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Specialization or generalization?

In most industries there comes a point in everyone's career when you have to decide between specialization and generalization. This choice will be important in determining the direction of your future career and which jobs you will be eligible to in the long run. It is important to remember that there is no right answer - you need to figure out which choice is the right one for you based on your preferences and way of working. This is why we have a list of six questions you may want to ask yourself in order to determine which career path, specialization or generalization, is the right one for you.

1. Which people do I admire or enjoy working with?

Does it inspire you when a specialist talks to you about his or her area of expertise? Or do you get overwhelmed by their detailed knowledge, preferring to think about the bigger picture rather than the intricate details?

If you enjoy talking to specialist, feel curious and find yourself asking detailed questions then perhaps you may be drawn to this type of work and perhaps even become a specialist yourself one day.

Contrarily, if you cannot hink of any questions, or are bored or confused by all the detailed information you are given you are likely more drawn to a generalist career.

2. Does it make me happy to spend all day dealing with one thing?

As a specialist you will likely spend much more than just one day dealing with one specific topic, therefore this will be an important questions to ask yourself and answer honestly.

Sometimes it can be difficult to know what exactly a job entails, so it can help to talk to people who work in the positions you are aiming for, so that you can get an impression of the real tasks and everyday work.

3. Do I need further training in order to professionally focus on my main interests?

While this question is especially pertinent early on in the career, further education and professional training can be important aspects in re-routing your career in the desired direction. Sometimes taking a step back from where you are and consider where you want to go can be helpful. Especially if you want to specialize, further education can be the launching pad for you to get the right job.

4. Will specialization improve or worsen my work-life balance?

Especially when you have a family, there is much more than just your work to conceder. Becoming a specialist takes a lot of time, and you need to ask yourself if you are willing and capable to put in the hours.

5. Do I close myself off from future career options if I focus too narrowly?

It is important to consider whether a specialization ultimately limits your career options as you progress. Use your network to get a feel for where a specialization could take you - and whether this is of interest to you.

Also ask yourself in which type and size of company you want to work in. Smaller companies usually (but not always!) need more generalists who can and want to work in different areas, whereas large companies tend to operate on a "divide and conquer" basis and therefore tackle the challenges in teams of experts, for which a specialist may be more important.

6. What is my long-term goal?

If you want to lead other people in the end, you'd better leave one foot in the generalist field. As a boss, you must have credibility beyond your own area of expertise to be able to lead others. This works best if you know different areas (with their peculiarities and difficulties) also from practical experience. Contrarily, if the area of expertise is the main focus for you, specialization may be the right way to go.

If you continue to find yourself uncertain about these questions, use your network of coworkers to ask about their jobs, how they see you and in what areas they see you excelling. While in the end it is a personal decision, getting additional opinions can be helpful in understanding yourself better or seeing your work in a different light.

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