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Business - 4 min read

To hire a generalist or to hire a specialist - it’s an HR debate as old as whether education trumps experience on the resume. 

Some argue that a generalist (or a jack of all trades) gives you most bang for your buck. A generalist has diverse experience, and can use their assortment of skills to solve a diverse range of problems. Others say that a room full of generalists can’t compete with a room full of specialists. Specialists know their instrument back to front, and have been playing it a long time.

Others, however, say it all depends on the job. 

Below we weigh up the strengths and weaknesses of each skill set, and argue that a jack of all trades can’t compete with a master of one.

 

Why Hire a Generalist? 

When Gary Vaynerchuk speaks about hiring strategies, people listen. The founder of VaynerMedia turned a startup marketing agency into a 500+ employee powerhouse with savvy mastery of digital media. 

According to Gary Vaynerchuk, businesses should choose the jack of all trades over the specialist. He says employees should be agile and able to hold their ground when faced with all kinds of business challenges. 

“Many people would argue that if you try to know a little bit of everything, you’ll never get to the point of mastering anything. My argument? Bull$*#t I don’t buy it,” he writes.

“There’s always room to get better in as many things as possible. It’ll speak to your agility and your ability to offer a number of benefits to a certain situation when the time calls for it.”

However, what do these generalist employees do when there aren’t any fires to put out? Do they potter away on a website design for an hour using their intermediate skills, then flick to a half-baked business strategy based on elementary reading?

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This ultra-flexible and almost ad hoc approach to work is growing in popularity. An article by inventor of the hashtag, Chris Messina, details how these “full-stack” employees are prized by companies like Google because they believe “innovation is found at the boundaries between disciplines.”

While there is merit to this idea, some argue that an army of generalists will struggle to deliver anything more than “good enough” solutions and drive businesses into their next stage of growth.

After all, Google employees don’t traditionally interview for a position - they’re entered into a pool and designated a role on their first day at work.

  

Why Hire a Specialist?

Generalists are swiss army knives. They can cut, screw, pinch and file - but each individual tool is potentially clumsy, fragile and inferior to its stand-alone counterpart (unless you spend big).

Specialists, on the other hand, are designed for one thing only. If a job needs doing, managers know their tool won’t fail them. 

The benefits of specialists are obvious. They’re experts, reliable and predictable, and have the ability to deliver solutions worth paying top dollar for. According to former Yahoo technology lead, Nicholas Zakas, businesses hire specialists when “good enough” is no longer good enough.

 

Our Take

At Altus Financial, our employees could be classified as specialists. That’s not to say they’re of no use when faced with a problem outside of their immediate expertise - they just turn to the specialist in that field who is sitting beside them.

That’s why when we meet with our clients you will experience two advisers in the meeting. They can cover all bases, but each do so to a premium standard. Specialists are well-versed in collaboration like this. 

The risk with generalists is that they provide solutions which are good enough but not great. Specialists provide great solutions, and our clients expect (and receive) great solutions. 

To put your hiring and firing competency under the microscope, visit our Healthy Business App by clicking below:

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