Generalists: The Hidden Asset You're Likely Overlooking
In my journey through the tech industry, one stark reality is apparent: the market often overlooks generalists, despite the industry's ever-changing dynamics, demand for adaptability and innovation.
Many companies make the critical mistake of prioritising focused skills and credentials over breadth and depth of knowledge. They stick to the familiar path of seeking specialists, ignoring the vast potential that a generalist can bring. This trend can be attributed to companies' resistance to change and uncertainty about interviewing and assessing generalists effectively. However, this oversight can be costly, leading companies to miss out on engaging with potentially game-changing talent.
So, how can we change this narrative?
If you're a generalist:
Market your adaptability: Highlight your ability to fit into different roles and adapt to new situations. Use specific examples to demonstrate this flexibility. Don't be deterred by specific role titles when applying for positions. Instead, use your cover letter to explain why your broad skill set makes you an excellent fit for the job. It might be a challenging task due to industrialised recruitment processes and the prevalence of keyword matching but don't shy away from it. Feel free to align your skills with the 'buzzword bingo' to stand out in the selection process.
Showcase your breadth of knowledge: Illustrate the diverse fields you've explored and demonstrate the interconnections among the various areas of knowledge you've acquired. This could be accomplished through a variety of means:
Portfolio: Develop a comprehensive portfolio of your work. This could include tech projects you've completed, products you've designed, or projects you've delivered. Each item in your portfolio should highlight a different skill or area of knowledge you possess.
Blogs or Articles: Writing about a range of topics can showcase not just your knowledge, but also your ability to communicate complex ideas clearly. If you maintain a blog or have published articles, be sure to share these with potential employers.
Certifications and Courses: Completing courses or earning certifications in a variety of areas demonstrates your commitment to continuous learning and your ability to acquire new skills.
Demonstrate your problem-solving ability: Highlight your ability to devise innovative solutions by using your broad skill set. Here are a few ways you can accomplish this:
Real-World Scenarios: Share specific instances where you've used your diverse skills to solve complex problems. For example, if you devised a unique solution at a previous job, or even during a personal project, detail the problem, your approach, and the results.
Problem-Solving Narratives: Develop narratives around how you approach problem-solving. These narratives could illustrate how you break down complex issues, gather information, generate potential solutions, and decide on the best course of action.
Creative Linking: Show how you can connect disparate ideas. This could involve demonstrating how knowledge from one field can be used to solve problems in another. For instance, if you used concepts from psychology to inform a user experience design, that could be a compelling illustration of your unique skill set.
Remember, the goal is to highlight not just your ability to solve problems, but also the unique, cross-disciplinary approach you take, thanks to your status as a generalist.
Redefine your recruitment strategy: Your hiring process should evaluate potential adaptability and versatility alongside specific qualifications. Here are some ways to accomplish this:
Revise Job Descriptions: Make it clear in your job descriptions that you value a wide range of experiences and skills. This can encourage generalists to apply and allow them to see how their varied skill sets might fit within your company.
Broaden Interview Questions: Rather than focusing solely on specific skills or experiences, ask interview questions that get to the heart of a candidate's adaptability. For instance, you might ask them to describe a time when they had to quickly learn a new skill to accomplish a task.
Value Versatility: Recognise that candidates who have worked in a variety of roles or industries may bring a unique perspective that can benefit your company. Instead of viewing this as a lack of focus, see it as a sign of their adaptability.
By making these changes to your recruitment strategy, you can better position your company to attract and appreciate the skills of generalists.
Develop new interview techniques: Crafting an interview process that effectively assesses a candidate's breadth of knowledge and their ability to apply it across scenarios is challenging but crucial. Here are some strategies to consider:
Scenario-Based Questions: Incorporate scenario-based questions into your interviews. These can help to demonstrate a candidate's ability to apply their knowledge to practical situations. For instance, you might present a hypothetical problem and ask the candidate to explain how they would solve it.
Assess Soft Skills: Soft skills like communication, leadership, and collaboration are often indicative of a candidate's ability to leverage their diverse knowledge. Ask questions that delve into these areas.
Problem-Solving Exercises: Consider incorporating problem-solving exercises into your interview process. This could include case studies or group exercises that allow candidates to demonstrate their ability to innovate and adapt.
Holistic Review: Instead of focusing solely on specific technical skills or experiences, look at the candidate's overall profile. Have they shown an ability to adapt and learn in a variety of contexts?
Embrace outside-of-the-box candidates: this is a super simple one, change your mindset and recognise that the candidate who doesn't fit neatly into a predefined role may be the one who can help your company think beyond its boundaries.
The challenge is evident, it is hard for both generalists themselves to define their niche for a company as well as for companies to identify where a generalist can add value. However, overlooking generalists is a risk that companies cannot afford. In an era where adaptability, versatility, and innovation are more valuable than ever, we must strive to uncover the hidden power of generalists and harness their potential to navigate the unpredictable tides of change in our tech-driven world.
To conclude... To the generalists out there, cherish your wide-ranging skill set. You offer unique value that goes beyond specialisation, and the right role will present itself with persistence and determination. Continue to learn, adapt, and bridge the gaps where others may not see them.
For companies, embrace the power of generalists. They could be the missing piece in your puzzle to success. If you're fortunate enough to already have generalists in your organisation, recognise their value and strive to retain them. Their unique blend of skills and perspectives can be hard to find and even harder to replace.
In a world that's rapidly changing, the ability to adapt and connect across disciplines is invaluable. It's time we not only acknowledge but celebrate the generalist.