It used to be, the further you got in your career, the more you described yourself as a generalist.

You’d brand yourself as a generalist because that’s what you’ve learned your whole career – that being a generalist was valuable, demonstrating your ability to quickly adapt to new situations and learn new skills.

The generalist idea

We all learned that it was a badge of honor being able to describe ourselves as a generalists, signifying we had experience in many industries and many job functions.. It was kind of like you had fought in many wars…

This is why so many of us still brand ourselves as generalists. It shouldn’t surprise you that the older we are, the more likely we are to cling to the tradition of generalist branding. Also, many of us just don’t know another way or can’t picture ourselves as anything other than a generalist.

For many years, this worked and worked well. From the 1940′s until 2007, we had a candidate and skills shortage, so employers had difficulty finding managers and workers with the right basic skills – finding a subject matter expert was rare.

In addition, during the last 17 years, we’ve transitioned to a search based economy – Now if we want something, we just Google it. A searched based economy allows employers to be specific, more precise in what they want … and encourages providers (including job seekers) to be more specific and precise in what we can provide.

As marketing guru Seth Godin blogged:

“When choice is limited, I want a generalist. When selection is difficult, a jack of all trades is just fine. But whenever possible, please bring me a brilliant specialist.”

Seth’s right … why would employers settle for a generalist with shallow knowledge of many things, when they can find a subject matter expert with deep knowledge in solving their specific problem?

Generalist and the expert

When I’ve written about the death of generalist branding in the past I’ve gotten interesting responses. Basically, there’s been an outcry of responses from candidates, generally older workers, who spend much effort describing what businesses should do differently and arguing that businesses should hire generalists. Rather than change themselves, instead these job seekers argue that industry trends should change. Even if it’s true that industry trends are flawed, tilting against windmills won’t help these folks find a job.

Even small companies who are more likely to need generalists and who have truly generalist positions, still hire subject matter experts, not generalists.

While small companies may need people who can wear many hats for certain staff and managerial roles, small business hiring managers typically have one or two overriding priority problems. They typically hire a subject matter expert in solving their priority problems … who is also able to fill a number of roles and adapt to new situations.

And that’s the order of how companies hiring generalist positions usually make hiring decisions. First – Find a subject matter expert who has already solved the most pressing priority problems the hiring manager faces. This is almost always done via Applicant Tracking Systems and HR pre-screening. Next – choose the subject matter expert who also has other skills and the ability to adapt to many roles. The decision of which subject matter expert is also the best at a generalist role is nearly always made during the interview.

If employers first look for subject matter expertise and look via your resume … why would you brand yourself as a generalist?

But if you don’t know another way to brand yourself (or think of yourself) than as a generalist stay tuned till next week’s article.


Phil Rosenberg is President of, a leading job search information website and career coaching service. Phil also runs the Career Central group, one of Linkedin’s largest groups for job seekers and has built one of the 20 largest personal networks on Linkedin globally. An active blogger about social media, career advice and job search information, Phil’s articles have been published by The Wall Street Journal, Business Week, CNN, CBS, AOL, FastCompany, CIO, ZDnet, The Examiner, and leading job/career/recruiting publications and sites. Check out one of Phil’s complimentary job search webinars at .