Specialist vs Generalist
Episode 150 - Why having a niche is important for job hunters
Note: This Podcast is a rebroadcast of Episode 95.
What job hunters need to know about “niching down” vs. being a generalist.
In this episode, I discuss why it’s essential to find your niche and the common misconceptions about niching down we need to debunk so you can get your next job faster.
You are not alone if you think you are a generalist without a specific niche, unique industry expertise, sector expertise, or deep knowledge of a particular area. Many executives believe they are generalists, and they may even announce that on their LinkedIn profiles and resumes.
However, I want to point out that every recruiter who has been a guest on this podcast de-bunks this myth that it’s better to be a generalist than an expert. Every single one of them has encouraged you, listeners, to find your expertise and flaunt it.
I remember being in your shoes as a job hunter and thinking that I shouldn’t need to niche down. Even as I started my business, I was challenged both by my close friends and advisors to present my coaching more broadly. At first, I didn’t think that I needed to niche down my business. I felt that niching was for other people. I was wrong. Thank goodness I took the risk!
But what is a niche?
A niche is an area of interest developed from your strengths, skills, passions, and passions. It usually involves performing a job well.
It is something that comes naturally to you.
Your colleagues gravitate to you when something you are good at needs to be done well.
And it’s something that aligns well with your personality and talents.
So here are some common misconceptions about finding your niche or your expertise:
1. Niching down means limiting the jobs you can apply for
That is not true. Finding your niche isn’t about fewer job opportunities. And it’s about applying for the right opportunities.
Being super specific about the niche you serve makes you the go-to person for those people. In other words? It makes hiring you when that skills, experience, or talent is needed. Choosing you is a no-brainer.
Having a niche makes you more memorable for your network and recruiters.
2. You have to niche down to a specific group of companies or jobs
Niching isn’t about picking a random group of employers and declaring, “I only work for XYZ.” You can niche down...
by types of projects you can manage - i.e., Salesforce but was consulted for an SAP
by metrics you’ve worked - i.e., budget size, team size
by sector - i.e., higher education
by geographic location - i.e., Brazil, South America
3. You have to niche your entire resume
You can niche a particular part of your brand and experience without niching down everything about you. For example, you can manage broader operations, but it may be your expertise in CRM implementation that gets you hired. This means I will need to find others to complement my knowledge. And that’s ok. No one is self-sufficient, and this is why we work in teams.
Resources mentioned in this episode
Timestamps to guide your listening
03:16 - The importance of niching down and finding your expertise.
10:04 - Niching down means limiting the jobs you can apply for.
12:08 - You have to niche down to a specific group of companies or jobs.
19:42 - You have to niche your entire business
Transcript of this episode
Renata: Hi, everyone. I hope everyone is doing well. I'm recording this on a Sunday afternoon. It's such a beautiful day here in Melbourne, even though we're in lockdown. Whenever it's sunny and nice outside, it makes a whole lot of difference. So I'm in a happy mood. And today we're going to talk about niching down and why I think it's important to find your niche, the misconceptions about niching down we need to address. And the fact that if you do follow this advice and start becoming aware and educated about what you're good at, what your niche is, I have a feeling you will get your job faster. So we're going to talk about all of those ideas in the job hunting podcast. This is episode number 95, and I can't believe we're getting close to a hundred. I'm getting really excited about that. This is in fact, the last episode that I'll be doing on my own for the next month.
Renata: I have four interviews already recorded. They are fantastic guests and I can't wait to share those conversations with you. So if you're tired of hearing my voice, you're happy to know. There will be other voices from episodes 96 to 99. So I don't know what I'm going to do for episode 100. I am stressing a little bit about that. I want it to be special somehow. I just don't know what I'll do yet. So I'll tell you, you can follow me on Instagram, where I'll be sharing some ideas. I always share a little bit of background, what's happening in my office, what I'm doing. So you can follow me on Instagram. And if you really enjoy this podcast, you might want to also sign up for the private Facebook group that we have. It's a Facebook group just for job hunters and career enthusiasts.
Renata: So you're welcome to join. We have some of our previous guests already in there as well. And if you have any questions you can ask, I also do some live sessions every now and then inside that group that stays and remains only available for that group. So I hope you can join. There is a link to it in the episode show notes. So wherever you're listening to is usually a little information session for each of the episodes. And I tend to add some links there and make it easier for you to find me. Okay.
Renata: So niche, hmm, not many people like that. Everybody thinks that they're a generalist, right? And you are most likely not a generalist. We have spoken about this in recent episodes. I don't want you to be afraid of your niche. It's fine to be an expert in something. To have skills in a specific area. And if you think you're a generalist without a specific unique industry expertise, sector expertise, or a deep knowledge about a specific area, you're not alone. Most people come to me feeling like that. And when I look at their LinkedIn profiles, before we have a conversation, I already know that they are not a generalist and they can't tell, but I think it's very important that you are aware and you're made aware either by talking to a coach or talking to a mentor about what you're good at and how you can hit the ground running with a project or a new job or a new team.
Renata: How you can advance your career based on those things that are memorable to others, that people make you a go-to person when they need somebody for thatspecific problem that they have. Many executives believe that they are generalists. In fact, they may even announce that on their LinkedIns and resumes. But I want to point out to you that every single recruiter that has been a guest on this very podcast, debunks this myth and has encouraged you, the listeners of the job hunting podcast to find your expertise and flaunt it. I'm talking here about Geoff Morgan, Anita Zimmer, Sandy Hutchinson, who else? Zoe Allen, Geoff Slade. I will put the whole list again for you to listen to so that you know I'm not alone in saying this. Oh, Jacinta Whelan I forgot Jacinta. Donan Burr, all of these recruiters and executive search partners have said here on this podcast, that it's important for you to find your niche. Some of them call it expertise, Jacinta and Donna like to refer to it as your superpowers. So whatever you decide to call it, you still need to know what they are.
Renata: Even as I started my business, I was challenged by both myself internally and by my close friends and advisors about how I'm going to present my coaching or consultancy more broadly. So, I understand that there is this reluctance in being too specific and potentially locking yourself out of opportunities. I remember being in your shoes as a job hunter and thinking that I didn't need to niche down or I shouldn't niche down. And then being told over and over again that I needed to be more specific. And I just, you know, wouldn't. And I recently caught up with Jacinta Whelan for a coffee just before lockdown happened again. And, we were laughing about that. The fact that she once told me I had to be specific and I was really reluctant to do so. So here I am now. Learn from mistakes. And it's so important to learn from other people's mistakes, right? There's this skipping you a lot of pain and a lot of time and frustration. And I hope that we can do that a little bit of that in this episode.
Renata: But what is a niche? What it is, is an area of interest that you have developed over time. It's a combination of your strengths, the skills you've got, your passions, and it usually involves you performing a type of job, really, really well. Something that comes naturally to you. And that's probably the reason why you overlook it all the time, but pay attention to what your colleagues gravitate to you to get done. When are you the go-to person? When something needs to be done well, what is it that people come to you for? It's something that aligns well with your personality, with your talents.
Renata: And I didn't think that I needed to niche down on my business, I just said that before. I thought that niching down was for other people. And because I was starting, I should be more broad about the sort of executive coaching that I was going to offer, but I was wrong. And, some of my mentors and advisors were also wrong. Because I'm being quite successful at specializing in job hunting, and it has made such a great difference for me in how I become memorable to people, how I can collaborate with other cultures because I'm not stepping on anyone's toes. And I think that that's also a very relevant example that you can translate to your job search, right? So you can work with other employees, colleagues, professionals that are job hunting because you're not directly competing with anyone.
Renata: I remember when we were running the Job Hunting Made Simple program back in February, we had a couple of CFOs doing the program, which was surprising to me. I didn't expect C-level executives to sign up for the group coaching. And I was delighted that they did because they were really helping me reinforce some of the ideas, having employed people themselves, but they were very specific in their expertise. And they were really not competing with each other, even though they were going for senior finance roles and applying for those. They were applying for very different roles. One was very ASX listed type CFO, and the other was more of the not-for-profit smaller organizations. So if you identify what your expertise is, you will be able to collaborate more with others because they could be telling each other about roles. Look, I just saw something that doesn't suit me, but it may suit you, right?
Renata: So this is really important. Look how I collaborate well with Michelle Redfern and Susan Colantuono, and other coaches and experts that I have interviewed for this podcast. We're not stepping on each other's toes, we're collaborating and we're sharing intelligence. I refer clients to them. They refer clients to me because we have our own expertise. So here are some common misconceptions that you may find about niching down and about having very specific expertise that I want to talk to you about. So the first misconception is that niching down means limiting your job opportunities. The jobs that you can apply for. This is not true. Finding your niche isn't about fewer job opportunities.
Renata: It is about applying for the right opportunities for you, okay. Being as specific about what you're good at and about what sort of organizations or jobs you serve well, makes you the go-to person for those jobs. It makes it easier for others to understand why you're a good fit for that role. It makes you more memorable for your network and recruiters to remember you for those jobs that are not advertised or those opportunities that are just coming up. We've spoken about this in the previous episode where I explain how recruitment and selection works, right? You want to be that go-to person that when opportunities are being discussed internally in an organization, it has not even reach the market. They will say, wow. I think, you know, Mary or John or Cassie, or Tom will be great for this opportunity. And do you want me to get in touch with them? Would you like to see them?
Renata: And that's when it's important for you to be known for a specific expertise. So think about that. It makes you more memorable for your network and recruiters to be that go-to person. So that's the first myth. It doesn't mean limiting your jobs. It means that the right opportunities will find you and you will be applying for the right opportunities as well, and not spending your time with opportunities that are not suited for your expertise. The second misconception is that you have to niche down to a specific group of companies or specific types of jobs. There are several different ways of niching down and becoming an expert in something. And I'll give you a few examples now of how I've done that in my career.
Renata: So for example, I have been quite good at implementing CRM solutions for organizations. I've done this a few times in the past, and I'm good at it. I just don't know why I became good at it. I became well known for being good at it. The last one I did was Salesforce. I really enjoyed working with Salesforce. I went to Dreamforce, which now seems like a dream. I don't even know how they're running it these days. I'm assuming it's all online. But when I was consulting before the pandemic, I was contacted by an organization that wanted me to implement SAP. Have I implemented SAP before? No. But my expertise in being very good at enterprise-wide system implementation meant that they could draw the dot points, you know, draw a line from, okay, she's been good at CRM. She's been good at Salesforce.
Renata: There's a component of Salesforce that includes SAP as well. For many organizations, it would have to work together, right? And this organization said, can you come in and talk to us? We're struggling with this part of SAP. We want to see if you can help. So don't worry about reducing your opportunities. The other thing that I think is important is for example, you can niche down by budget size or team size. And I remember when I left my CEO position because I had been the CEO of a small organization. I felt quite uncomfortable at times, explaining or pitching myself as a CEO because I thought this is such a small organization. I think I'd rather say it differently. I’d rather say that I'm a business development executive, for example. And people like Jacinta Whelan would say, no, you are the CEO.
Renata: You were the CEO of a not-for-profit organization, and there will be other organizations just like that, that need somebody like you. And in fact, she was right. I had many opportunities come to me because of that role. So don't be put off by the fact that it was a smaller type of organization, a smaller team. There are several organizations like that, and you can then jump from one organization to another. In fact, if I wanted to manage another not-for-profit, I think that would possibly be the best easiest path for me to find another organization that had that size and scope or that network of stakeholders, for example. And, I think I misunderstood that for too long, and I don't want any of my clients to do the same. And in fact, none of my listeners here as well. The other way to niche down that has helped me personally in the past was to niche down in terms of higher education.
Renata: I started my career back in Brazil over 20 years ago by being an educational agent, representing lots of universities in Brazil, and sending students from Brazil overseas to do MBAs and post-graduate studies. That then got me my first job in Australia. It got me even my CEO role because it was involving a higher education as well. And identifying those Ivy league universities, the right opportunities for the right scholars. When I was the CEO of the John Mohnish foundation, I worked in higher education here in Australia, in and out of higher education. Even when I was not in higher education, it was the fact that I knew so much about academia, about research, about research and development and innovation that got me the jobs outside of that sector. So it's really amazing. In fact, last year during the pandemic, I started coaching a hundred percent of the time.
Renata: I just focus so much on coaching. I really wanted to help everybody that was losing their jobs right at the beginning of the pandemic. But the only consulting job that I did was - you guessed it. Higher education-related. So I worked a little bit with Austrade here in Australia. They needed help with their international education campaign and communication strategy. And that was because of the work I did as an agent back in the nineties. So, you know, it's really amazing that if people know you for something and they know that you've done it well, they will remember you. And, you know, you can't really forget that it's really important that you know, what your top talent is. You can also niche down by geographic location. I have found that many of my clients forget to mention the specific talent that they may have.
Renata: They may have had great roles in Southeast Asia, managing clients there, or supply chains. Sometimes they may have also managed this sort of international operations for organizations based here. And they can do that again in a different geographic location because they've done it before. So it's really about identifying that. For me, it's South America. Everywhere that I have worked, I am the go-to person for anything to do with South America. So my first job here in Australia, it was really helping the faculty of commerce at Melbourne uni to attract students from South America. When I was at the Institute of chartered accountants, I was the only one that spoke Portuguese. And for a time we had some sort of partnership with East Timor. And you guessed it, I was the only one that spoke Portuguese. And many times for my organizations, I was the one that would go to Canberra for conversations with DFAD, because I was, you know, somebody that could represent South America. So it's not huge, it's super niche for Australia. But it has given me such great opportunities. I've met every single ambassador going to Brazil or Brazilian ambassadors here. Many of the South American ambassadors is as well. I've been invited by global Victoria to attend some events here because of that as well.
Renata: So, you know, you never know. You just have to let people know where are you from or where you worked and let them figure it out. But make sure that you know all of those different interesting things about your career that may attract opportunities for you. And the final misconception that I want to tell you is that you don't have to niche down your entire resume. That's not the purpose of identifying those expertise within your experience and your background.
Renata: You can be an operations manager or a project manager. More broadly, managing a much bigger scope, that's what happens when you advance in your career anyway. But people knowing what your expertise is, means that they will allocate some of that to your responsibilities and then find other people to compliment you. And that is also important when you're hiring to make sure that they have that diversity within a team, that they know where those responsibilities lie.
Renata: And I think this is really an interesting take. So for example, when I say that I'm good at CRM implementation, I may not be good at several other things. And then I would have to either hire people to help me out with gaps so that I could fulfill my operational role, or I would have to find colleagues that would compliment me and make sure that we were working well together so that we could implement that CRM. And do everything else that needed to be done to run the business. So I hope that these ideas and examples will make a difference in how you see your expertise and how you pull those little jams out of your resume and bring them up to the front of your about section on LinkedIn at the top of your resume in your summary.
Renata: I think making sure that you were aware of how it can be done and the importance of it makes a difference in your job search. And of course, if you need help with that, I'm here for you. You can book a consultation with me. A lot of people, book consultations with me to do just that. And that's of course a big, big part of my coaching routine and my framework with my clients. Either at the Job Hunting Made Simple program, which is the group coaching that I run, or with my private clients. So if you want to learn more about how I help people with their jobs and their careers, go to my website, https://www.renatabernarde.com and see if there's anything there that you like and want to talk to me about, and you can get in touch with me. Of course.
Renata: Yes. So that's my final solo episode for a long time, I think. I can't wait to do more interviews. I've been meaning to do that forever. I just needed a little bit of time to organize it with lots of people that are very busy. And as I said before, we have four interviews coming up and I can't wait to share them with you. So keep listening to the job hunting podcast. If you enjoy this episode, give it a five-star review wherever you found this, and I'll see you next time. Bye.
About the Host
Hello, I’m Renata Bernarde, the Host of The Job Hunting Podcast. I’m also an executive coach, job hunting expert, and career strategist. I teach professionals (corporate, non-profit, and public) the steps and frameworks to help them find great jobs, change, and advance their careers with confidence and less stress.
If you are an ambitious professional who is keen to develop a robust career plan, if you are looking to find your next job or promotion, or if you want to keep a finger on the pulse of the job market so that when you are ready, and an opportunity arises, you can hit the ground running, then this podcast is for you.
In addition to The Job Hunting Podcast, on my website, I have developed a range of courses and services for professionals in career or job transition. And, of course, I also coach private clients.
Contact Renata Bernarde
I’m determined to help you! I want you to feel empowered, nail your next job, and have the career you want.
My free resources for job hunters: The Optimized Job Search: Weekly Schedule & Masterclass.
Learn more about my services, courses, and group coaching: RenataBernarde.com