Small Business ResourcesHiring Staff GuideHiring for growth: a specialist or a generalist?


Hiring for growth: a specialist or a generalist?

3 min read

Should you hire a generalist or specialist? The right employee is indispensable to your businesses’ success, so picking a winner is paramount to growth. It’s always been this way. 

But what style of employee best suits the role and your business? A generalist or a specialist? 

The Swiss army knife or the scalpel? Both have merits but there are some core considerations that rarely change. Let’s weigh up the options.

Specialist versus generalist

What is a generalist?

The generalist is your well rounded and well-practiced employee who has had experience in a bit of everything. They’re your Swiss army knife – even if that knife may be a touch blunt. 

They’re a jack of all trades, but often, a master of none. Not strictly accurate, there are indeed those that are practitioners of most and masters of some, but generally this is the way of the generalist. 

If you’re a smaller business looking for growth you may find that small companies with few staff will err towards the generalist for the obvious reason of filling more than one role type in a less resourced business. They also make great leaders for larger businesses.

What are the benefits of hiring a generalist to grow your business?

Low downtime maximises salary

With a generalist you can cover many bases with the one employee. That web page update done? Great, get them moving on your upcoming event. 

No downtime equals maximum output for the business for a generally smaller salary. This lower salary and better bang for your buck will help your business grow.

Generalists are great for start-ups

You’ll be on low resources when you start up a business, so you probably need a generalist. You need someone who can answer phones, fire off emails, get the printing done and balance the books – the generalist will be your first port-of-call to get your business moving upwards.

Generalists suit leadership and management roles

There’s a reason they call them ‘general’ managers… But really, generalists excel at leadership due to a broad range of skills and knowledge compared to just one skilled area. 

If you need a marketing manager you had better get a candidate that knows their way around CRMs, EDM systems, UX, web design, PR, advertising, and social media. This way they know what specialists to hire and can effectively lead an entire department into greater prosperity. 

You don’t want a gun digital marketer with little other experience, you want a big picture thinker: a generalist.

What is a specialist?

The specialist is how you elevate your business beyond fledgling growth. Your business may be built on a foundation of entry level generalist employees and high performing generalists in leadership but your grunt, your growth, your edge will lie in hiring specialists. 

A specialist may cost more and be less flexible than a generalist but when ‘good enough’ is no longer good enough for a key aspect of your business then you need a specialist to step in. 

Almost every business will need to hire a specialist at some stage, just be aware of when to do so.

What are the benefits of hiring a specialist to grow your business?

A specialist is great for moving into new areas

If the time for a growth spurt has come and new areas of business beckon to you, grab yourself a specialist. 

You need an employee that’s exceptional at what they do to make your company exceptional at what they do.  A generalist isn’t going to help you master a new field or convince the market you belong in that new space – but this is what a specialist can do for you.

A specialist is good for reliability and confidence

If you’re keen on convincing clients, you’re the best and intend on pitching yourself as a premium value option then you certainly need a specialist. 

To grow in many verticals, you must rely on being in the top tiers in terms of service and product offerings. It’s incredibly hard to do that with a generalist. 

They may cost more but you’re paying not just for their education and experience but for their ability to raise your competency, your profile, your results and… your prices.

A specialist is often indispensable

As we’ve started to see, sometimes you have zero choice in the matter: you need a specialist over a generalist to make your business thrive, otherwise you might be starved of growth. 

Imagine running a development house with a bunch of graduate coders. With the din of the ever-expanding competition in your ears, you need an advantage to stand out above the crowd. 

More and more we’re seeing that specialist services delivered with impeccable quality will often be that avenue to growth – and you’ll need a specialist for that.


The next time you need to decide whether to hire a generalist or a specialist, remember these tips!

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