If you feel that you do not have enough specialized know-how for most employers, you should perhaps consider these actions to improve your attractiveness to employers.



Few of us start out in our work life with the idea that, "I will be a generalist," or "I will be a specialist." Nevertheless, some people move from job to job without ever building specialist skills. When that happens, they become a "generalist" in the eyes of many. Wearing the mantle of "generalist" will usually not be an asset unless you have moved up to a management position. By definition, a general manager needs to be a generalist. For most others, the label will be a liability.

If that is your situation, the major problem you will face as a so-called "generalist" is that you may be viewed as having no immediate "practical" value to your next employer. There are many steps you can take to counteract this liability.

Mindset

It is important for you to remember that the sum total of your experience is composed of several specific job assignments, each of which involved using specific skills, talents and knowledge to achieve specific goals. In each of those instances you addressed specific issues, gained specific knowledge, made decisions that applied to specific circumstances, and took specific actions. So in substance your "generalist" label is a misnomer. You got where you are by filling a series of functions as specialized as anyone else's.

Remember too that if you have a record of achievement, it is only logical to assume that you will be able to learn quickly whatever specialist knowledge and skills are required to perform well in your next position, whatever it is. You bring proven talents to the table, plus the capacity to learn new specialist skills and knowledge as required.

Resume

In an upfront summary, emphasize that your actions touched on many aspects of operations, and name them. Point out your two or three strongest areas as those where you have especially significant achievements and potential to contribute.

If you had "generalist" titles, then choose a format which enables you to highlight achievements which again relate to those two or three key areas where you have the strongest credentials. Achievements in other functions can also be presented, but with less prominence, as supporting strengths which show a broad-based background.

Your goal statement will also be important. It should relate directly to those two or three major competencies, or to just one of them if you choose. You may want to consider creating more than one resume, emphasizing different strengths according to those which most closely match a particular opportunity in which you are interested.

Interviews / e-mail / Letters

In interviews you will have more latitude in tailoring the presentation of your talents to the needs of the organization. Anticipate the areas in which this company expects the most help from the person who eventually fills the position. Ask specifically if those are not some of the most important requirements. If they are, relate examples in a situation-action-result format which demonstrate how you have solved problems, made the most of opportunities, and achieved results in those precise areas.

In correspondence and in interviews, characterize your experience as broad-based, but with primary strengths in a two or three well-defined areas. Naturally, you will want to choose the two or three areas which you have already learned through questioning are the most significant to the employer.

Because hiring decisions are seldom made purely on the basis of a logical match between needs and strengths, make sure you have all the intangibles going for you. Project enthusiasm, show that you've taken the time to learn a lot about the company and the industry, and ask what personal qualities are important for the position, then relate examples of how you've used those same qualities for the benefit of a previous employer.

For example, if you can give an example of how you were thrown into a new situation, learned quickly, and soon outperformed those who had been active in similar functions for a long time, it shows that you can be expected to make significant contributions even in specialized functions, in a very short time.

Actions

If there is a course you can take, or information you can study, that would help prepare you or make you more knowledgeable about the type of position you are targeting, get started on that as soon as possible. If you can talk with people currently active in that type of position, arrange to meet with them and get their input. If there is a trade or professional publication geared to that function or field, subscribe to it or read back issues in the library. If there is one time when being a generalist will be a less significant obstacle, it is when you are a generalist who also has extensive specialized knowledge in the field you are targeting. This is one way to get it.

When choosing the type of positions and industries you are targeting, give a lot of thought to how closely you can match your strengths and achievements to those which are likely to be required for those positions. Ask yourself, "If I were doing the hiring for that position, why would I hire someone with my background?"

Examine your past contributions closely, and take sufficient time to prepare and rehearse several action-oriented stories that demonstrate your talent for moving rapidly to get results in the types of situations that resemble those likely to be faced by the person who wins the job you are seeking. Look for as many specific result indications as possible. Be prepared to give a wealth of evidence in the form of these memorable stories. They will reassure the prospective employer that you can apply your generalist talents to specific challenges.

Develop and coach enthusiastic references from selected individuals you can trust inside your employer organization, if possible, but if not, from outside of it, e.g., customers, suppliers, sales reps, consultants, etc., who will be happy to attest to your action orientation, and ability to deliver results in a variety of specific functions.

Review your resume with these references, and make sure they keep a copy available to scan when and if they are called. You can if you choose give them "special assignments," where in addition to an overall enthusiastic endorsement, each of them will be expected to emphasize a different strength or ability in a special functional area.

This step will enable you to make the statement in an interview that, "You've heard about my achievements, but only from me. You really need to hear it from people who have seen me in action. Experience in Function X is important to you, and for that I suggest you contact Mary Jones. Experience in Function Y is also essential, and for that you'll get good input from Phil White. Personal traits A and B are needed for this job, and the people who would know best about that are Sue Griffith and Tom Robbins." It would be to my benefit if you contact all of them, and I hope you will." Such a statement will erase any lingering doubts about your ability to perform well in selected specific functions.

If you aren't already familiar with them, conduct research on any industry and companies you are targeting, using the Internet and/or resources in the Business Reference section of a good library. It will be to your advantage to write a small article about the major trends in that industry as they affect someone in the function you are targeting, whether it is purchasing, sales, production, marketing, finance, customer service, information systems, or any other function.

In this way, you take the focus of the discussion totally away from questioning the generalist nature of your past employment, toward specific ways you might contribute to the potential employer in a selected function. The anticipation and excitement that is often generated in such future-oriented discussions is a key ingredient in a positive hiring decision.