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Is it better to be a Generalist or a Specialist in this Sector?

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by Impactpool

Margarita Meldon, currently engaged in Public Sector Partnerships and Resource Mobilization at UNEP, boasts over 18 years of expertise in the conception, financing, assessment of governance, justice sector, and peace-building initiatives within the framework of technical support and multilateral collaboration.


We recently had the privilege of a brief conversation with Margarita, delving into her professional background, as well as her insights on the optimal approach between being a generalist or a specialist in this sector, and the fundamental responsibilities of a program manager.

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According to the simple definitions provided by the Merriam-Webster dictionary, a generalist is someone who possesses knowledge across a wide range of subjects, while a specialist is an individual with specialized expertise in a specific job or area of study.

If you're at the outset of your career, you're likely contemplating which path to pursue. Alternatively, you may be well into your career and have recently started questioning whether you've made the right choice. Fortunately, in today's digital age, we have easy access to resources that enable us to acquire multiple skills with just a few clicks.

Before we offer our perspective on the choice between being a generalist or a specialist, let's first hear Margarita's viewpoint

Here is an example from a job description: 
Most often in the beginning of your career, job descriptions tend to have the following desired skills: Excellent research and analytical skills, or Demonstrated interest in refugee protection or Sound knowledge in the area of programme management. Here the focus is more on the skills of a generalist as you emphasise more on your transferable skills. 
When it comes to consultancies however, Organizations recruit for your speciality in that subject area. In this case you see more phrases like: Strong proficiency in.. or complete understanding of.. 
This is not the case with all consultancies but most do hire masters of the subject area. Here it is wise to position yourself as a specialist rather than a generalist - you must emphasize on the tools, experiences and skills you have relevant to that field of work. 
Specialists can be very valuable to an Organization based on their size, they are paid more since the positions are narrowly defined.
Many will argue that in the global climate we are in to be a generalist as skills are transferable, the skill-set of project management, effective communication and good people skills are required regardless of your role. The world continues to evolve at a rapid pace, making transferable skills more valuable than ever especially the flexibility it gives one to navigate uncertainty. 
Ultimately, this is not choosing one over the other, clearly, there are domains where specialists will thrive better than generalists. It all depends on your situation and your career aspirations to decide when framing your job application.  

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