Should you hire someone that is an expert in one field, or proficient in many?


It’s an inherently human trait to want more once we know it’s out there. Despite our shopping list stating only “milk and bread”, we’re all guilty of leaving the supermarket with a bag full of bargains and a boot-load of food that was too irresistible to pass up on. Unsurprisingly, the same behaviour happens in recruitment.

When faced with the prospect of filling a vacancy, employers usually look to the skills missing in their business to determine the profile of potential candidates. Before browsing the market, they usually have a clear idea of exactly what they’re looking for.

Once the search begins, however, the goalposts start to shift. Presented with a plethora of exciting candidates, each with varying backgrounds and experience, they start to question their thought process.

Before long, the search results start to influence their idea of the perfect candidate. What began as a search for a highly-skilled specialist has become a hunt for a silver-bullet candidate who can fill a number of skill gaps in the business.

Sound familiar? We’ve all been there. When taking to the jobs market in search of fresh talent, it isn’t hard to be swept off your feet by an all-star. After all, if they boast skills beyond those required for the role, why opt for someone who is only a specialist in one particular area? In actual fact, there are benefits to hiring both candidates: your decision will depend on your unique circumstances.

The Jack of All Trades

Hiring a generalist with a broad range of skills can be particularly beneficial for businesses at the beginning of their journey. Due to their adaptability and experience within a number of disciplines, the “Jack-of-all-trades” can be a silver bullet for start-ups who are short on numbers but brimming with ideas.

During the early stages, most businesses adopt an “all hands on deck” approach in achieving ambitious targets. This intense period of high productivity can force people to juggle tasks, learn fast and stretch themselves thin. Having someone on board who can help in more ways than one will arguably be of more value than a specialist.

Even if your business is well established, you may still benefit from an employee with a diverse skill set. But be warned - there are certain downsides to hiring a generalist. Without a clear remit, an employee of this nature can find themselves floating between tasks and never settling on a clear path. This can be an issue for larger companies and can often cause frustration for both the employee and their manager.

The Master of One

As the company grows larger in size and in profit, hiring managers are able to transition from sourcing widely-skilled generalists to well-seasoned specialists. These candidates can often be the best option for companies who require an expert to lead on a particular project or specific task.

What specialists bring to the table is their in-depth level of knowledge in their chosen field; their careers have been spent reinforcing this expertise. This can help in taking your business to the next level by establishing it as a leader in this specialist area.

The question of whether you need a specialist or a generalist can be answered by looking at the current status of your company and using a skills matrix to determine the existing gaps. If you identify certain areas that are really suffering as a result of a team of generalists, it may be time to call in an expert. If there are a few niggling problems across the board that need nurturing, however, hiring the all-rounder can help your business to reach its full potential.

Finally, you can return to your search. By now, you should have a clear picture of what it is your business needs.