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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 working in Public Sector Partnerships and Resource Mobilization at UNEP, has 18+ years of experience developing, funding, implementing and evaluating governance, justice sector, and peace-building programs in the context of technical assistance and multilateral cooperation. 


We had the opportunity to quickly chat with Margarita to ask her about her background, but also her opinions whether it is best to be a generalist or a specialist in this sector and what are the key functions of a program manager. 

The Merriam-Webster dictionary’s simple definition of a generalist states a generalist is “a person who knows something about a lot of subjects”. A specialist is defined as “a person who has special knowledge and skill relating to a particular job, area of study”.
If you are at the start of your career, you are probably pondering which route you should take. You might even be well into your career, but have suddenly begun wondering whether you’ve made the right choice. Luckily, in this day and age, we can easily learn multiple skills at the tip of our fingers. 
Before we share our opinion on whether it is better to be a generalist or specialist, here is what Margarita has to say:
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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