generalist vs specialist

Business evolution occurs more rapidly year after year, resulting in new specialised fields springing up in the job market – ripe for those with specific skills. But should we expect deep-learners and go-to experts to spike in demand and take over, or is there still a place for proficient generalists who can wear different hats at any given time?

Though the specific definitions will vary across industries, both relate to how vast or specific your knowledge is, across either a narrow region or a multitude of skills. Knowing how to differentiate a specialist from a generalist can help you appropriately train for and land a job, advance your career, or hire the right people for your company.


Specialists tend to focus in on one distinct job for a defined industry, sector or market. Their knowledge is specific but very deep and sometimes highly technical. Specialists thrive in companies that hired them to be their gurus about a new process, law, or technological development.

New developments for any industry can be challenging for others without a specialist’s profound expertise in it, so specialists often come in from backgrounds with extensive experience doing just one thing allowing them to excel at problem solving.

In sales, an employee may be a dedicated business-to-business specialist, or may be highly skilled in online sales, for example. In marketing, an employee might be an expert in LinkedIn social media management skills.

There may be fewer people in a specific niche with particular specialist knowledge an employer is looking for, which can sometimes lead to better pay. In short, specialists know everything about something with in depth knowledge, but not something about everything in a defined field.


If specialists are the subject experts, generalists are considered the jack of all trades with multiple skills. Though they don’t dive as deep on subjects as specialists, a generalist’s strength is being knowledgeable about all the moving parts of an industry.

Generalists tend to be great at negotiating between different departments because their knowledge base encompasses a much broader range. For this reason, their career path offers a lot of flexibility.

Great examples of generalists are salespeople who perform equally as good across business-to-consumer sales, business-to-business sales, internet sales, and whatever other branches of business development their sales their company covers.

They may not be considered a subject matter expert, but they often have very valuable transferable skills that can be useful across multiple industries. In a nutshell, generalists know something about everything but not everything about something.

Context of generalist vs specialist

It’s important to note, whether a worker is a generalist or specialists depends heavily on the company they work for. If an employee is a generalist when it comes to Information Technology (IT) knowledge but works for a company unrelated to IT, they can be considered a specialist simply because their knowledge is specific to technology and not as relatable to other operations.

Conversely, that same IT worker could be called a generalist in an IT firm due to his or her wide base of knowledge of the industry. Therefore, when learning the tools of the trade or developing your skills, it’s important to know where you want to go with your expertise, no matter what you are considered within your field.

Who do businesses prefer?

Since both specialists and generalists are important for businesses to succeed, there’s no simple answer to this and neither can guarantee job security in any job market. However, the skills you possess can help you find the right position in a company. Recognising your talent and abilities is the first step to figuring out where you best fit.

If your skills are specialised, you’re probably more geared for a job at a bigger firm where your expertise stands out from your peers who can handle the broader tasks within that field. You can be hired at smaller companies for specific jobs as well, depending on what you do. For generalists, your role at a small business could be essential to keep it running, as your array of skills matches the quick flexibility needed for the company’s success. At big firms, you can also assume more managerial roles because of your ability to communicate across departments.

While both generalists and specialists can hold leadership roles their distinct expertise and versatile skill sets can bring unique perspectives and approaches to effectively navigate diverse challenges and drive organisational success. Relevant certifications and soft skills, such as effective communication and collaboration, can enhance your professional success and make you stand out in any field, regardless of whether you are a generalist or a specialist.

Regardless of whichever you are, our Salary Benchmark Report for Australia is a great place to figure out where you fit best in an industry. In each role across the industries that were studied, demand was rated “high” across the board, so no matter what skills you have you’re likely to find a suitable position out there, whether you’re a specialist or generalist.

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