Utility vs Specialization in your Career

Those who know me well understand that most of my work is to support my habit of watching college baseball, especially Vanderbilt Commodore baseball.  While this is somewhat of a tongue in cheek comment, there are many great things one can learn from baseball and many of them relate to your career.

One of my favorite terms in baseball is the utility player.  This kind of player is one who can fill many roles.  Some can play any infield position while others can play both infield and outfield.

Other players are focused on just one role and they play that role well.  Pitchers and catchers are typically the most focused players on a baseball team.

Your organization is a combination of single role players and utility players.  Some areas require specialization, such as accounting, engineering, architecture, law and others.  Other roles require utility, such as customer service, marketing, sales and others.  Your career can benefit whether you are a specific role player or a utility player.  How you leverage your experience when moving from where you are to where you want to go will depend upon whether you like the specific role or if you like variety.  Knowing yourself and your preferences will go a long way in determining which is right for you.

My career has been one of utility with longer stints in specific roles that have come together to aid me in furthering what I do.  My background in the engineering physics area helped me earlier and my interest and experience in training and leading others has been beneficial as I grew into more of a consultative role where I provide executive search and CEO peer group services.

When you take the time to reflect upon your own career, and you need to do this more often than you do now, you need to know areas where you have great depth and also know where you are more of a generalist.  If you start your career in engineering or architecture, the odds are that you are more of a specialist in that field.  Many specialists like these two professions attract individuals who also have a variety of other skills that allow them to communicate and lead others.  Other specialists only want to focus on what they know best.

Your career will benefit most from taking time to reflect often (at least every 9 months) upon what you know well or very well and what you know to a lesser degree.  Even more so, you need to know what you like and what you dislike.  The best role will leverage what you do best with what you like to do.  A good friend also shared a good third dimension, with that dimension being what you can get paid for versus what does not pay well.  If you are more of a mission driven person, the compensation side will not matter as much.  If you are fiscally minded, the financial side will weigh more heavily.

Whether you are a specialist or a generalist you can be successful.

You just need to take the time to know what you do best, what you like to do, and what makes you happy.

It could not be any simpler.