Everyone reaches a point in their career where they get really good at a particular skill and they face a crossroads. Do I further hone this skill or do I continue to add new skills? Unfortunately, there isn’t a correct answer. It depends on a variety of other factors.
If you want to understand the progression of the business world – and professional service industries, in particular – you have to get familiar with specialization.
By definition, work specialization is the act of splitting up processes of work into individual responsibilities that are each handled by the most qualified individuals available. Specialization often occurs within businesses and organizations, but individuals also benefit from concentrating on specific skills.
Over the past few years, we’ve seen an increased emphasis on specialization within the entrepreneurial/freelance community and the reverberations of this shift are clearly seen on multiple levels.
“Ongoing specialization has been a decisive factor for the current state of our society,” explains Consultants 500, a platform designed to connect businesses with specialized services. “The effects of specialization is such a broad concept that it touches upon almost everything in our daily life. And our natural urge for specialization is also one of the main reasons why professional services exist. Society and businesses cannot know everything and therefore need specialists with practical experience to help and guide us.”
While specialization clearly plays a valuable role in the business world, the dilemma of whether or not to pursue it as the focus of your own career can be intense. It sounds great on the surface, but what are the costs and benefits when you analyze career specialization at the roots?
The Pros of Job Specialization
While it’s not for everyone, there’s a lot of value that can be extracted from focusing on a specific skill or role. Let’s begin this analysis by taking a look at some of the benefits specialization affords so that you can get a better idea of the “why” behind such a career move.
1. Defined Skillset
There’s something about having specific responsibilities that allow you to get really focused on a defined skillset. This is perhaps the biggest benefit of specialization. When you’re able to stop wasting your time on low-returning tasks and instead drill down to what really matters, suddenly you become a more valuable commodity.
Consider a fictional scenario for a moment. Let’s say your house is getting old and needs some substantial work done. Namely, you need some of the siding repaired and a new roof installed. The first thing you do is call a local handyman who you know is pretty good with installing siding. And when he arrives at your house and you mention that you’re also replacing your roof, he suddenly perks up and tells you that he can do the siding repair and the roof replacement for one convenient price.
The handyman leaves and the specialized roof installation company that you had previously called out for an estimate arrives. They want to charge you substantially more for the job. Despite this, most people would be more comfortable paying the premium for the specialized service. Why? Because specialized companies/professionals are deemed to be more skilled at what they do. In other words, a defined skillset is a bonus.
2. Increased Trust
Specialization comes with a greater sense of trust in the eyes of employers. If you’re looking for a job and are able to say that you specialize in X, Y, or Z, that’s better than saying you have some basic experience doing X, Y, and Z. An employer is going to have more trust that you know what you’re doing if you’ve exhibited a history of focusing your efforts on a singular skill or objective.
3. Better Job Satisfaction
From your perspective, you’ll find that specialization generally leads to higher job satisfaction. The reason for this is rooted in any number of factors. For a lot of people, it’s a result of doing something that you love. That’s because professionals generally focus on a skill that they enjoy. Other people are happier because they get immense satisfaction and pleasure from doing something that they’re good at. It makes them feel like they have something of value to offer their employer/customers/etc.
The Cons of Job Specialization
Job specialization isn’t for everyone, though. Some people aren’t cut out for it and perform much better when they’re able to utilize a variety of skills and take on a diverse set of responsibilities. Keeping that in mind, let’s review some of the major cons of specialization in today’s job market.
1. Potential for Boredom
The majority of American workers aren’t finding fulfillment in their jobs. In fact, a Gallup poll shows that 50.8 percent of people are “not engaged” at work, while another 17.2 percent are “actively disengaged.” Less than one-third of people report being fully engaged. There are plenty of reasons for this, but boredom plays a big role.
Unfortunately, specialization is often a major cause for boredom. If you end up becoming too focused on one thing, you don’t get enough diversity in your life and burn out fairly quickly. This doesn’t always happen, but it’s always a risk – especially for those who like change.
2. Risk of Obsolescence
The world changes and certain skills and occupations come and go in terms of utility and value. When you’re a generalist, this doesn’t really matter. You slowly evolve along with the marketplace. But when you’re a specialist, you can get left behind. Obsolescence is a very real threat.
Consider, for example, someone who specializes in Google AdWords strategy and optimization. What would happen if suddenly Google went under or decided to eliminate AdWords and focus on an entirely different form of advertising? Suddenly that person would be out of a job. That’s the risk of tying yourself to one specific skill.
3. Limited Skillset
You also have to consider the fact that not every customer/client/employer is looking for specialization. When cost is a factor, it’s usually makes more sense for them to hire someone who can offer a variety of services. So while you may view it as a focused skillset, others could see it as a limited skillset. Keep this in mind as you decide where you want your career to go.
The Future of Job Specialization
There will always be an opportunity for skilled professionals to specialize their services. The key to specialization is to make sure you’re balancing your approach. You can specialize yourself right out of a job if you aren’t careful.
But done the right way, specialization can lead to a bright career in today’s job market.
Man at Computer Photo via Shutterstock