How to hire a generalist

Recruiting is incredibly hard, and it's usually more art than science. But here's a common question employers often ask themselves: should I hire a generalist or a specialist?
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Generalists come armed with varied skill sets – they're adaptable, lateral thinkers who enjoy collaborative work and can, as the name suggests, apply their hand to several areas of the business. Specialists, meanwhile, are experts in one particular functional area or job. 

Of course, there are some roles that certainly require a specialist – engineering is just one example. But when your business is growing, you might not know the exact role you need filling – it's often an all-hands-on-deck situation where you need people who are willing and able to be pulled into various tasks. Hiring a generalist, therefore, makes a lot of sense. But how do you go about finding one? We spoke to HR consultant Rachel Paterson to find out.   

Assess their experience...

‘Look for someone who's adept at project management or operations and has held a similar role in a small business. Strong technology expertise – good with Excel or previous experience with project management software – is a plus. In terms of years of experience, if the role is more operational-based and includes core, transactional decisions, look for someone with five to seven years of experience.’

 ...and their skill set

‘Look for someone who is administratively strong and enjoys organization. The ability to ask the right questions is also key: businesses are often under a lot of pressure and time priorities – the right hire needs to be able to holistically look at what they're doing, decide who they can pull in, make recommendations based on experience and push back when needed. That makes confidence a big green tick, too. Interpersonally, you want someone that people get on with and who can bring the team together.’

 Make your job descriptions work

‘A cost-effective way to understand language that appeals is to look at generalist job descriptions by other companies. When you read it and get excited, that's the feeling you'’re trying to create. Good examples include project manager, operations officer, chief of staff or team coordinator. Often small businesses go down the objectives and key results (OKR) route, which highlights the output versus a list of tasks to be performed. I would try to make it sound like: this is what the person is expected to do, but how they do it is up to them. Ultimately, job descriptions should be fun – they're PR for your brand, your moment to campaign who the company is and what you're looking for as a business.’

A version of this article was published in the Courier Weekly newsletter. For more useful stories, tips, tricks and simply good advice, sign up here.

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