The Specialist or the Generalist? Which candidate gets more international job interviews in Canada?
Creating an online profile, resume or LinkedIn account has turned into a bit of an art form. This is particularly true for candidates who are looking for work abroad. One thing that must be considered when creating an online presence or answering an online job application is the knowledge that employers and recruiters love to label candidates, especially when it comes to being labeled either a generalist or a specialist.
Is there a benefit to being seen as either a generalist or specialist? What version of you is best positioned to draw the attention of overseas employers? When it comes to international recruitment it seems that there are definite advantages to one over the other and knowing this could mean the difference between getting an overseas interview or being left out in the cold.
Should you present as the flexible generalist with transferrable skill sets and a desire to take on any problem the company may face? On the other hand, should you paint yourself as the specialist who has invested time and effort in a specific area allowing you to be the natural ‘go-to’ person when problems occur?
The answer to this question begins with an understanding that international employers are forced to take certain shortcuts when looking for candidates abroad. Of course there is no general rule and every case is different. However, the unique nature and logistics of the international hiring process means that employers are constantly looking for alternative ways to assess the competency, fit and risk of each international candidate. Subsequently, specialization acts as a useful proxy for all three of these measures and it is for this reason that your chances of getting an interview are probably greater if you present yourself as a specialist.
That is not to say you will not get an interview if your profile screams ‘I am a generalist’. However, in the sea of international candidates your first task is to stand out and being a specialist will definitely help you accomplish this goal. Realistically, international employers and recruiters simply cannot afford to spend a lot of time or money assessing the competency of a large number of candidates. Employers and recruiters are limited in the number of references they can call, documents they can validate, or even emails they can read.
As such, a useful initial substitute for competency is to target the specialist. Let’s take for example the hypothetical job of baking a wedding cake. A question the employer might ask on the initial application could be ‘what is your role in baking the wedding cake?’ A generalist would answer ‘managing the time’. A specialist would answer ‘getting the exact colour of the decorative icing consistent across the whole cake. Both of these answers are appropriate. However, the precise skill set of the specialist is so specific that it is much less likely the specialist is ‘faking it’. Targeting specialists is not the perfect substitute for assessing competency, but it is a practiced one, especially in the initial stages of the recruitment process.
The same practice can hold true for measures such as fit and risk. There is no real way for an international employer to authenticate the intangible assets so often put forward by generalists such as vision, drive, adaptability and leadership. However, just like in sports your statistics are your statistics and say something about your ability regardless of which team you might play for.
If you are expert at doing the same thing over and over again, if your specialization is that you can bend it like Beckham, it is probably safe to assume that you will be able to take really good free kicks in America as well in England. Is it safe to assume that you will be a good captain, leader or will be able to play a different position overseas if required? Impossible to tell for certain, and this notion of specialization as a substitute for certainty is another reason why we suggest that being a specialist gives you a much better chance of being recruited internationally.
There is no one size fits all approach to creating the perfect online profile and getting you international employment. Sometimes you will need to act the part of the generalist, especially when applying for executive roles and positions of senior leadership. However, realizing that specialization is often an initial substitute for other things that are quite difficult to assess within the international hiring process will help improve your overall chances of getting a job overseas.