Specialising vs generalising: how freelancers can shape their own career paths

Every person has their strengths and weaknesses, and most often a very good broad skill set that means they’re very good at their job on a base level. But are you a specialist in one part of your job or do you excel across the board in your industry? Should you strive to become a renowned expert in one area or well-known for being a good all-rounder? How do you even know if you are good at something? And what does all this mean for your career path?

Specialising vs generalising

Everywhere you look, there are examples of people in society who chose a speciality (or whose speciality chose them) at a young age. But for every international superstar or world-renowned sports personality that specialised young, there are a thousand people who lead a hugely successful, more generalised career in their chosen industry.

The financial benefit of specialising

It is generally accepted that workers who pick a speciality and work hard to become an expert in that one aspect of their field tend to benefit from higher salaries. This makes sense — when you think about it, specialist shops or restaurants tend to be pricier than their counterparts offering a broader range of products. After all, since the wine served in a specialist wine bar has been expertly selected and served, it naturally brings with it a higher price tag than mass-market bottles available at larger chain restaurants.

It stands to reason that this also transposes to the pay potential of those who specialise in one field, in careers spanning hospitality, healthcare, and further. This is therefore an excellent argument for freelancers to identify something they are really good at and work hard to become an expert. We all want to be that go-to person that can come to the rescue in a very specific situation, don’t we?

Generalisation brings more opportunities

On the other hand, as a general all-rounder in hotel front-of-house roles or care home administration, your name comes to mind in a wide range of problem-solving situations, so you may find that you have access to more opportunities than your specialised peers.

As a freelancer, every mission worked is an opportunity to hone your skills and boost your career. Receiving offers for a broader variety of shifts potentially means more work for you, thereby opening more doors and providing a sense of security. These are therefore also excellent arguments for maintaining your skills across the board and avoiding niches that are too specific.

Specialist in your field or jack of all trades?

Neither approach is perfect, though. Generalising can be perceived as only skimming the surface of a particular field and not prioritising in-depth technical skills, while the “specialisers” among us doggedly persevering along a chosen path can quickly become frustrated or burnt-out in their pursuit for perfection.

Knowing what you are good at is already half the battle

Whichever direction you opt for, sitting down and thinking about your professional strengths and weaknesses can be a great first step. It will enable you to identify key areas to improve upon to maintain a broader skill set, or the specific areas in which you have always excelled that you should keep focussing on. As a freelancer, this will help you sell yourself to future clients, thereby finding the most fulfilling missions for you.

Try to reflect on your past accomplishments and work you have been complimented on. Perhaps more importantly, what do you love doing? What part of your previous roles has brought you satisfaction?

Finally, don’t forget that freelancers can enjoy the luxury of accepting different types of missions in different types of establishments, helping them gain experience and choose the direction their career takes them. With Brigad, you have the power to accept the missions you want and work in your own way.

So, am I a “specialiser” or a “generaliser”?

Ultimately, it doesn’t matter whether you choose to specialise or generalise, as businesses need both kinds of people. So it’s really up to what you prefer. When a medical clinic or coffee shop requires someone to step in at the last minute, they really need someone with a deep understanding and expertise in the job role at hand. However, according to psychologist Dedre Gentner, modern professions revolve less around applying specific solutions to a problem, and are more about recognising the stakes of a situation and designing a solution inspired by relevant experience. This only works when the person has a broader grasp of similar situations from other areas.

In other words, everyone looks at problems differently, but “specialisers” may take a precise approach to solve them, whereas “generalisers” can bring broader relevant skills from other areas to find a solution.

Similarly, as a team leader (or even at the head of your own establishment one day), you may have already chosen your speciality, but you also need to demonstrate a wide array of skills to support your team. The best managers understand and respect each role and know how to motivate individual workers to get the best out of their team.

When you receive your next mission offer on the Brigad app, the key to success is striking the balance between demonstrating the necessary technical skills for the job (the specialist) but also a wider work experience (the generalist). This shows your flexibility to the client’s environment, while reassuring them that they can count on you to get the job done. As a freelancer in a health and social care or hospitality setting, clients turn to you for your industry expertise and also your adaptability to different ways of working.

Take inspiration from Brigad

Just look at Brigad, for example. You can be onboarded as a Waiter, and find yourself being offered missions for Senior Waiter or Event Waiter, after building up more experience. Your individual and constantly developing skill set will always be acknowledged.

It may be tempting to only look to that elite of people who seemingly excel at one thing, but in reality, we all have multiple skill sets. Be open-minded and remain open to opportunities. Use your diverse skill sets to your advantage and there is no limit to where you can take your career!