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Should You Be a Career Generalist or Career Specialist?

Rachel Serwetz
Rachel Serwetz
January 5, 2022
Career Generalist vs. Career Specialist? Is it just a craving? Is the grass greener? Should you pivot?

I often meet people who feel that their roles are very generalist and they crave specializing in a certain lane or niche. I also often meet specialists who crave more generalist roles. Here are the things I would consider:

Step 1: is always self reflection — Understand your key tendencies, affinities, strengths, and what gives you energy.

  • While generalist roles can naturally be draining/overwhelming, if you thrive and naturally know how to manage several pieces, it may not mean that its the wrong role, it may mean that you need self care to find balance within a stressful role.
  • While specialist roles can be very in the details of a certain function, if you naturally love being operational, doing one thing well, being the expert, and executing accurately, then lean in deeper to those strengths to show how you can and should rise within that specialty.
  • If you genuinely feel that “what you’re like,” your natural working style, is not aligning with the style of your role — then that is reason to consider a new role.
  • Keep in mind, roles can vary as to where they fall on the generalist → specialist realm, so you may be able to find somewhere ‘in between’ if that’s the best fit for you.

Step 2: is always learning

  • While the grass may always “seem” greener — You can and should learn accurately about any role you’re considering in order to understand it fully and verify whether it feels like a fit or not. Networking can be a key method to paint a realistic picture of what a given role feels like, but be sure to ask concrete, creative, comprehensive questions so you walk away knowing how it would feel start doing that job today, that way you can confidently reflect on whether it feels right or not.
  • Many of my clients will look into about ~10 different roles that feel viable, relevant, and interesting, for about 2–3 months on average, before being able to confidently narrow in on which one is the best fit for them.
  • Think of each role like a pie chart — each role usually encompasses about 4–6 core categories. Understand the key areas where each role spends time as a way to synthesize and understand each role and adequately compare roles.

Step 3: Leverage your Reflections + Learnings together

  • Once you understand yourself deeply, and learn accurately about the roles that are out there, you can then compare and contrast the options for roles based on what you know about yourself and based on what you’re learning. If you haven’t yet reached a point of confidently narrowing in on which one is best for you, it means you need either more learning, or reflection, or both.

Step 4: Consider the time and evolution of your path

  • If you started out as a generalist, it’s very possible you can still thrive and grow into a leader without ever specializing.
  • If you start out as a specialist, you can most definitely grow as a leader by simply climbing the ladder within that specific niche (ie a Customer Success Specialist can become a Manager and work their way towards CXO or CPO). In order to grow to the each higher managerial level, you will have to gain more areas of expertise in order to be able to have broader oversight and management, a broader role, of a bigger team and have a greater impact.
Should You Be a Career Generalist or Career Specialist?

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Rachel Serwetz’ early professional experience was at Goldman Sachs in Operations and at Bridgewater Associates in HR. From there, she was trained as a coach at NYU and became a certified coach through the International Coach Federation. After this, she worked in HR Research at Aon Hewitt and attained her Technology MBA at NYU Stern. Throughout her career, she has helped hundreds of professionals with career exploration and for the past 4.5+ years she has been building her company, WOKEN, which is an online career exploration platform to coach professionals through the process of clarifying their ideal job and career path. She is also an Adjunct Professor of Entrepreneurship at Binghamton University and has served as a Career Coach through the Flatiron School, Columbia University, WeWork, and Project Activate.

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