One day, every business analyst (BA) arrives at a crossroads. One path is led by generalists, the other led by specialists. And you may find yourself wondering… which one do I want to follow?
You must first understand the difference.
Generalists offer their services to a number of industries. They’re not defined or confined to just one. Specialists, on the other hand, focus on a specific industry and rarely work outside of it.
Is one better than the other? Yes and no.
The Art of Specializing
Many people choose a niche. Why? Because big-time earners often boast about the power of specializing. It’s typically favored over-generalizing for several reasons. As a specialist, you can…
- Command higher rates
- Become the “go-to” person in your niche
- Pick and choose your clientele
- Master a set of skills or tooling
Think about it like this: You just learned that if you don’t have open heart surgery in the next 24 hours, you’re going to die. But the surgery only has a 60% chance of survival. Who is going to perform your surgery?
You could choose a doctor who dabbles in a bit of everything. He’s definitely seen a heart once or twice. Or you could choose a highly trained heart surgeon who has been saving people’s lives by performing complicated but successful open-heart surgeries for decades.
Obviously, you’re going to go with that expert surgeon over the doctor who does a bit of everything. Specializing is powerful like that. You want someone who has previous, successful and specific experience. You’ll trust that person because they understand the intricacies of the topic.
It’s the same for business analysts. But they don’t have to specialize by industry only. It’s just one of the easiest ways. For example, if you have extensive experience in information technology, it makes sense to work with IT companies. Or you can also specialize by tooling. BAs select a specific tool or set of techniques to become well-versed in. Or you could niche more thoroughly by picking an industry and a technique. It’s really up to you.
But, none of this is to say that becoming a generalist isn’t worth your time. Many BAs are generalists who offer a range of methodologies to many industries. But why?
The Truth About Generalizing
Business analysts who fall into the generalist category deploy their knowledge to a variety of clients. Many BAs begin their career as a generalist, and while some move into specializing after gaining experience, others remain as is.
For some, this just works better for them. Not only because they enjoy working with a large range of clients, but also because job roles exist at all levels for generalists. Salary-wise, generalists also bring in a respectable amount, so long as their skill set is continuously expanded.
But truthfully, many generalists become hybrid BAs. Hybrids combine both generalist and specialist skills. It’s essentially the best of both worlds.
The Talents of A Hybrid Business Analyst
A hybrid BA deploys their techniques combined with specific knowledge. For example, you could focus primarily on project management and transfer your communication and various other skills to each job. And you can still work with a variety of clients.
One of the most exciting things about being a business analyst is that the role is flexible. You could decide to specialize next week, followed by falling into the generalist category the following month. It’s completely up to you.
You don’t have to limit your expertise by labeling yourself. But for many people, clearly identifying their roles (and expectations) is the best option for their career.