Are you a T shaped person?

By Felicity Dwyer | Career change

May 18
Image of letter T

Are you a T shaped person? And what does that mean?

You’re probably familiar with the career terms generalist and specialist.

A generalist has a breadth of knowledge and skills within their professional field.   A human resources generalist may understand employment contracts, recruitment processes, grievance procedures etc. A generalist marketing executive will have a grasp of marketing strategy, customer segmentation, campaigns etc.

A specialist has a narrower focus but a greater depth of knowledge. For example, an HR specialist might have a deep expertise in all aspects of employment law and contracts. A marketing specialist might have deep understanding about the use of content marketing for generating leads.

Career paths for generalists and specialists

There are jobs out there for both generalists, and specialists. And one career path may appeal to you more than more than another.

A small company might only have one person working in human resources, or one member of staff responsible for marketing. They may be looking for a generalist who can carry out all the necessary functions to a good standard.

A larger company may employ a team of people, most of whom are specialists.

T-Shaped people

But it is possible to combine being both a generalist and a specialist.

A T-shaped person has a breadth in their field, in common with generalists. The is the horizontal bar in the T.  But they also have one area where they really dig down and specialise in. This is the vertical bar in the T.

Having an area of specialism can be a good thing for your career. Specialists can often charge more for their services. And they can stand out more in a crowded field of job candidates. Yet having a breadth of competencies may open up roles that might otherwise not be open to you.  And importantly it can offer you variety within a job.

How to become T-shaped

What can you do if you’re a generalist, and you’d like to become a T-shaped?

One approach could be to start with your current knowledge. Where in your professional field do you have the most experience and know-how.  Can you deepen this into a real specialist expertise?

Or you could start with the aspect that interests you most. What area of your work would you love to learn more about what books and articles? What do you tend to read, even when you don’t have. What courses do you sign up to, and are happy to spend money to attend?

The interest based approach is the one I most recommend. If you choose an area of specialism that fascinates and intrigues you, then you’re unlikely to get bored. You can go deeper and deeper into that area, and still retain a good general knowledge of your field.

And what if you’re already a specialist but are starting to feel rather constrained and boxed in. You may not need a complete career change. Perhaps you just need to broaden out a bit. Look for projects that take you out of the core area and expand your knowledge and experience.

So would you like to become a T shaped person? And if so, what steps do you need to take?

If you’d like help with thinking through career change in changing times, please feel free to contact me for a chat about professional support.

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About the Author

Felicity is a career coach. She help people who want to change career, start a freelance business, or build their confidence. Felicity writes about career and business development, leadership and personal effectiveness.

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