In the specialists vs. generalists debate, it has always been an either/or situation. It’s either you go with a generalist who is a jack of all trades or choose a specialist who is a subject matter expert with specialist skills. 

While organizations may thrive by 26 times when engaging generalists and pushing them to innovate, they do tend to get more value from specialist workers

Co-workers at a workspace with laptops (Specialists vs. Generalists blog)

Photo by charlesdeluvio on Unsplash

Attracting and retaining the right talent is important to any business. The right people will help your business grow. They can also boost your productivity and create a positive ripple effect within your organization.

However, when it comes to hiring talent, the debate is about specialists vs. generalists. So, should you go for generalists or specialists? Or should you consider hiring both types?

Today’s business landscape is dynamic, requiring organizations to change their perspectives. To achieve growth and progress, businesses need implement a skills-based approach to hiring.

Specialists vs. Generalists: Which is Better for Your Company?

Specialists vs. generalists – Both generalists and specialists bring a different set of experience, knowledge, and skills. Before deciding if you should go with one or the other, it’s worth looking at what each type of worker can offer.


Generalist employees have a broad range of knowledge and skill sets in various areas. They’re also capable of performing different tasks and are often considered to be better suited to leadership roles. The bottom line is you can get more done with fewer people.

And because they wear many hats, they’re capable of pivoting according to workplace changes. This allows them to rise up to an organization’s dynamic demands. A generalist employee may not be a subject matter expert, but they often possess transferable skills that can benefit your team or organization. 

Lastly, because of the broad scope of their knowledge, skills, and experience, generalists can provide organizations with fresh perspectives. 

Generalists may be better suited for roles in organizations like startups or small businesses, as well as companies comprised of small teams. 

The Drawbacks of Generalist Workers

For a growing company, generalists may seem like the best choice. However, they do have some limitations. 

If you’re tackling specialized tasks or niche projects, then generalists may not be the best choice, given that they may have limited skills or knowledge of a specific area. They also have a limited focus. In addition to that, generalists don’t possess the same level of specialized knowledge that specialists often have. 


When it comes to specialists vs. generalists, specialists have deep expertise and knowledge in a specific field. In marketing, for example, you get specialists in defined marketing niches like SEO or marketing automation. 

Aside from their advanced knowledge and specific skills, specialists often require less training. This gives them the unique opportunity to immediately contribute to your organization without the lengthy onboarding or training process. If they encounter any challenges in their field of specialization, specialists can quickly adapt to them or handle new complexities that arise. 

Take, for example, today’s trends in jobs and skills. As businesses increasingly introduce automation, there’s a growing need for specialists focusing on a specific area. In this case, the faster-growing roles are influenced by continuous developments in technology, sustainability, and digitalization.

According to a World Economic Forum report, technology-related roles are some of the fastest-growing roles today. These include Machine Learning Specialists and Sustainability Specialists. 

The Limitations of Specialists

Like generalists, there are some drawbacks to solely focusing on hiring specialists. 

For instance, they may be limited when it comes to independent expansion. They also need to constantly update their skills so they can stay competitive in their specific field.

Their deep knowledge of their field also somehow becomes a disadvantage as this leaves specialists with fewer skill sets. 

While one may argue that we’re living in a specialized world, building a strong team isn’t a matter of whether you should hire either generalists or specialists. Businesses undergo a rapid state of change that requires employees to be able to navigate uncertainty and provide innovative solutions. Both generalists and specialists are capable of exemplifying both. 

Specialists vs. Generalists: The Case for Hiring and Developing Both

One of the biggest challenges for organizations is finding great talent, which is becoming scarce. 

As you grow your organization, the decision to hire a particular type of worker ultimately depends on your business goals and needs. 

On the one hand, generalists help your organization become flexible. This allows you to easily adapt to the changing business landscape. They also bring their broad range of skills and experience to your company, helping you address evolving challenges. 

On the other hand, specialists help growing organizations to further expand their capabilities. They do this by working on specific critical business areas. They’re also capable of solving niche problems in more specific aspects of your business, which gives organizations a competitive advantage. 

The field you’re in may also influence your decision to hire a particular type of worker. 

Recruiting and developing generalist talent may be more beneficial for businesses in slower-evolving fields, while specialists may thrive in faster-paced fields.

Ideally, companies should focus on hiring both types of workers to strike a healthy balance. Specialists bring in their deep expertise and knowledge, while generalists offer flexibility and adaptability. 

Shifting Your Perspective

Instead of hiring workers to simply fill a position, shift your perspective on hiring talent. Find workers who can improve your company’s performance. Aside from focusing on their skills, you also need to assess their capacity for learning and growth.

By investing in these types of workers, organizations can leverage innovation. These employees are capable of learning. They’re also equally capable of taking their preexisting knowledge and honing it to accommodate new skills and developments. 

Before scouring the job market for the perfect candidate, ask yourself some hard questions first, such as what your short- and long-term goals are and how both types can help you reach these goals. Also, consider your business’s future needs. 

Specialists vs. Generalists: Employing a Skills-Based Approach to Recruiting and Developing Both

To level the playing field, organizations must consider shifting their hiring and development approach. Doing so helps diversify your organization’s talent pool. 

Taking hiring and recruitment a step further, companies might do well to invest in upskilling and reskilling their employees instead of compartmentalizing them based on their worker type. This will help you future-proof your organization.

That’s because upskilling and reskilling your workers allows your organization to become more agile and quickly adapt to shifting business priorities. 

The Broad and Deep Approach

You also get the added advantage of leveraging the broad-to-deep approach by hiring and developing both generalists and specialists. Think of the letter T, where the horizontal line represents an employee’s breadth of skills and knowledge, while the vertical line represents their depth of skills and knowledge. 

Through this approach, you get a broader view of a subject, including all its minute aspects. Once you’ve sufficiently broadened your horizon with the help of generalists, start zeroing in on key aspects of your business processes to gain deeper insights. Specialists can help you explore the intricacies of a specific area and use their specialist skills to develop a strong foundation of expertise. 

By implementing a T-shaped approach to hiring and developing both types of workers, you get workers (generalists) who can see the bigger picture and use their broad skill set to help your business thrive. They’re then complemented by specialists who employ their depth of knowledge and skills to do a deep dive into a specific strategy or project. 

In a nutshell, by recruiting and nurturing both types of talent, you get the best of both worlds. You get a well-rounded team that’s capable of tackling a diverse range of challenges. 

Managing Your Workforce Properly

Aside from hiring and developing talent, managing them properly is also crucial. To effectively manage people at work, you need to set up optimized and clear workflows, develop concrete and realistic goals for each project, and be flexible. 

Going beyond that, you need to make a proactive effort to get to know your workers and develop a culture of innovation. Provide both types of workers with growth opportunities. For instance, you can provide them with access to leaders or mentors who will help further hone their skills. 

Generalists, for instance, consider assigning work that plays to their strengths. For specialists, think about giving them access to training or resources that will allow them to develop their specific skills.

Properly scheduling your staff also helps boost efficiency and allows you to foster better and more communication with your employees. Explore solutions that allow you to schedule employees based on their skills and qualifications. It also helps promote enhanced operational efficiency.

Furthermore, the right employee scheduling platform enables organizations to stay on budget. It also ensures that you can accurately track employee attendance and nurture better communication. 

Specialists vs. Generalists: How Generalists and Specialists Fuel Your Organization’s Growth

Unfortunately, there’s still no clear answer to who wins in the generalist vs. specialist debate.

As mentioned earlier, the key is to find the right candidates with the potential to grow and learn. Train them based on what your business needs and goals are. 

Looking beyond the age-old debate of generalists vs. specialists, it’s now more important for businesses to hire, develop, and retain the best workers. This is within the context of your actual business needs and goals. Whether they’re generalists or specialists, the best workers can improve productivity and use their experience, knowledge, and skills to grow your business.

Why I wrote this:

Investing in a balanced team of specialists and generalists can propel your company to new heights. And when it comes to attracting top talent, precision in your job descriptions is key. That’s where Ongig’s Text Analyzer comes in. Ensure your job postings resonate with the right candidates and drive success for your business. Request a demo of the Text Analyzer today and unlock the potential of your recruitment strategy!

by in HR Content