Team Player or Individual Contributor?
Different Paths to Career Success
Did you ever wonder why some people love sharing responsibility
and ownership by working in groups, yet others prefer to work
independently, using their own ideas and talents? Neither
one is better - just different!
The Ball Aptitude Battery® measures an important personality
trait called Work Orientation. Understanding if you have a
more generalist or specialist work orientation can have a
significant influence on making a career choice as well as
managing your career path. Not understanding where you fit
could have an impact on your success and happiness. Self-awareness
is always important in evaluating a particular job or role,
and provides insight into what type of organization would
best suit you.
What are the differences between specialists and generalists?
Specialists are wonderfully idealistic and tend to see the
world from their own unique perspective. They are most comfortable
establishing an area of expertise and being recognized for
their high level of performance. Specialists have high standards
and want to do their work well. Preferring a degree of autonomy,
they may not appreciate external interference with their efforts.
Their satisfaction comes from having the authority to independently
plan and complete the work itself. That doesn't mean a specialist
doesn't enjoy working with others. However, when working as
part of a team, they prefer to work with a group of equally
competent colleagues tackling a big issue or a project. This
allows the specialist to take a part of the project to work
on, then return to the group to make their contribution rather
than participate in a group process. Specialists may view
meetings and committees as taking them away from their "real
A specialist is most comfortable if their role is defined.
Until that evolves, the specialist may be more of an observer.
Early career planning is especially helpful for specialists
because of the time and training required to develop a specific
area of expertise. For example, consider a student who wants
to work in the trades and who selects carpentry. It will take
several additional years for him or her to develop an area
of fine craftsmanship like cabinet or furniture making. A
college-bound student might choose a professional major such
as accountant or nurse, or an occupation that requires advanced
credentials such as a masters or higher level degree. While
specialists may enjoy the courses offered in a liberal arts
program, they tend to be less comfortable when they graduate
and don't know what they are "qualified" to be.
Specialists like to be well-prepared and have the right credentials.
They may be more comfortable at smaller colleges where they
will have smaller classes and closer contact with faculty
or a university that has smaller departments.
The generalist is comfortable knowing a little bit about
a variety of things. They see things in more typical ways.
Generalists tend to be on the same "wavelength"
as other people, understanding the thinking and needs of a
variety of individuals. Their strength lies in their interpersonal
skills and the ability to work with and through others to
accomplish company or group goals. Generalists are collaborative,
easily recognizing the contributions of others in achieving
the goals. They tend to delegate responsibilities and also
take direction well. They perform to high standards but may
not view their work as a direct reflection on their identity.
They often find themselves in managerial roles, responsible
for the coordination of one or more departments of people
and the achievement of their collective goals. Depending on
an individual's overall talent profile, it may be important
for a generalist's job satisfaction to retain some of his
or her own work to fully engage all their abilities. This
is particularly true for generalists who have spatial ability,
are highly creative, or detail-oriented.
Generalists are adaptable and flexible in their career choices.
They can look at the broader picture and may offer a more
objective organizational view. They tend be comfortable in
new situations, willing to make mistakes and learn from them.
With a wider array of interests they enjoy interacting with
a variety of people in new and different areas.
In this discussion, we have described more the extremes of
specialist and generalist orientations. About 25% of the population
tend to be specialists, 25% generalists, and about 50% somewhere
in between the two. If individuals are in that 50%, it is
often an advantage to select an educational path that prepares
them for more specific occupations or careers. That makes
their initial job search more defined and comfortable. Initial
positions may be in an individual contributor role. However,
after developing competencies in their field, they often gravitate
to a role that involves managing others. These individuals
may find their satisfaction is influenced by the size of the
organization and the scope of the managerial responsibilities.
Too large and varied may create more stress. Examples might
be the excellent lawyer who eventually moves into a role managing
the workload of other lawyers, or a top physician who becomes
chief of staff at a healthcare facility and finds most of
his or her time is spent managing other physicians and the
Whether generalist, specialist, or somewhere in between,
knowing who you are and having the insight to shape or influence
your career choices is important. This type of information
provides valuable direction in establishing educational objectives
and in crafting a satisfying career path.
© Copyright 2006, Career Vision / Ball Foundation. Article
may be reprinted with permission.