level of specialization also plays a role. I know that the specific scientific discipline I have trained for encompasses a very diverse range of sub-disciplines, so I have taken a variety of coursework and internships to make sure that I have experience in many areas. Since choosing my location is more important to me than following a very specific career path, I think having multiple sets of complementary skills makes me more employable for jobs that I may not necessarily have a burning passion for, but that sufficiently utilize my knowledge.

Tonya
Tonya
8 years ago

I think most of us start out as generalists until we figure out our “niche” to specialize in. I got a secretarial degree and a bachelor’s in business education. I didn’t teach for a long time because of my circumstances, but I worked as a secretary. I was always good at transcription, and I ended up working in a hospital, where I became “specialized” in medical transcription. Medical transcription is getting outdated, though, with all the voice recognition software out there, but I still have all my general skills and my teaching degree. Even within teaching, there are specialties. I’m… Read more »

Lincoln
Lincoln
8 years ago

It’s probably smarter to look at it from the perspective of value. If being a generalist or specialist in a particular area adds value, that’s what you want. If a customer or employer doesn’t care about it or won’t pay more for it, then it’s just baggage.

Donny @ Extreme Money Saving
Donny @ Extreme Money Saving
8 years ago

I can’t think of any advantage of being a generalist over s specialist. Being a ‘jack of all trades and a master of none’ will get you paid peanuts at best. Specialization is the only way to go IMHO.

Most people are generalists, I think, because they don’t have the knowledge or skill to specialize in something.

I think the key to success is to be able to specialize in one thing while having general knowledge in many other things.

Stephanie
Stephanie
8 years ago

I find its not so much specialized vs generalized, but more of supply and demand. I live in oil and gas country, were rig workers make into the 6 figures without a post secondary education. On the other hand, the guy serving me coffee has a PHD in History, specializing in Greek Mythology. He is far more specialized than the rig worker, but no one wants what he has to offer.

Derek N
Derek N
8 years ago

Either way, the path to becoming a well-rounded generalist, or a knowledgeable specialist, is an invest of time and, sometimes, money.

I think a persons location is a large factor in making this decision. If you live in a mid to large size city or urban area, the greater the chances of demand for a specialization.

I personally life in rural NC, an area with high unemployment. The more general your skills, the higher the chance of finding employment.

I like balance this, by being well-rounded, and having a couple of core areas that I continually build my skillset towards.

A-L
A-L
8 years ago

All depends on what you want to specialize in. The vast majority of people with PhDs in the humanities (and many social sciences) have a hard time finding a job related to their field, or at least one that pays decently. Why? Because far more people are interested in specializing in 17th century French theater than there are people who are hiring them.

Specialization only matters if there is greater demand for the specialists than there is supply. And as others mentioned, have backup plans if the specialization becomes obsolete.

Steve
Steve
8 years ago

Perhaps the specialist premium comes down to risk vs. reward. The specialist takes a risk that their specialization will go out of style, get oversupplied, etc. As a reward for taking that risk, the market supplies them with the reward of higher pay.

It ties into (perhaps even drives) the forces of supply and demand other commenters have already noted. Not everyone takes the risk, keeping supply restricted. But if the reward gets too high, then more people will choose to risk it, bringing supply up and price down.

Ryan C
Ryan C
8 years ago

I agree with the do what you love argument, and let yourself specialize, so long as you love it. I have a masters degree in City Planning, I went with a specialization, environmental/sustainable planning. But I feel like my education went one step further, specializing in community and personal resiliency; something I’m exploring in my blog, ryanacunningham.com I considered myself a highly specialized person, resiliency, but think I’m a generalist in a lot of ways too. I’m fascinated in sustainable business, non-profit development, environmental policy, personal health, financial success, and have a lot of technical skills; I consider myself a… Read more »

Jason Baker
Jason Baker
8 years ago
Reply to  Ryan C

Environmental planning is a tough field to become a specialist in. When planning departments specialize, that’s not generally the specialization that gets funded first. Further, I think a lot of us in planning and planning-related fields followed this career because of a motivation to help the environment. Specialization matters less if demand outweighs supply. Sincerely, 28-and-finishing-a-masters-in-a-planning-specialty.

Jenna, Community Manager at Adaptu
Jenna, Community Manager at Adaptu
8 years ago

In my field I think you can make more money being a generalist.

Addie
Addie
8 years ago

I’m planning to complete my BSN in Nursing and then get a Master’s to be a psychiatric nurse practitioner. This is pretty specialized, but it’s not really something that goes out of fashion. The salary ranges for the different NP specializations vary, with psychiatry being one of the higher ones (I’d be looking at 65k-135k depending on the state NP practice laws/location/experience level). Psychiatry will always be needed as long as there are people with mental health issues.. barring any factors I just can’t imagine at this point. The risk I’m taking is mostly burn out or finding it interests… Read more »

eemusings
eemusings
8 years ago

They say the new key to success is being a T – a generalist who also has an area of specialty (the wide top of the T represents the former and the long vertical bar the latter). I think that’s true, and a good philosophy to go by.

Adam Hathaway
Adam Hathaway
8 years ago

I have to agree with you on this one. I dont know if either or makes you any more marketable. However, “showing” up or doing what you are supposed to do and more usually gets you further than obtaining a degree. There are two converged paths in my organization. One person was actually ahead of me when I came in. They put all their time and effort into getting a masters while I put into getting things done, standing up, taking ownership, and leading teams. I am going to be a manager soon. This other person is still working on… Read more »

MamaMia
MamaMia
8 years ago

Sometimes it pays to be BOTH a generalist and a specialist. To use myself as an example: I’m a generalist in that I have wide experience working in the non-profit sector, but a specialist in that I am trained in working for art museums & institutions. My preference is to work in the arts, but when times have been tough and jobs scarce in that industry, I’ve had no trouble getting interviews and job offers in other kinds of non-profits. I know that kind of dualism doesn’t work for all career paths, but for some it can be a great… Read more »

SSS
SSS
8 years ago

Great article Lisa!
I am about to graduate college with a Degree in Business Management, a concentration in Human Resource Management, and a minor in Psychology (focusing on topics to help me in an HR career, like: personality, aging and abnormal). I was advised to specialize (I did) as it is a growing field and that employers are not necessarily looking for well rounded employees (I am).
The benefit of me specializing is it increases my likelihood of finding a job in my chosen field, but I can also find a more generalized one in the interim.

Katie
Katie
8 years ago

So- if you spend tens of thousands of dollars getting a specialist degree, quite possibly accruing debt, and getting a higher salary, but possibly not enough to offset the amount of debt you have, you are better off than if you have a generalist degree, use it to get a job and stay there for some time working to pay off your debt? In my example I graduated with a B.S. in Social Services, and am a generalist social worker right now… I have considered becoming an occupational therapist, as I enjoy working with people with disabilities, however the increase… Read more »

Vinish Parikh
Vinish Parikh
8 years ago

I think looking at present global economic situation, it is better to be generalist than specialist because you never know what can be next big industry which is going to go in recession and if you happen to be part that industry your professional career will be at stake. I would rather be a generalist than specialist

Kelly@Financial-Lessons
8 years ago

If you possess the skills and qualifications to perform at a position that is specialized in a certain area, you probably also have the knowledge base to perform in a more generalized area as well, don’t you think? I believe either way you could be hurting yourself, either if you are too generalized or to specialized. Your advice is right, find something you like to do, and if you believe you want to fall into a more specific niche, you can always learn more to get to that place.

Benjamin
Benjamin
7 years ago

I have to say I am a bit disappointed with this article. It’s filled with qualifiers, references to anecdotal evidence or experience, and phrases such as ‘x thing may be true, but I don’t know.’ When putting together an article, please do the research so that you can contribute to the conversation in a meaningful way. I also found this statement bizarre: “Perhaps specialists deserve to get paid more because they are persistent in accomplishing which specialization they want. It doesn’t mean they work harder necessarily. In fact, one of my lowest-paying jobs required the most physical effort.” Specialists are… Read more »

Charlie
Charlie
7 years ago

Anything that is generalized is mediocre at best. This applies in sports, enetertainment, business, even converstions blah blah blah. If I needed heart surgery I would go to a cardiologist, not a family practitioner. If I was hiring a sales person, I would hire based on their sales knowledge, experience and results, not their diversity of knowledge across several domains. If you’re an excellent or world-class specialist, the numbers in competition don’t matter. If your a specialist that doesn’t evolve and grow withing your specialty, you’re a dinosaur and competition will oust you. There is no valid evidence suggesting that… Read more »

Carl
Carl
5 years ago

The question really is, do we have a choice? For my experience I know I do not, I was “born” a generalist (scanner as barbara sheer calls) and I simply cannot commit to anything at long tearm, I can approve short-tearm certifications (six-months) but later I have to come back to my life of studying all kind of different things (I am a very curious person). I’ve started as a program engineer (although I do not have bachelor degree-only associated) and today I am a project manager, I kind of became “specialized” in managing resources, due to the amount of… Read more »

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