Most agree that Nolan Ryan is one of the best pitchers in the history of major league baseball, and excelled in all aspects of the position. Although fans have not seen him play other positions like shortstop or outfield, we can safely assume he would have been below average. Nolan Ryan had a specialty that brought value to the team. However, his value got him traded to at least four major league teams.
Most agree that Craig Biggio is one of the best utility players in the history of major league baseball. He began his career in the major league as a catcher, played outfield, and second base just to name a few. Craig Biggio played his whole career for the Houston Astros (nineteen years).
In sports, a utility player is one who can play several positions competently as opposed to having a specialty in one position such as pitching. With regard to careers, both utility and specialization are important for an organization. For example, a bookkeeper or accountant has a specialty recording numbers whereas a customer service representative has several skills from providing information to selling or servicing orders. (By the way, I got that information from a great online labor market tool, O-Net Online – you ought to check it out!)
That’s not to say that all jobs are either one or the other because often the lines that separate utility and specialization are hard to see. You may have even specialized in one position and found yourself as a utility player in another position. The question you should ask yourself is how well you are leveraging your experience in specific or diverse roles to move forward in your career.
Another thing to remember is your interests. Your interest plays a role in becoming a specialist or generalist (terms used when speaking of careers). For example, the following are just a couple of characteristics of both:
Generally, having a specialty provides more pay. However, a side effect is that when the economy becomes bad, specialists are usually let go quicker than a generalist is. Another factor to consider is the possibility of your specialty becoming obsolete (which happens a lot these days with new technology).
Size of the organization
Smaller companies usually require staff to have the ability to perform several functions while large organizations have more specialists on hand.
Therefore, considering your interest is important when considering whether you should specialize or generalize in your career. Perhaps a combination of both is the best solution. As Natasha Olinger, human resource expert in Washington D.C. describes as “balancing specialized skills with general skills.”
Regardless of that, keeping whatever skills you have up-to-date is important to remain relevant in your career. Whether you are looking to be a utility player or specialist, Workforce Solutions is working (pardon the pun) to help you match up with the right employer!
David Spears is a member of the Workforce Solutions Navigator team for the Texas Gulf Coast Region. Combining training and education to real world examples, David brings personal and professional experience with disabilities to the table in order to help job seekers with disabilities realize their potential. David has a Bachelor’s of Science degree in Business Administration with over 20 years of experience in the business world.