The Modern IT Consultant: Specialist, Generalist or Both?

By Anne Falatko, EVP of Recruiting on Jul. 8, 2014 View Comments

The Modern IT Consultant: Specialist, Generalist or Both?

We recently interviewed Anne Falatko, our EVP of Recruiting, about the best way to approach an IT consulting career in today’s always-evolving digital marketplace. Consultants often struggle with whether to develop themselves as “experts” at one specific skill, or become widely competent at multiple skillsets.

Check out Anne’s time-tested advice on how to stay relevant and in-demand.

Q: Let’s start with the big question: As a recruiter, are you typically looking for consultants with one specialized IT skill, or the ability to master multiple skillsets?

A: We recruit specialists more often than we recruit generalists, based on client demand. However, we do need people that are “fungible” and have specific knowledge in 2-3 areas. Consultants who are passionate about learning new skills or can serve in several different roles are often more valuable in the long run because they can be redeployed on client projects again and again.

Q: So are you saying that IT recruiters aren’t looking for either specialists or generalists, but specialists who happen to have diversified skillsets?

A: Yes, that is exactly what I’m saying! IT consultants need to be experts who are also extremely adaptable and posses a generalist mentality for learning new things outside their core expertise areas. As a consultant is broadening his or her expertise, he or she should always have at least one or two deep skillsets in areas which are currently needed by the company or industry they work in.

Q: Why do you think there is so much emphasis on recruiting specialized IT consultants right now?

A: The world is trending towards specialization in every industry, not just IT. Doctors are not general practitioners anymore; there are different doctors for each part of our bodies. The same concept applies in the world of IT consulting. When we need help with Java, Agile, Sharepoint, or Python (just to name a few), we’re looking for people who have niche skills in those areas, not people who have general knowledge and an eagerness to learn new technologies. It’s important to have expert knowledge of at least one key platform/technology when a project demands it. Very often, recruiters know what they want and are willing to pay a premium for it.

Q: What are some pros and cons of being a specialist?

A: The value of a specialist to an organization is his or her depth of knowledge. So specialists often have an easier time selling their services once they find their market, and they can charge more since they are “experts.” But on the flip side, their market may be too narrow for a steady income, and they risk becoming obsolete if demand changes.

Q: What about the pros and cons of being a generalist?

A: Rather than depth, the value of a generalist is his or her breadth of knowledge. Although their rates may be lower, generalists can market themselves to a broader audience, while easily shifting to match demand. And as consultants, they can often generate additional work for themselves by offering related services to clients.

Q: How can a consultant learn new skills while working full time?

A: Many developers we hire have been doing whatever they can to learn new skills, whether that means coding in their basement, developing on their own, or pursuing outside projects for their own skills development. With how quickly technology evolves now, consultants must always be updating their skills, or they risk becoming obsolete.

Q: What types of working environments are better suited for generalists vs. specialists?

A: Larger companies usually have more specialist job opportunities, while smaller organizations more often need generalists that can fill several roles at once. When choosing a career path, it’s important for a consultant to consider if they want to be the go-to resource on one topic, or the “everything to everyone” type of person that wears many hats.

Q: Any other insight for someone considering a career in consulting?

A: The good news about consulting as a career choice is that it allows you to be dynamicyou see more environments more often than people who stay in a corporate role for a long time. Consultants need to be resourceful problem-solvers and critical-thinkers. Expertise, adaptability, and learning agility are vital qualities for any consultant to have.

Posted in: IT Consulting