Generalists Are More Employable Than Specialists

June 1, 2016

11:00 am

A good issue always has two sides: Apple versus Android, dogs versus cats, McDonald’s versus anything other than McDonalds. And when it comes to deciding your career path, the debate remains two-fold between generalists and specialists. And according to the data, the answer is pretty clear.

Generalists def. Specialists

Generalists take the cake when it comes to their ability to get hired and succeed in their jobs. A study out of Tulane University and Columbia Business School showed that, out of the 400 surveyed students, almost two-thirds were able to get an investment banking job easier when they generalized their education rather than specializing in investment banking.

And that’s not all! Generalists were also more likely to receive larger offers and salary bonuses, by a pretty staggering margin. Generalist students were offered 36 percent larger signing bonuses in their offers, dwarfing the signing bonuses of the few specialist offers.

“Specialists were definitely penalized by the market,” said Jennifer Merluzzi, an assistant professor at Tulane. “Not only were they less likely to receive multiple offers, but they were offered smaller signing bonuses. In some cases the specialists earned up to $48,000 less than their generalist peers.

Why Generalists?

The key to generalist success lies in their ability to adapt. While specialists are highly sought-after in fields like coding because of the specific needs of particular companies, generalists have the ability to adjust their skill-set as the situation dictates. Many tech companies must shift gears in the middle of their product launch and, while a specialized eye may help with the transition, a generalized employee will know all the ins and outs of a wide range of topics and issues, better preparing them for future tasks.

The importance of context can not go understated when discussing the value of a specialist versus a generalist. Without context, founders, employees and even costumers find themselves in an endless loop of produce, market, consume and repeat. Generalists provide a vast and expansive knowledge set that will provide a path to success rather than a racetrack to nowhere.

The importance of context is perfectly and oddly explained by Vikram Mansharamani, a global equity investor and lecturer at Yale. He explains, in a Harvard Business Review post, that a world of specialists is like a world with people that study bark.

“Many have deeply studied its nooks, grooves, coloration, and texture,” says Mansharamani. “Few have developed the understanding that the bark is merely the outermost layer of a tree. Fewer still understand the tree is embedded in a forest.”

Photo: Flickr / clement127

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Conor is a writer, comedian and world-renowned sweetheart. As the Senior Writer at Tech.Co, he’s written about everything from Kickstarter campaigns and budding startups to tech titans and innovative technologies. His background in stand-up comedy made him the perfect person to host Startup Night at SXSW and the Funding Q&A at Innovate! and Celebrate, posing questions to notable tech minds from around the world. In his spare time, he thinks about how to properly pronounce the word "colloquially." Conor is the Senior Writer at Tech.Co. You can email him at conor@tech.co.

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