I’m not a generalist.
A creative professional evolves throughout their career. As they learn new tools they broaden skill-sets and add to their knowledge, making them capable of expanding their expertise. Referring to someone like this as a ‘generalist’ implies they are not an expert at all the things they can do.
Some weeks ago a recruiter asked me to describe my background and after giving her about 77-floors of an elevator pitch plus answering questions, she replied “So you are kind of like a design generalist.” Good thing this was a phone call, I am certain my face flushed and I suddenly felt like a 10 year old being bullied in the school yard. “I’m not a generalist,” I came to refute “I am more of a cross-functional design expert or full-stack designer.”
When considering recruitment, this is where the notion of job title versus skill-set comes to play. In my experience, the best application process took place at companies where the creative hiring manager was involved in filtering resumes and referred to skill-set as a way of determining eligibility. On the other hand, some of my lesser experiences were those where a recruiter acted as gatekeeper to the hiring manager but knew very little about the design industry and relied on their understanding of job titles as a way to narrow candidates.
“When it comes to finding a new job, the whole point of a job title is to help tell the high-level career story (and literally act as subtitles on a resume). This is fine as long as the person scanning said curriculum vitae has the same understanding of role responsibilities based-on the titles.”
Alas, this makes me think about superfluous job titles. When it comes to finding a new job, the whole point of a job title is to help tell the high-level career story (and literally act as subtitles on a resume). This is fine as long as the person scanning said curriculum vitae has the same understanding of role responsibilities based-on the titles. Which is often not the case because this tends to be subjective domain knowledge. Business structure also weighs-in on what a title means, for example if a company is a flat organization titles have less warrant.
On the topic of organization structure, much is to be said for process and where that parallels with an applicant’s background. Yet just like job titles can be misinterpreted by a recruiter’s knowledge gap, a candidate’s understanding of business terms for process and structure can be misread based-on experience at past organizations. It is very important for hiring teams to transparently define the job description and for job seekers to ask as many questions as possible about business goals, company process and day-to-day duties to ensure expectations are aligned.
Going back to being called a generalist, one exciting thing about a creative professional’s career is that trade skills and expertise can evolve. Additionally, these skills are versatile and translate from function-to-function and one industry to the next. Someone’s resume may be discredited because they worked in an unfamiliar job title for a different industry but if there is a skill-set match that person could be a great candidate. Keep in mind, industry knowledge and process is easily taught and most people ramp-up quickly when they want to do great at a new job.
This touches on my last topic of understanding, a person’s passion to learn. Often someone with a broad skill-set has a high learning velocity and is capable of comprehending new topics rapidly with professional expertise. A so called ‘generalist’ has likely spent years researching online and offline, worked-on projects or in roles that helped gain particular skill-sets, put money and time into continuing education, and is probably good at everything they try. So just think of this type of person’s toolbox as being full — stack.
Darcie Fitzpatrick has focused most of her adult (and young adult) life on honing a passion, craft and skill for graphic design. Her professional expertise crosses functions and industries allowing her versatility and a broad career background. An innate sense for business strategy and full-stack design capabilities give Darcie a well-rounded approach to design leadership. Please feel free to request a resume/portfolio review via firstname.lastname@example.org and check her out on LinkedIn or Instagram.