CV Advice: Specialist or Generalist?

This article was written by Antal Managing Partner Peter Wharton. Find out more about Peter Wharton and the Geneva, Switzerland office here.

‘I’d like to do something a bit different to what I’m doing now so should I make my CV more general so I don’t get pigeonholed?’

This is a question I get asked on a regular basis, from sales, marketing, product management and come to think of it, most disciplines I recruit for too. For me the answer is a resounding NO! I have never been asked by a client to find a generalist in any discipline. Never!

The reason is that when employers are looking to fill positions they’re looking for specific skill sets and specific experience, usually because they’re lacking them within the company. Your experience as a candidate is going to be absolutely critical in finding you the great next step in your career and one that the employer is probably going to be prepared to pay a premium for, so it’s really important that you emphasize your expertise in your industry,  technology, vertical market, or target customer segment.

If you really want to have a career move away from what you are doing now, you should always be ready to emphasize your career growth in your specialist area but there’s other ways to show your more general skill sets and maybe management skills.  So on LinkedIn, for example, you have an About section in your profile page and there you can be very clear and specific about what are your soft skill sets and management style and a potential future employer will very easily see how that can be translated into another field.

Now what I encourage all my candidates to do anyway is to put together a short summary of what are four to five key achievements in your career. By outlining your key achievements you’ll demonstrate your key strengths in terms of soft skills and management skills because they will be repeated.

The format I like is actually quite simple  – just bullet points where you list what was the situation before or why the project or initiative was started, how you put the plan together, how you executed the plan and then what were the tangible results for the company, e.g. 20% increase in sales, increased revenue by 20,000,000 cut costs by 10% and so on.

This is a very powerful tool to differentiate yourselves from other candidates, whether it be for a job in your current sector or making a move to another, because it wills show the potential employer concretely what you could do for their business.

So in short: never try to position yourself as a generalist – no one will be interested – embrace your specialist field.

Peter Wharton is Managing Partner of Antal International Geneva and specialises in search and recruitment in two key areas – eCommerce and digital marketing roles cross industry and exec management, sales, product management and marketing for international software tech companies. Prior to starting his headhunting business Peter was a senior international marketing and sales executive in the tech industry.