Specialist versus Generalist Resumes


Recruiters seem to favor professionals with specialist versus generalist skill sets these days. I can understand that thinking because it’s a no-brainer. When a recruiter pitches a candidate who matches the employer’s brief down to industry, years experience, professional network, and even product type, then on paper at least, it’s a match made in heaven.  The quicker the match, the faster this search is over, payment is made and everyone is happy.
Everyone, except perhaps you. You’re the one known as a ‘generalist’. You have broad experience; multiple industries, different technologies, different people. You’d think this combination would be highly sought after wouldn’t you? After all, you can bring fresh thinking the table, different experiences, new ways that have worked in other industries, and you can deliver groundbreaking change. But in these days where we prize specialists, you just can’t get a foot in the door. Occasionally, a recruiter may make a connection, understand your unique value proposition, and put you forward for an interview; other times despite your years of experience and obvious talents, you don’t score a preliminary chat with the recruiter.
There are a few of ways to counteract this prejudice.
  • Multiple resumes. Change the focus of your resume and tweak the skills and experience to highlight the ‘right’ industries, projects, products and people; ensure that they’re closely aligned with this new opportunity. Group together or play down information that is irrelevant. Note: this may only work to a certain extent. Many recruiters simply look at where you worked last and if that’s not the same industry as the current opportunity, then you’re out of the running, regardless of the strategic content positioning. This can be tricky to write and strategize too. You may need a professional.
  • Personal Contact: Before you send the resume to the recruiter, call to discuss the job. Build rapport, ask about the specifics of the role and respond in the affirmative with components of your career experience. Ask the company name—if you’ve had something to do with them in the past, say so!  If the recruiter is interested, he or she will request you send in your resume. This is better than sending your resume in ‘cold’ and have it rejected without prior knowledge of your chat. If he or she is not interested, then you can decide whether to send it anyway. Chances are, that you’ll have realized if the job is not for you during your chat anyway.
  • LinkedIn Research: Check out the company on LinkedIn. Look at who the main players are, review their latest news and information. Align in your mind what they want, where they’re going and how you can help. You can use this information to shape your resume prior to sending it to the recruiter; you can make reference to their news and your experience in your cover letter, and you may want to use a few of the terms and skill sets they prize in your LinkedIn profile too. If the recruiter would not disclose the company name, he or she would have at least, told you the industry or sector. Research that.


Of course, the people you know in the target industry are always gold. When it comes to you or anyone else, people in your professional and personal networks are going to be the best bet when it comes to getting a job and not just throwing your hat in the ring for a job advertisement that brings in people from a hundred different backgrounds. Many of your competitors in this huge pool of candidates may tick all the boxes and have better or more progressive, and specific experience in the ‘wanted’ industry than you. It’s hard to fight against that, so leveraging the relationships of the people you know, is likely to reap greater rewards.


If you’re experiencing that “specialist versus generalist” prejudice, then being brave enough to step outside traditional job search methods of advertisements and recruiters, may be the best way for you. Try conducting research, getting in contact with people, following companies that you’d like to work for, seeking out mutual friends who can put in a good word for you, and commit to circumventing rigid thinkers by showing your flexibility and lateral thinking—the same skills that have allowed you to achieve those wonderful, generalist talents you possess today.


What about you, have you been personally stung by the specialist versus generalist preference?




  1. Marlon

    I’ve been thinking about it and arguing that the generalist could be a good background even for specialist positions and people after 30s ou 40s y old. For many reasons yet I’d say only two points – some positions don’t require several years experience to do a good job and the best insight could come from the differents perspective that naturally another experience could help. I’ve worked in companies (two) that have been trying to apply the learning organization process running people throw differents areas and in my experience I saw it as a good practice.

    • Gayle Howard

      I guess ultimately, it comes down to the employer’s brief and exactly what they want. If they keep on wanting specialists, then recruiters are going to want to keep searching for them! Thanks for visiting Marlon!

  2. Kathy

    Research into the company is a must! I’ve found that looking up Youtube videos on the company or watching the companies promotion videos in addition using LinkedIn is helpful as well. I think by doing that research, you’re absolutely right about how it’s easier to position your past experience from a generalist resume closer to a specialist resume causing an aha! moment in the employer’s brain.


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About Gayle Howard

If you are interested in working with Gayle Howard—an executive resume writer, Certified Master Resume Writer, multi-award-winning resume writer, and Master LinkedIn profile writer, drop her a line now using the contact form at the link above. Gayle can help you get interviews for your dream job and bring the world of business to you by maximizing your exposure and connections on LinkedIn.