Generalist, Specialist, or Explorer: Which is Better to Build a Career?


Mock IT Logo. Text reads: Being a Generalist, Specialist, or Explorer: Which is Better to Build a Career?

The world around us is quickly changing, and being a versatile and adaptable designer or technologist often provides as much value (or more) as a Specialist can; yet, when a Specialist is needed, they are invaluable. So, what is better for you and your career? Being a Generalist or a Specialist? And what is an Explorer is it just the next buzzword? Listen to find out.

Are You a Specialist?

If you’re starting in your career and not a Ph.D., then the chances of you being a Specialist are slim. A Specialist is known as an expert in their specific field of work. They have spent years honing their craft and have narrowed their focus from the broader field of practice to a specific subset of expertise. This is someone who may have started as a Generalist but has since chosen to specialize. They provide unparalleled and critical expertise for projects that require a deep level of knowledge and perspective.

It’s no surprise that the world needs Specialists, but for the majority of work, this deep level of expertise isn’t a critical factor for success. Without a constant need, most Specialists are only brought in to help with specific questions or tasks and then quickly move on to the next project or team. This leaves them being more of a shared service and passed among program teams than a long-term staple on a team. 

Are You a Generalist?

Being a Generalist requires you to understand a broader scope of work than a Specialist but not have to go as deep into the subject matter. A Generalist has earned a negative connotation over the years, with most people being forced to choose a specialty in high school so they can prepare for college. However, when you look at most people in the working world, they are Generalists, which is not a bad thing. Being a Generalist means you are skilled in various ways with a solid foundation of knowledge across many different topics.

A Generalist may have come from many areas of study and backgrounds that have equipped them with a combination of skillsets that make them more versatile and effective even if they wouldn’t label themselves an expert in one specific area. This combination of backgrounds and perspectives is invaluable for problem-solving and connecting the dots on how to get work accomplished. This allows a Generalist to move between careers and industries more easily.

What’s an Explorer? Is this You?

An Explorer is someone who takes the key characteristics that make a Generalist desirable and builds upon them to be more purposeful and shed the “Jack or Jill of all trades, master of none” reference. They are still the person who has lived and learned many topics of study but bring in passion, enthusiasm, and belief in the value of their work. Being an Explorer is being a lifelong learner and applying that across their field of work. They can apply this broad range of new skills to build relationships, create meaningful connections, and prioritize work in their specific field to improve and advance in their careers.

An Explorer can still be known as someone at the top of their field, and while they don’t hold the title of a Specialist or may not be able to go quite as deep, their ability to connect the dots between the work that needs to get done, the relationships that are necessary to accomplish the work, and how to navigate the barriers along the way make Explorers even more desirable.

A popular trait of an Explorer is the ability to converse with people of varied backgrounds effectively. This helps the team take highly technical information and communicate its value to coworkers, the CEO, the organization’s board, and more. An Explorer often asks many questions such as, “Who else needs to be involved in this project,” meaning they are great at understanding that most problems need many different perspectives and buy-in to be successful.

“When we look at people who are Explorers, when you look at the icons of industry—you know, be it any of the executives that have trillion-dollar companies—when you look at a number of musicians, they are well-versed in a number of things. They don’t just know one thing. Even if you look at sports, a lot of great athletes are great at many sports and they cross-train. When you start to look at all the individuals that are great within their respective fields, they know a lot of information (or skills) in a lot of different topic areas.”

Jason Stoner, Director of Experience Strategy at MetroStar. Clipped from Ep. 20 of Mock IT “Are You a Generalist, Specialist, or Explorer: Can It Define Your Career?”

Picking a Career Path

There is room for everyone in the job market. There are pros and cons to being a Generalist, Strategist, or Explorer. Finding a path that works best for you and your career motivations is most important. Bottom line? There is no wrong path, but being an Explorer sounds like a fruitful adventure!

Looking for more? Tune into Mock IT to hear Jason Stoner, MetroStar’s Director of Experience Strategy, explain these terms in more depth, which one he identifies with, and how they can help shape your career and your position in a company. Streaming now!


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