There is plenty of data out there about how important making the correct hiring decision is for growing your business. When it comes to hiring a marketing team member, this is amplified because you expect this person to have a direct impact on business revenue and growth. But the question on many hiring managers’ minds is, “Should I hire a generalist or specialist?”

The reality is that the demand to hire a marketing team member is usually driven by either identifying a gap (lost opportunity, need for data, resource deficiency) or the expanding of your business (new product, new vertical, new strategy). As a result, many marketing and business leaders see this new role as a way to meet an immediate need.

This seems to point to the easy answer of hiring a specialist to close the specific gap or meet the current need. We see roles in areas like Marketing Operations and Digital Marketing rising to the top because companies are relying more on technology, analytics and digital sales/customer acquisition to grow their businesses today.

As I read on a LinkedIn post recently, “Marketers need to be able to execute in the area that means the most to the business.”

With this in mind, it makes sense that you should then hire a specialist to execute in the area that you need.

But let’s not give up on our generalists just yet.

Businesses Can Change Quickly

As we saw with COVID-19, the area that means the most to a business can change overnight. Your rock star specialist quickly becomes expendable at no fault of their own.

What we saw happen during this time was that companies, that were forced to layoff or furlough employees, kept their generalists because they could cover more marketing needs.

The misconception with generalists is that they are less experienced than a specialist in a given area. However, realistically, generalists have gained their titles through ownership and skill in multiple areas. They have not only been part of the execution, but their generalist roles have fostered an understanding of how to connect marketing areas for the greatest results.

Not only are these generalists able to pivot when priorities shift, they are also well positioned to become your future leaders, making the leap from tactical executioners to visionary strategists. This is not to say that your specialist cannot be strategic. What is important in a strategic leader is that they both know how to align execution with objectives to drive results and they can move the marketing levers and knobs of these tactics to shift and optimize outcomes when necessary. It may be easier for a generalist to make this transition because of the variety of their experiences.

Hire Based on Strategy

This leads us to the somewhat frustrating conclusion: your strategy should drive whether you should hire a specialist or a generalist. There are corporate strategies that demand specialists to scale specific segments of their strategy. For example, many companies hire event specialists to run in-person and virtual events. As the number of events that you host or participate in grows, so might the need to hire a specialist.

However, companies hiring on tactical need alone are simply casting a wide net and hoping to catch some business in it. In other words, the breadth of their marketing tactics is a reflection of an inability to know what is really working. Unfortunately, hiring a specialist or generalist in these situations will keep a person busy, but not position them to help your company or grow as professionals.

As a marketing director, I made this mistake by hiring a person to fill a specific need, but then asking them to be proficient in other areas. The result was frustration on both parts and a lack of results for our company.

To determine the direction that your company should take, start by answering these questions:

  1. What will success look like in this role?
  2. How will this role contribute to our strategy today?
  3. If we change strategies, will there still be a place for this role?
  4. What do I want for this role in 12 months, 18 months, 24 months…?

While you are hiring today to fill an immediate need, you are also helping shape the future for this team member and your company.