handshake during a job interview

The Generalist Advantage in Your Next Job Interview

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How can you use your broader knowledge, multiple skills, and diverse experience to your advantage?

Employers adjust to a changing business environment

We will recover from the economic devastation resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic. As a result, employers are going to interview and hire both specialists and generalists. However, we already see these employers making adjustments that generalists should not ignore.

Businesses must address the need for lower overhead costs and higher profit margins. Subsequently, many employers will hire fewer employees to cover two or more significant functions.

It may be in the business’s best interest to hire for combination roles responsible for multiple functions rather than hiring specialists in each area.

The generalist advantage in a competitive job market

The days of 3.5% unemployment in the U.S. are gone for now. According to Keith Hall, a professor at Georgetown University and a former commissioner of the Bureau of Labor Statistics, much of the job growth seen in recent months is due to the reemployment of furloughed employees.

The job market will undoubtedly remain extremely competitive for the foreseeable future. So, as more candidates apply for fewer jobs, we will see generalists and specialists competing for many of these new combination positions.

Specialists will try to convince employers that they have expertise in one area. They will also express their ability and willingness to learn other functions the employer needs.

Here, career generalists have a distinct advantage. They have an opportunity to sell their ability to apply diverse knowledge and experience to their new role.

Generalists can explain that they have proven experience in building their knowledge and developing new skill sets in different industries and career fields. They can also explain how their previous diverse experience applies to the job for which they are interviewing.

As a generalist, how you present yourself depends on your relevant experience, goals, and the opportunity at hand. In short, you want to show that you are a specialist and a generalist, depending on the situation.

How to apply the generalist advantage

Specialize in the employer’s business and industry

You may have worked in two or more career fields. Throughout your career, you’ve probably worked on a variety of business issues.

Today, you want to show a level of depth in your employer’s industry. You also want to demonstrate that you’ve studied and considered how you would fit into this position to be competitive with a specialist.

In other words, you need to research your prospective employer’s industry and their specific business exhaustively.

You will never convince employers to hire you by pledging that you’ll learn about their business and industry once you are an employee. Unfortunately, paying you to learn these things on the job is not what most employers have in mind.

Communicate your applicable generalist skills

While you want to thoroughly understand the industry and your potential role, you also want to demonstrate a breadth of skills. Doing so is essential if you are interviewing for a management job.

You need to communicate your knowledge and experience in the specific functions of the job. But you also need to express other generalist skills, such as your ability to:

  • Relate to people
  • Communicate well
  • Manage people and budgets
  • Forecast or model scenarios, and
  • Utilize skills broader than your specific role requires

Specialize in the employer’s expectations

Just as a prospective employer will expect you to know their business like a specialist, they also expect you to want the position for which you are interviewing. As a matter of fact, whether realistic or not, they want to feel this job is the only one you want.

Obviously, if you are unemployed, you have probably applied for several positions. Although you can be confident the employer is looking at other candidates, you want to make them feel that this job is unquestionably your first choice.

In other words, part of your preparation for your job interview must include developing specific reasons why you want this position, with this business, and in this industry. This practice is well-within the “wheelhouse” of generalists.

The value of the generalist advantage

In a job interview, your objective is to present yourself as a good fit for the position. However, your approach should draw from your broad range of interests, knowledge, skills, and experience.

You will always want to be ready with specific examples concerning how you solved a variety of problems. For example, how you used your interpersonal skills or came up with an innovative idea. Perhaps you effectively managed a complex project or improved the performance of a team as its leader.

The generalist advantage calls for you to demonstrate that you are flexible, versatile, and willing to use various tools to get the job done. Use this approach to boost your confidence and help you prepare for your next job interview.

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About the Author: David Cox

David Cox is a Co-owner of TPB Business Copyediting. He writes to encourage us to apply our multidisciplinary training and experiences to develop our current career role further.