Beware the Job Search Generalist Trap

specialist_versus_generalistSee if this sounds familiar to your job search…

You start out with a pretty clear idea of what type of job you want. You begin your job search, do a little networking, and send a few applications. A few weeks go by. You’re not getting any bites on your resume, so you apply to a few more jobs. A couple more weeks go by.


Fear and panic start to creep in. You think to yourself, “I should apply to some jobs in other industries as well. Might increase my odds.” So you broaden your job search net to try to catch more jobs. More weeks go by, more broadening, and before you know it you find yourself telling people the following.

“I’ll take anything! I’ll do anything! Just give me a job! Please, someone, anyone?”

Bam! You’ve just unwittingly fallen into the generalist trap.

The generalist trap occurs when you try to be all things to all people. You lose the clarity of what you really want to be doing and you forfeit your unique skills and experience that could actually distinguish you from other people.

Don’t get me wrong, some industry specific broadening may be appropriate if you’re not getting any hits on the exact position you’re looking for. But when you take this concept a few steps farther and broaden all the way out into ‘any job’ territory you’re actually doing yourself a disservice.

Look at this from the hiring manager’s perspective.

Say there are two candidates, A and B, both applying for a paralegal position:

  • Candidate A is vague about what they’re looking for, desperate for a job, and lacks any clear messaging other than, “I want this job”.
  • Candidate B wants to work as a paralegal in a small to mid-sized firm in DC. All their job search materials clearly state this aim and convey why they would be a good fit for this exact position.

The hiring manager would prefer Candidate B every time. Wouldn’t you?

It’s counterintuitive, but you actually become a more attractive candidate when you are as specific as possible about who you are and what you want to do. In addition, being targeted helps you focus your job search actions. You’ll know who you should be aiming to meet and network with based on the companies you are looking to work for.

Without this clarity you’ll be left sending online applications out in every direction, which is a very low yield job search strategy.

Bottom line: don’t fall into the generalist trap.

If you’re not getting responses from your applications the answer is not to broaden your search indefinitely. The answer is to go deeper into the specific type of job you’re looking for.

  • Have another person look over your application materials. Invest some time in industry specific groups or networking events. Take a relevant course or do volunteer work to better illustrate your interest in your field.
  • Do anything that will give you more insight, credibility, and connections in your desired field.

Your clarity about what you want is the foundation of everything you create in your life. Don’t lose sight of it.

Have you ever fallen into the generalist trap?  Leave a comment below!





For this post, YouTern thanks our friends at Alison Elissa Coaching!



Alison ElissaAbout the Author: Alison Elissa Cardy is a career coach who specializes in helping men and women around the world figure out their career direction. She trained with Martha Beck, Havard PhD and columnist for O, the Oprah Magazine. Alison’s career advice has been featured on Brazen Life, Forbes, Learnvest, and Monster. Visit to learn more and to receive your complimentary copy of “The Career Unstuckinator”. Follow Alison on Twitter!


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