Recruiter: Generalist vs Specialist

By Alyssa Laffitte on February 21, 2020

One of the most important jobs in a company is the job of a recruiter. Your company’s recruiter plays a big part in creating a team that works for you. They need to go out and attract potential employees to your company and determine if they will be a good fit for you. They are responsible for bringing in competent, hard-working people who can do what you need them to do. The job of a recruiter is no easy one! For that reason, in this article, we will discuss two different types of recruiters: a generalist or a specialist, and we will discuss why you should hire one or the other. Hiring a recruiter is an important decision because as I have said, they will help you build your team. But first… 

Image via Isorepublic.com

What is the difference between a generalist and a specialist recruiter?

First, let’s discuss the similarities and differences between a generalist and a specialist recruiter. Once you know what they are, you can better decide what kind of recruiter you need to hire. Of course, they are similar in that both of them are aiming to hire the best person for the job. They must know how to not only read a resume but “read” a person through an interview. Although they are similar in that sense, they are also very different.

A generalist recruiter aims to recruit for various positions. They might even recruit across different industries! They have strong knowledge on how to recruit and how to integrate people with a team. They can work with many applicants. On the other hand, a specialist only recruits within their niche area. Specialist recruiters often recruit for higher-level jobs, or jobs that require a certain skill set. They might have even spent some time working in the field they are recruiting for.

Clearly, generalist and specialist recruiters may focus on different areas of recruiting for jobs, they have the same goal of hiring only the best candidates for the job.

What are the pros of hiring a generalist recruiter?

There are many advantages to hiring a generalist recruiter. First, a generalist recruiter can recruit for positions across multiple wings of your company. If you are a big company, this could be useful because the generalist recruiter could recruit someone for your IT department and your graphic design department. If you have a big company that needs to recruit for a wide range of departments, you should consider hiring a generalist recruiter.

Second, a generalist recruiter can be adaptable. As your company grows and changes, your company’s needs and employees will need to grow and change with it.

Finally, being a “generalist” does not mean these recruiters don’t understand the fields they are recruiting for. Rather, it does mean that they know how to recruit people, even for fields in which they are not experts. After all, recruiting skills are the same, no matter what the field. A good recruiter can recruit for jobs in any field. They know where to look for good potential employees, and how to choose employees who will not only do good work but who will also be a good fit for the company and department. In fact, many generalist recruiters say they specialize not in a field, but in their clients. They know the company they are working for, and they have a good picture of the type of person they want to hire. They are specialists in their clients! In other words, a good recruiter will bring in the right people, whether they are experts in the field they are recruiting for or not.

In short, the pros of hiring a generalist recruiter are:

  • A generalist recruiter can bring in employees for many different fields, which is ideal if you have a big company with many different departments.
  • The main focus of a generalist recruiter is on recruiting techniques, so they will know HOW to recruit, even if they don’t understand the technical ins and outs of the job they are recruiting for.
  • A generalist recruiter has the skills to be able to adapt to the changing needs of a growing company. If your company is expanding or quickly changing, it would be a good idea to hire a generalist recruiter.
  • A generalist recruiter will become a “specialist” in your company. Over time, they will learn how to meet your company’s needs.

What are the cons of hiring a generalist recruiter?

Although generalist recruiters are excellent, and we have already established that they are indeed specialists in their clients, there are still some cons of hiring a generalist recruiter. To start, a generalist recruiter may not be the best person to recruit for a job that requires special, technical skills. For example, a software development company might benefit from having a recruiter that understands some of the technical parts of software development. This background knowledge will help the recruiter hire the best person for the job. (Of course, this doesn’t mean a generalist recruiter can’t read a few articles and learn more about the field! It’s definitely not a reason to completely write off a generalist recruiter.)

Another con to hiring a generalist recruiter is that they might not be able to speak to recruits with technical knowledge about the field. Without knowing much of the field’s jargon, a generalist recruiter could make the well known “Java/JavaScript” error (a nickname given to the kind of error people make when they confuse two words that sound the same but mean different things because they aren’t familiar with the field). This error will make the company sound bad to the applicant, and thus, turn the applicant away from the company. A generalist recruiter might not be able to understand all the skills that are necessary for the job, so they might not be able to pick the absolute best person for the job. Also, because of this, they might not be able to answer some questions recruits might have about the job.

All in all, the cons of hiring a generalist recruiter are:

  • A generalist recruiter might not be the optimal person to recruit for a job that requires many technical skills, or a “higher-up” job since they probably do not inside knowledge of these skills. (However, they could definitely pick up a lot of knowledge along the way if you give them a chance.)
  • A generalist recruiter will not be able to speak about the technical details of a position. Without knowing the details, they could make a mistake involving technical language and words that sound similar (“Java vs JavaScript”).

What are the pros of hiring a specialist recruiter?

A specialist recruiter likely has a background in the field they are recruiting for. They might even have a degree (and maybe some work experience) in that field rather than in job recruiting. This means they know people who will be a good fit for the job, whether it is an old classmate, labmate, or co-worker. Some fields are small, and many people know each other. They will also know where to find these candidates. They will know about the events (such as conferences) that potential employees go to. They know the websites where potential employees are likely to see your company’s job posting. Clearly, a good reason to hire a specialist recruiter is that they will know where to find the right people for the job.

Similarly, because of a specialist recruiter’s knowledge of the field, they will be able to speak to a potential employee in a way that they will understand. They will be able to understand the technical language mentioned not only in the job description, but in the resumes they see, and they can compare them. This will ensure that the person they hire will have all the necessary skills needed for the job.

Additionally, you won’t catch a specialist recruiter making the “Java vs JavaScript” error, since they will definitely know the difference. This will make the company look good to the applicants. A specialist recruiter will also know how to “play up” the company to make it more attractive to the applicants. They know what these applicants want and need in a job; they will be able to help meet these wants and needs. Because of their experience, they will be able to find and identify candidates that have the skills for the job, and to convince them to take the job. When applicants talk to a specialist recruiter, they will feel like they are talking to someone who “speaks their language”, rather than someone who only does recruiting.

Clearly, hiring a specialist recruiter has its advantages. Here are some of them:

  • A specialist recruiter will know where to look for potential applicants, and how to identify which ones would be a good fit for the job.
  • A specialist recruiter will be able to communicate with applicants using language they will understand, and could possibly help make the company more attractive to the applicant.
  • A specialist recruiter can ensure that the person who is eventually hired has the skills needed for the job.

What are the cons of hiring a specialist recruiter?

Another reason to not hire a specialist recruiter is that they are generally limited to only one department or field of specialization. They will likely only work with a smaller pool of applicants for each job they recruit for. For instance, if one of your company’s departments is overloaded with recruits, a specialist recruiter might not be able to help them because it’s outside the scope of their specialty. For this reason, if you choose to hire a specialist recruiter, you might need to hire one for each department.

Similarly, if your company suddenly goes in a new direction or makes some major changes, your specialist recruiter might not be the best person to recruit anymore. The recruiting staff might not be able to adapt to a growing, changing company.

In summary, here are the cons of hiring a specialist recruiter:

  • A specialist recruiter is likely limited to only one field or department. If your company has multiple departments, a specialist recruiter might not be the best choice for you.
  • A specialist recruiter might not have the skills to adapt to a quickly growing and changing company.

Image via Isorepublic.com

The verdict: what type of recruiter should you hire?

So, what type of recruiter should you hire: a generalist or a specialist? The answer depends on the needs of your company. A generalist recruiter might be better for one company, while a specialist recruiter might be better for a different company.

A generalist recruiter might be better for your company if you have a large, dynamic, growing company with multiple departments. With this type of company, you will need a recruiter who can bring in people for different fields. For example, they will be able to recruit people for the advertising department as well as the research and development department. Similarly, a generalist recruiter will be able to adapt to your company as it grows and changes. This person will become an expert not in any specific field, but in your specific company. If your company matches that description, you might want to hire a generalist recruiter.

On the other hand, a specialist recruiter might be better for your company if it’s small or medium size, highly technical, and highly focused. In this case, a specialist recruiter will be able to understand what your company does and will be able to find the right people to work with you. They will ensure that your new employees not only have the skills to work in your company but that those new employees will also be a good fit for your company.

Clearly, both generalist recruiters and specialist recruiters have their strengths and weaknesses. You should hire whichever one best meets the needs of your company. As I said at the beginning of this article, your recruiter is the person who will help you build your team, so it is important to hire the right one.

By Alyssa Laffitte

Uloop Writer
University of Miami
23, ISFJ. Biology student. College lifestyle blogger. Avid reader and writer. Dog lover. Nerd. Boyband enthusiast. Superhero in training. Here to help you become the best you can be!

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