If you’ve ever found yourself looking to take the next step in your career, you might have found yourself on the receiving end of two seemingly contradictory pieces of advice. Find your niche, some people say, while others will tell you to diversify your skill set. So which is it? Should you concentrate on improving your current skill set, or focus more on branching out and acquiring new skills?
The Benefits of Having a Specific Skill Set vs. More Adaptive Abilities
Our current corporate climate doesn’t really provide a definitive answer to this conundrum. Many companies want to hire employees with the exact skill set they need for a specific job. However, these same companies need workers who have the ability to adapt quickly to a constantly changing business landscape.
Less than a decade ago, few companies would even think about hiring a “social media architect,” as in someone who helps brands engage with customers on social media and use multiple social media networks to attract new audiences. Now, it’s common for brands to employ a social media manager, strategist or expert on staff whose sole job is handling the company’s many social media accounts.
On the one hand, it seems smart for a company to hire someone with a strong social media background with experience building audiences on platforms like Facebook, Instagram and Snapchat. On the other hand, it might be beneficial for a company to hire someone with both social media and traditional marketing skills who can work on many different types of advertising campaigns.
The Need for Both Specialists and Generalists
Some well-known entrepreneurs think that it’s best for companies to have both specialists and generalists on their team. Jon Stein, founder of Betterment, a financial services startup, strongly feels that the only way companies “thrive” is by having both types of employees.
“Many of my hires at Betterment are not just financial experts,” Stein wrote in an essay for Fast Company. “Many come from financial backgrounds but I want to hear the insights of well-rounded men and women who could make suggestions based on how people handled their money in real life, not recommendations from experts who believe they know how people should manage their funds.”
Successful companies need people with a wealth of expertise in one specific area, as well as team members who have a broad knowledge and understanding of many subjects.
Assessing Your Own Limited Skills and Broad Talents
For employees, it’s possible to apply this concept of specialization and diversification to your own skill set. Mid-level professionals should assess their own abilities and see where they stack up in these two areas.
Even those who have already reached certain pinnacles in their career should ask themselves these questions:
How can I learn more about what I already know?
If you already have a specialty in a certain area, it’s still important to research advances in your field and know about new technologies being introduced. Also, there are always ways you can be better, faster or more efficient at your job.
What new skills do I need to acquire to advance in my career?
There’s not necessarily a right or wrong way to diversify your skill set. Someone with a background primarily in social media might want to consider learning more about traditional advertising tactics, while a career copywriter might decide to study social media campaigns and analyze why they’re successful on different platforms.
How can I become a leader in my specialty or expand my management abilities?
Diversification and specialization don’t just apply to individual job functions or roles. Executives and managers need to look at how they can both grow in their current position and enhance their leadership skills across different aspects of their business.
The Rise of Hyperspecialization — and its Potential Downside for Workers
In many industries, specialization — or in some cases hyperspecialization — is the wave of the future. By assigning tasks to workers who can do one specific thing really well, quality improves and products can be built much faster than in the past.
For employees, this current era of specialized job functions can have a downside. Some skills that one has worked hard to master might become irrelevant or outdated in the near future. Also, being really good in one’s current position may result in getting sidelined for management or leadership roles. Managers might not want to promote someone who only fulfills a specific need at their company, especially if they think it could be hard to find a replacement for them.
While there are pros and cons to a hyper-specialized workforce, it’s always beneficial to develop your skills and strive to always grow and learn, both in and outside of the workplace. Some of the most desired skills that companies are looking for right now may surprise you. According to data uncovered by LinkedIn in 2015, some of the top in-demand job skills include marketing campaign management, economics and corporate law and governance. Mid-level professionals who want to learn more about finance, corporate law or marketing might find themselves highly sought-after if they pursue an advanced degree or a continuing education program in these fields.
Higher Education Opportunities to Diversify and Increase Your Expertise
As many industries try to force employees into tight boxes to reduce their bottom line, it’s imperative that professionals amp up their skill set and frequently seek out new educational opportunities. Many companies want to hire candidates with a specialized skill set, but they’re also looking for people with strong leadership abilities.
Vail Centre offers professional development seminars and certificate programs that provide mid-career professionals the opportunity to grow their knowledge of the hospitality industry and acquire new management and leadership skills. Distinguished professors from top-level universities — including Yale, Cornell and Duke University — are flown into the Vail Centre campus to teach three-day or week-long seminar courses. Vail Centre aims to be a leader in professional development and higher education for business purposes, tailoring courses to future and current business leaders and giving them expert tools and training that target the hospitality industry.
For more information on Vail Centre’s upcoming course schedule or to register for a program, contact Todd Wallis at [email protected].