Why Specialists can struggle with Career Navigation and Trajectory
By T. N. Tavantzis
Why are there more people from the Specialist Personality orientation than Generalist Personality orientation who come to our door seeking career development help?
I am perplexed. If Generalist’s outnumber Specialist’s in the population then I should see more Generalists in my practice. After all the research studies offered by Johnson O’ Connor Human Abilities group as well as AIMS, another ability center, all indicate approximately 65% of the population are Generalists. Once I take out the Corporate populations with whom I work who tend to be primarily engineers and scientists, where one would expect greater numbers of Specialists, I still however find myself primarily consulting to Specialists in both my consulting practice and my Career Development graduate classes.
I teach a graduate class made up of working adults (late 20’s to 60 years of age) who are primarily in or desire to move into the training and organizational development field. In each class based on the THAB data I have collected since first (2001) offering my Advanced Career Development Course, Specialists easily outnumber the Generalists (3:1).
I thought about this for awhile and then sought some answers from the vast database the Highlands Company has been developing. Surprisingly, they are seeing the same phenomena. In fact, one of their hypotheses is that young adults in our society were becoming more Specialist and that the percentage of Generalist to Specialists was more like 50/50. I didn’t find that completely plausible but I accept that as one hypothesis. I continued to think, observe and research.
Recently another answer cropped up as a equally plausible hypothesis. Interestingly, this answer comes from the somewhat dusty past,1940, to be exact. I discovered a book, recently reissued, authored and written by Johnson O’ Connor, the ‘Grandfather’ of the Ability Battery. The book title is the “Unique Individual” and it is primarily about the “Subjective” as he called it (Specialist) personality orientation. Listen to what O’Connor says:
“all men and women belong by nature to one personality type, the reminder to another. From the objective multitude (Generalists) prosperous business men, from the extremely subjective (Specialists) minority come creative artists, gifted writers, lyric poets, scrupulous surgeons, diligent scientists, and unworldly musicians.”
Both the title and the thrust of his text clearly indicates that given the very uniqueness of the Specialist personality orientation that they are more likely to seek assistance or be dissatisfied with their work and careers. Additionally given the size of the Generalists orientation in the general population, Specialists are more likely to misunderstand others as well as be easily misunderstood by others!
Again let’s hear what O’Connor has to say,
“In the considered choice of a lifelong career, men and women who score extremely subjective must face the disadvantages of belonging to the outnumbered species.”
It was an ‘aha’ moment for me as now I see that perhaps it isn’t that the population is changing (still a hypothesis) but also and equally plausible it is that career help was more likely to be sought by a Specialist as function of their unique take on the world!
Some points about Specialist:
1. if Specialists have not fallen into roles that allow them to develop expertise and capitalize on their personality strengths, they will feel misaligned.
2. Specialists, often feeling like a square peg trying to fit into a round organizational hole can make the mistake and seek to be a Generalist. This strategy may work for a while but is not a long term solution to solving the question of finding worthwhile work.
3. Since Specialists thrive when expressing their passion they need to spend time figuring what this is and then put the time in and develop their expertize.
4. Specialists need to look at their other hard-wired abilities and use them to seek a career role.
5. Many career blogs will say you can and should be both a Specialist and a Generalist. Unfortunately, while this can get you a job, it is also a recipe for career disnavigated Specialist.