Are you a generalist or a specialist?

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Erin Delaney, Content Director at GradAustralia
Erin Delaney
Team GradAustralia
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Some grads know what they want to specialise in from an early age, and dedicate their entire working lives to mastery of a particular skill. For others, they slowly refine their specialisation focus through experience.
Some, like Angus Pfahl, are generalists: people who want to develop a variety of commercial skills that enable them to pursue multiple opportunities throughout their career.

What is a generalist?

Generalists are drawn to management consulting for broader experience. Having a diverse client base across multiple industries & geographies. Partners in Performance (PIP) allows graduates to jump in head first from the outset: meeting with clients and getting hands-on at their sites, both in Australia and abroad.

Angus started out specialising in finance, only to realise he was… well, bored.

“I was doing an internship in finance, and I got a little bit scared off. I was running the same financial models day after day,” he says.

“I started to look around elsewhere, and had a family friend who worked at PIP.”

“She told me about her time working at PIP: she had worked in four different industries and six different locations over the past 12 weeks, and no two days were the same.”

“It was working beyond just running a model - you were working with people.”

How do generalists at PIP approach a project?

Angus was convinced, and applied for the role the following day. He was sent to another country on assignment soon after he started.

“I had been at PIP about four months, and was sent to Papua New Guinea (PNG). We were there to figure out how an oil producer could increase their output.”

Typically, PIP operate in lean teams and this was no different; the team consisted of two highly experienced senior staff… and Angus.

“We had to go in and look at the entire production chain, and decide if there was something we could do to help increase the production.” He explained how the team examined every part of the supply chain to uncover where the weakest link was.

“It was a matter of going in, and analysing the different links – I was responsible for analysing the capacity of the first link. I had to drive around with one of the operators to the well heads – a lot of fun in the PNG countryside – and work out what was going wrong.”

“It might be that one well head goes down, and the team doesn’t see it because there are too few operators. If the operator doesn’t see it for half a day, that’s six hours of time and money wasted.”

Angus told me one of the factors they later discovered was within the factory, where a faulty piece of equipment was regularly failing. From there, it was a case of figuring out what they could do to improve the situation – maintenance or operations – and how to best implement the plan.

“It’s really hands-on. It’s a case of working out what’s going wrong, and asking how we can bring something to the table to improve it.”

How does a generalist add value?

If a specialist looked at that situation, they might not be able to think as outside the box as Angus and his team were able to – looking for one particular problem can sometimes prevent you from seeing the bigger picture.

At PIP, the nature of the company means graduates are expected to take on a wider variety of projects and learn more varied skills over the course of the two-year graduate scheme. So, while at some firms you might be expected to come up with a solution, at PIP you also oversee and orchestrate the solution’s implementation.

The company makes its best recommendation, delivers the plan, then actually stands side-by-side with the client to make sure it’s implemented effectively.

“It’s not a matter of having a great idea and walking away. It’s producing it, and helping them to work through it.”

For a finance graduate, a management consulting firm like PIP is worlds apart from most other firms, and extremely different to what Angus experienced in his internship.

“I know a lot of my friends in the law game are working to produce stuff for a boss which will then be used with the client – whereas we get to work directly with the client. It’s learning by doing,” Angus says.

If you want to get out of the office and into the exciting world of management consulting, with all its varied projects and experiences on offer, then apply now. You could find yourself in a whole new place - literally.