You Are Not a Generalist

I frequently hear people in our business refer to themselves as “generalists” and I always wonder why they denigrate themselves like that.

It’s like saying “I’m just a mom” or “I’m just the help.”

It’s certainly not attractive marketing-wise.

It portrays what you do as unimportant and of less value or consequence.

It implies that there is no special talent, knowledge, skills or training involved in your expertise (and we know that’s not the case).

People simply hold specialists in higher esteem; they perceive greater value.

So I want to remind you that as you are not a generalist. You have a specialty:  the specialty of administrative support.

That makes you an administrative expert or administrative support specialist, not a generalist. Remember that. 😉

(Unless, of course, you really are someone with no skills, experience or talent for this work).

9 Responses

  1. JLR says:

    Of course experts and specialists are necessary to a well run and functioning company or organization. However, when I hear or see the term generalist I don’t think of a no-skills hack who can’t do work. I think of someone who has learned and developed a decent amount skill in a variety of areas. My experience in small business made me appreciate those people who could lend a hand in several areas.

    I think of the term ‘entry level’ when I run across someone who lacks training, skills and experience.

  2. How does the term “generalist” convey someone who has learned and developed a decent amount of skill in a variety of areas? Do you think that “administrative support specialist” doesn’t convey those things?

    “Entry-level” applies to situations of employment, not business (much less marketing for business).

  3. JLR says:

    Administrative support specialist conveys extensive experience in office administration. Which I believe is a good thing. The way I see generalist is someone who has skills that can help office admin, help accounting and help with the initial steps of any industry specific task all without supervision or extensive training.

    The floater every company hopes to have in good times and the person who can help fill in the gaps in the bad times when no new hires can be taken on. I see this as either an employee or independent contractor option.

    Perhaps it’s more interpretation or semantics. My initial interpretation of the term does not apply exclusively to admin support and your interpretation seems to envision an inexperienced admin. Maybe your definition of admin is broader than mine.

  4. You’re looking at things from an employment mindset.

    This is a business and marketing conversation. I’m not sure you are understanding that.

    What we’re talking about here is the business and marketing of administrative support, which is the profession of administrative experts. If they’re in business, they should indeed have extensive experience in that work. Administrative support encompasses a broad area in and of itself. Most people (and this is backed up by countless marketing studies) do not view generalists as particularly or highly skilled.

    I’m not trying to convince you personally. Obviously, you can call yourself whatever you like. But the fact is experts make more money, have more opportunities come their way, and they attract a larger, higher-paying clientele.

    Expertise instills confidence in prospects. It’s easier for them to say “yes” when they know exactly what that expert is in business to do. They feel safer working with an expert; they feel they are in better, more knowledgeable hands and are willing to pay more for that perceived value.

    What I am curious about is why you are resistant to the idea of owning your expertise? Why would you argue for terminology that would limit you? Of course, keep in mind that my posts are always geared toward the the person who views what she does as a skilled profession and wants to become more financially successful and attract more/better clients. If that’s not you and you are fine where you are at, there’s nothing wrong with that.

  5. JLR says:

    I’m confused where you saw that I said I was a generalist and had a problem owning my own expertise. I simply said I interpreted the word generalist differently than you. I agree that in the VA world marketing ones self as an expert and/or specialist is a good move and gives the client a feeling of confidence and safety. I don’t believe I stated otherwise.

    I agree our interpretation of both the word generalist and, perhaps, the definition of a VA are different which gives us each a different view.

  6. Sounds like you are perhaps not in the right place here. 😉

  7. Danielle, I wholeheartedly agree with you. I have never heard of an administrative generalist as an administrative expert is somebody who offers specialised, unique, diverse administration skills set at a level that leaves most people in awe as we make our jobs look easy. I’ve left most speechless as I can go between a company relocation and office move to arranging an airport launch and Exco meeting all in the same time period but in different specialist areas. Like you always tell us, if you don’t like the heat get out as you going to tell us the truth. We have to be super-confident when we market our skills as the customer has to believe us because they can see we believe in ourselves. Have a great weekend futher and week. You rock girl

  8. Danielle, your article is an eye opener and I agree with you. Whenever I hear someone say \Generalist,\ I assume they are still trying to find their niche in the industry. There is more meaning to the word than I realized.

  9. You’re absolutely right, Lillian. That does indeed tend to be what is going on. However, as a marketing practice, it’s hurting their business and ability to get good clients.

    That’s why it’s a common theme for my conversations and advice here: just because you don’t yet know who you’re target market is going to be yet doesn’t mean you are a “generalist.” You STILL have an expertise: the expertise of administrative support. That specialization IS the business. This is what they don’t seem to be grasping, to their detriment.

    The other problem is they confuse “niche” with the business. Your business is administrative support. That IS your specialty/specialization. WHO you cater your administrative support to is your niche/target market. Some people struggle deciding on a target market or they’re new and don’t narrow that down. That still doesn’t mean they are a generalist. Their specialty (the thing they are in business to do) is still administrative support, which is a specialization in and of itself.

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