Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Who needs Generalists Anymore?

Seth Godin, one of the marketing geniuses of our time, had a brilliant post yesterday, “We Specialize in Everything”. Seth recognizes that when we can easily find the best, we want the best.

So what does this mean for job seekers? It means Subject Matter Experts Rule!

So why did this change? Remember, back in the day, when employers wanted generalists? Well rounded employees that could adapt to anything?

From 2000-2001, a “perfect storm” of events all combined to change employer demands for subject matter expertise. Consider this…during that time period, all of the following happened:

- The majority of resumes were delivered online
- CareerBuilder, Monster dramatically increased membership of job seekers
- Numerous other job boards grew in popularity
- The majority of company web sites now housed expanded Career sections. The majority of large and mid-sized companies were listing all of their jobs on their websites.
- Advertised jobs were now drawing hundreds, in some cases thousands, of resumes for each position
- Proliferation of inexpensive home internet connections
- Reasonably priced Human Resource Information Systems were implemented to manage the flood of resumes companies were receiving electronically
- Hiring of consultants for small projects became widely popularized, as timely project completion became mission critical
- Companies were careful not to add headcount during a recession.
- The distinction between employees and contractors became blurred as more subject matter experts chose to work as independent consultants
- Subject matter experts were suddenly available due to a recession

This perfect storm of events allowed Hiring Managers to micro-target multiple criteria in job searches, allowing them to search for subject matter expertise. And since a post 9/11 recession was underway, there was a great deal of specialized talent available.

So why did Hiring Managers begin to favor subject matter experts? Because they could.

And Hiring Managers over the past 7 years now have gotten used to and expect Subject Matter Expertise.

But strangely enough, most job seekers haven’t gotten used to living in a Subject Matter Expert world. Most still describe themselves as generalists, and write resumes to look like they can do all things for all people.

But as Seth comments …“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.”

Bet Seth in the end, why did you cave? You added a PS the next day, stroking the generalists in your audience who complained, and gave the irrelevant reference that Leonardo was a generalist. That was in the 15th Century, where Leonardo was considered a Subject Matter Expert, the best in the world….just in many things. Then again, people like Leonardo daVinci just don’t come around every day, and in today’s world, could you afford Leonardo’s salary or hourly rate?

So which do you want to be today…a generalist, or a specialist?

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Becky Cortino said...

Thought-provoking! Persepective is not really everything, but a part of it... and how you present the rest plays to that, doesn't it?

Richard Jennings said...

Monster never worked for me, I just read about a new type of job matching technology called realmatch which was started by the guy who started the largest recruiting company in the world, cant hurt: http://www.realmatch.com

Bernard Lim said...

What about generalists in a specialized industry, e.g. IT security?