careerHave you ever been asked what you specialize in? Many personal branding experts argue you have to show you are a specialist in something in order for your voice to be heard amid the competitive noise. Being a generalist can appear anonymous. Is that fair?

Specialists can have their downside too as Mark Babbitt of YouTern.com has observed in relation to career experts – “Is being perceived as an expert (and for some, self-promotion) more important than actually helping someone find a job?”

Generalists get a hard time. Some employers see a career path that takes you to different organisations, roles and types of work as uncertain, unclear, reactive and lacking in ambition. Yet, it might purely be down to whatever work you can get because of market conditions.

Alternatively, you may have made a conscious choice to transfer your skills and capabilities to a different setting or to seek a new challenge and learned new capabilities. This is still very common in the UK Civil Service where many staff with long service move every 2 or 3 years for variety or interest, personal development or to freshen things up in that area and to allow other people opportunities.

In other words, your generalism is your specialism. The obvious criticism is being the proverbial jack-of-all-trades and master of none. The reality in many cases is jack-of-all-trades and master of many, building a breadth and depth of expertise that is built upon, re-visited or re-interpreted for the benefit of others in a virtuous spiral.

A parallel of sorts can be seen in the rise of the portfolio and slash careers in our post economic crash era. At the same time, the rise of individualism has led to the mantra of ‘choice’ in society and less inhibition about deciding what work people want or are prepared to do. The very notion of a ‘career’, in the sense of a pre-determined path, is being replaced with a changing set of mini-careers, twisting more rapidly in different directions.

Do you find this reality wonderfully exciting and stimulating, or deeply uncomfortable and uncertain?

Developing and sustaining your employability is hard and a lifetime’s activity. The job for life mentality of the past is in intensive care and the career merry-go-round can be a badge of honour for Millennials. Funding cuts and job losses are forcing people of all generations to think very differently about what they want in the future as well as what they can get in the present.

Many of the current generation have made a paradigm shift in relation to time that affects how they see careers and the world of work. It is based much more on being in the present, living for now. Previous generations have emphasised planning for the future (pensions) and valuing the past (tradition, stability). Compromise and pragmatism increasingly drive our options and behaviours for being employable. Finding a job you like and that complements your strengths may have to be a longer-term goal.

Standing out ought not to be about trying to be something you’re not. This is not an either/or debate – if you’re a specialist, flaunt it; if you’re a generalist, be yourself and promote it. The breadth of experience of generalists in collaboration with the depth of specialists is a winning combination for employers.

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