In terms of career prospects, is it better to be an analytic 'niche expert', or an analytic generalist?

Recruiters seem to favor candidates with very specialized skills nowadays. If think on the long term, it is better be a generalist with a few specializations. This is especially true if you want to start your business.

Indeed, it is harder to become a generalist than a narrowly specialized expert.


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I think it is employers rather than recruiters who favor very narrow sets of skills. You are totally correct, Vincent: generalists would be better for any employer in the long run and companies would need fewer such specialists. Why then so many companies are so wrong when it comes to hiring. 

First, companies in the pursuit of expenses cuts stopped employing external recruiters and delegated the hiring function to HR. They thought they made a very smart move, but no, they lost a lot as external recruiters were keen to supply companies with the best candidates, because their bonuses and references DIRECTLY depended on professional quality of recommended candidates. HR doesn't seem to be so dependent on that. 

Second, in prosperous economical times, big companies were able to hire hundreds and thousands of narrowly specialized employees. Each such specialist would perform a narrow function, and the loss of such an employee would not be a problem as the pace of technological advance was slow enough to accommodate this loss. However, now times have changed for worse, technology is developing at the speed of light, and the competition became truly global, BUT psychology of people responsible for hiring didn't change in many cases.

As a result, we eyewitness that big companies have to cut thousands of jobs at once as they can't afford to pay to them. Do they solve problems in the long run. My answer is no, they make their problems even more severe as laying off many people negatively affect the ability of these companies to do everyday business and compete with rivals. But the source of the problem was the wrong hiring practice when people were hired to do a narrow operation. At some point, the number of such people became too large to financially bear, and ... we know the outcome.

If companies followed the alternative strategy favoring generalists, then they would be more stable as the human capital would cost less to them and the loss of one or a few specialists would instantly be compensated by those who remained. In contrast, with narrowly specialized experts, any loss of even one of them almost always means a halt to some important function; hence, the loss of revenues. Such loss is not easy to patch as looking for another specialist with exactly the same set of skills is akin to looking for another person with the same physical appearance, character and habits.    

Companies tend to prefer specialists,  except for consulting companies that tend to prefer generalists.  I agree with Vincent - long term it is better to be a generalists who can learn specialized knowledge as needed.  


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