This is a variation of an age-old question that has been debated by mankind for a long time. Is it better to be a jack of all trades? Or a specialist? Both options have their appeal.
Specialists have a more distinct and defined career path in front of them. If you decide to specialize in finance, marketing, accounting, management, operations, supply chain management, or any number of other business fields, then that’s where you will put your energy after you graduate. You earn a specialist degree, and then use that degree to get a job in the specialty you have chosen. Advancement is a matter of experience and in some cases earning advanced degrees depending on your specialty.
The generalist option, while less defined, also has plenty of merit. It gives you flexibility in your career. You have enough understanding of enough areas of business that you are versatile and can fit into more roles. If a given specialty experiences a downward trend, you aren’t too worried about it because you haven’t put all your eggs in one basket. You can transition into another area of business and operate comfortably. Generalists also tend to make the best managers. When you have a variety of specialists working under you, it helps to understand enough about their specialties to give them direction and help them be productive, even if you wouldn’t be quite as effective at the job as they are. And hey, managers tend to make the best money in the corporate world. In the following sections we will explore the pros and cons of both generalist and specialist degrees. We hope this article helps you make the best possible decision regarding your choice of degree.
Companies like flexible employees, especially those who have developed soft skills. It might be tempting to try to have your cake and eat it too. Get a generalist degree, with a minor or concentration in a specialty. The best of both worlds, right? In reality, though, doing this usually means you’ve spent less time training the technical skills than the specialist who devoted their whole degree to learning them, which means you still aren’t as competitive for the specialist positions. However, a generalist degree gives you great freedom to use your electives, concentration, or minor to develop soft skills. Soft skills include things like time management, networking, teamwork, creative thinking, critical thinking, communication, problem-solving and conflict resolution. They aren’t technical, and tend to be more difficult to master than technical skills in a lot of ways. These skills can be developed in a number of ways.
Teamwork and leadership, for instance, can be developed through extracurricular activities rather than classes. Playing a team sport is a great way to develop teamwork, motivational skills, and time management skills. Now, maybe you aren’t interested in playing sports at a college level, and that’s fine. You can play intramural or club sports in college and they still provide you with the experiences that will help you develop these skills. Joining student government, or working on campus as a student manager, are a great way to develop your leadership skills.
Problem solving, critical thinking, communication, and creative thinking can be developed by taking a minor in something like philosophy. Networking can be developed by joining social clubs and student government. Conflict resolution is taught in many college courses, as is communication.
You can develop mentorship, coaching, and motivation skills by getting involved in your community. Coach a youth sport during the summer or in your free time. Get involved with a mentorship program like Big Brothers Big Sisters. Organize an after-school program for a local school.
If you think you might want to work in international business, you can devote your electives to learning the language of the countries you would like to work in.
The generalist degree gives you ample opportunity to develop some or all of these skills in addition to your business acumen. They look great on a resume, showing you have interests outside of business that will help make you an effective leader. Generalist degrees also have the advantage of giving you options to choose from when considering your advanced degree. If you end up working in marketing or finance, you can get your master’s in marketing instead of an MBA. If project management is your thing, you can specialize further in that with your advanced degree.
As we’ve seen, there are a lot of advantages to a general business degree, especially if you supplement it by developing soft skills. But that doesn’t mean a specialist degree isn’t worthwhile. The business world needs specialists – professionals who are focused on doing a few things incredibly well. Such professionals are often rewarded for their efforts. Plus, as a specialist, there is always time to earn your advanced degree and acquire the skills necessary to become a manager. This is especially good if you work in a larger company that needs managers with specialist skills to oversee various departments.
Soft skills are not the sole domain of the generalist. While some specialist degrees don’t have as much wiggle room as far as electives are concerned, everything said above can be beneficial to the specialist as well. Especially those looking to advance into jobs with a broader set of skill requirements in the future. So don’t miss out on the opportunity to develop some of these skills while you are in college.
As a specialist, you won’t have to deal with as much uncertainty about your career as the generalist does. You might not have as many options. But the options you have will be good options. And in the end, more limited options can work in your favor because you can spend less time and energy agonizing over what to do, and just get going. The abundance of choice can cause people to constantly second guess themselves, wondering if they made the right choice, or cause them to spend more time than necessary making the choice.
For example. When choosing a job, generalists have to decide between many different career options in addition to location, starting pay, and other factors. For specialists, the choices will often be easier, because you’ve already chosen your career, so that element of choosing is eliminated and you are left with the other deciding factors. Of course, the specialist degree doesn’t mean your career options are limited to your major. Plenty of specialists end up working in a variety of contexts not directly related to their major. But if you want that kind of flexibility, then the general business degree is probably a better choice.
Long term, specialists in business fields have just as much career growth potential as generalists. There are plenty of executive positions available to both specialists and generalists. In fact, specialists tend to benefit from a more direct path to high-level positions compared to generalists.
In the end, whether or not a specialist business degree or general business degree is better comes down to you, and what you want. Both have strengths and weaknesses, and both are just about equal when it comes to career prospects and earning potential. So don’t worry too much about whether or not you are making an optimal decision. If you want to gun for that CEO job as a specialist, just pick up an MBA for your master’s degree and you will have what you need to compete with the best of the generalists. While the flexibility of being a generalist is certainly nice. It’s also important to work on developing yourself throughout your career. If you change hats too often it can have a detrimental effect on your career, slowing down your advancement – not that there’s anything wrong with that if what really appeals to you about the generalist degree is the ability to have a ton of different experiences throughout your career.
In the end. There’s no massive benefit or massive drawback to either the general business degree or a specialist business degree, so long as you’re pursuing a goal that’s meaningful to you. I’ll end with a list of different types of management positions and their salaries so you can get a good idea of what options will be open to you. Both generalists and specialists will be able to land these jobs as long as they work long enough in a given role and acquire the practical experience necessary to do the job. None of these require a master’s degree.
The source for these numbers is the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
- Compensation and Benefits Manager: $122,270
- Human Resources Manager: $115,720
- Advertising Manager: $135,900
- Financial Manager: $129,890
- Sales Manager: $126,640
- Top Executives: $104,690
You might find it interesting that top executives earn a lower median salary than most of the other manager positions. This is largely because every small and mid-sized company has executives. So not every CEO out there is making millions of dollars per year. However, the top 10% of top executives make over $208,000 per year, which is a higher earning potential than the top 10% of just about every other management position.
So no matter what decision you end up making, rest assured that with hard wor, and excellent performance, you can score a great job with an incredible salary, whether you’re a specialist or a jack of all trades.