You have to specialize. Not right away, but figure out how to own some sort of niche. It is the key to your freedom. A specialist in a large company can demand flexibility, but a specialist also has an ability to leave corporate life and succeed on her own, which is something generalists can’t easily do.
There is good research to show that you will have an easier time staying employed if you specialize. This research comes, in part, from Hollywood, where people say they don’t want to be typecast, but the reality is that being typecast is a great way to get steady work.
In the corporate world, headhunters always have a job description they are trying to fill exactly. If you are a square peg, you can go in a square hole. If you do not define exactly what kind of peg you are, a recruiter can’t put you in a hole: No calls from headhunters.
But most people who are strategizing their career right now are not thinking long-term employment, they are thinking entrepreneurship. (Industry pundit Paul Saffo said in the EETimes, “I think the unintended consequence of the dot-com bust is that we have created the largest generation of entrepreneurs this country has ever seen.”)
For this generation, specialization is key to getting OUT of corporate life and into a more flexible work situation. You can’t market yourself to clients if you don’t offer any specific, unique service. And you can’t start your own company by selling to everyone all at once. Specialization is what will make you stand out enough to make it on your own.
When you are wondering why anyone would go work for a big company, the answer is to learn a specialty. Think of corporate life as an apprenticeship so that you can start your own company. Big companies are crawling with mentors and training programs that will help you narrow your focus effectively.
If you’re looking for a road map, there’s a nice story this week about how Christopher Burge became a specialist in running snooty auctions.
And when you get a little further down the specializing road, check out the book Slightly Famous, which, of course, has a web site in an effort to dominate the how-to-be-slightly-famous niche.