We’ve discussed the benefits of going niche with your skills and why it can instantly make you more hireable. We also want to point out it takes more than cultivating an individual skill to make your career last. Very few companies are looking for a general Graphic Designer anymore — they’re looking for those with specialized skills in certain areas, like UX Designers, Packaging Designers, and Social Media Designers. But, as we all know, the job is never just about your one individual skill. While it looks like they want a specialist on paper, they really want a Specialized Generalist.
Specialized Generalists, AKA T-shaped Creatives, are those with the ability to work cross-functionally (the horizontal line in the “T”) coupled with the deep ability to speak for and work within their individual specialty (the vertical line in the “T”). Full-timers and freelancers alike will want to devote some time into becoming a Specialized Generalist in their trade. What does this look like in practice? We’ll break it down for you:
A Well-Developed Specialized Skill
Very likely, this is already a trait you’ve got in the bag. You either went to school for your trade or have spent many years honing your craft enough to become a professional in your field. You’ve learned the software and keep up to date on all the latest trends. While a specialized skill might have been the sole criterion for hiring someone in the past, it doesn't set you apart and it certainly doesn't get you promoted. Specialized skills are always in demand, but if it’s all you bring to the table, you are only activating the “I” part of your talent. No one, not even freelancers, should cultivate working in a bubble, and so your specialized skill needs to be rounded out with more soft, interpersonal skills in order to ensure a long-lasting career.
Those with varied experiences within their discipline are extra helpful in the workplace. This may look like a UX Designer who moonlights as an illustrator or was one in a past work life. Although their current position requires them to focus on UX design, they are also able to speak to what a cohesive icon library would look like or how long it could take an illustrator to create one. In other words, you’re able to offer experiential benefits in addition to working on your craft. But this is where we make a VERY important point. Being a T-shaped employee definitely does not mean doing multiple jobs for your company (because that would just be a no-no for your health, boundaries, and would require a salary negotiation). But the company respects that you have this experience and can lean on you for guidance in hiring the right person or working alongside a professional illustrator. Which brings us to our next point…
Devotion to Collaboration
Collaborative interest in working with others (also loving and respecting how other people do what they do well). This is not about the “doing” so much as it is about the knowledge you have to contribute from your varied, multifaceted career. You are worth more than your individual trade—use your knowledge to benefit your team and become a strong collaborator. Instead of shooting down others’ ideas, you know how to be nimble, bounce ideas off of one another, and grow the team’s ideas into incredible outcomes.
Like we said, almost no one is asking for a traditional Graphic Designer anymore because it’s kind of a given that you already have the hard skills as a creator. Employers want to know that you’ve worked in many different scenarios and have learned which of your hard and soft skills are needed in individual situations. For example, in your interview, you don’t simply talk about the outcomes, but you discuss the challenges and what you learned while working on a never-before-tackled project with others. It comes down to knowing your strengths and using them. The next feature comes down to knowing others’ strengths and knowing how to work with them.
Simply-put empathetic coworkers make work situations a dream—and every company is looking to hire them. Specialized Generalists recognize their own strengths but know that they have to recognize and rely on others’ skills to get the best possible outcome of a project. This takes a special kind of active listening, where members of the team aren’t reacting with their own competitive ideas, but instead understanding and integrating others’ ideas and skills into the project. Empathy goes beyond projects, too. Leading with empathy can help diffuse the most difficult workplace situations and refocus everyone on what truly matters in the moment: human beings just trying to do the best they can.
Plot twist: Given the collaborative and competitive nature of work these days, you probably already are a T-shaped creative. If you’re having trouble getting hired, think about strengthening some of the above traits. In interviews, do you only talk about yourself? Work on your empathy. While on the job, do you disregard others’ brainstorming ideas and revert to your own? Work on your collaborative skills and start saying “yes” to teamwork.
There are many ways to improve on these skills to get yourself hired. Side note, the team of recruiters here at Artisan is happy to help. Whether you need a second pair of eyes on your portfolio or want to get connected to companies, we’re ready to jump in and find the best fit for you.