Should You Hire the Generalist or the Specialist?

December 13th, 2011   •   1 comment   

Should you hire a General (like Cao Cao) or a highly specialised Sniper? (courtesy of Rongwen’s blog)

In the Human Resource function of any organisation, an age-old dilemma commonly exists.

Should a company hire somebody with years of vertical expertise with deep and specialised knowledge in a niche area? Should it instead recruit somebody with horizontal expertise (ie a generalist) who may even hail from an entirely different profession or industry altogether? How about a candidate with a mixture of both horizontal and vertical areas of specialisation?

Before we sign the contract with our “dream candidate”, it may be useful to walk through the 3 “Cs” of recruitment as follows:

First, identify where your organisational competencies are. Do you lack a critical area of expertise (eg accounting, corporate law, software development) that is needed to push the organisation forward? Is there an important gap in management and leadership experience which cannot be covered by other members of the team?  By asking these questions, you’ll be able to determine if a candidate with vertical versus horizontal expertise is required.

The culture of your organisation is also important. If you’re structured like a Silicon Valley start-up with a pool of mainly geeks and nerds wired to their computers and mobiles, bringing in an accounting trained CFO to “regulate the mess” may be a tough call unless he or she has some tolerance for ambiguity. In cases like this, consider if its better to procure such services from a professional services firm as opposed to forcing a square peg into a round hole.

Lastly, bear in mind the context of your organisation and the industry in which it operates in. If the organisation is going through a change management process where creative brainstorming and problem solving is needed, you may need to hire folks who have greater breadth in their experience so that they can look beyond the obvious. On the other hand, companies transiting towards a more steady state environment may require professionally trained builders to put in the nuts and bolts of the organisation, piece by piece. Here, depth and specialisation is needed.

In thinking through the above, one would have a clearer idea of who the best candidate would be.   The candidate should have the right mix of depth and breadth in experience and expertise, specially tailored to the unique and specific needs of your organisation.

Contrary to popular belief, he or she isn’t the most highly qualified person in the room who is “appropriately priced”. Rather, the best candidate is one who best fits the needs of your organisation considering its competencies, culture, and context.

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One comment

  1. posted on Dec 13, 2011 at 9:35 PM

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    * DARK HEART 2011 *

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