Breadth or Depth Value

Quick Summary: Does the candidate and the company want subject matter expertise or general knowledge?


Many individuals develop in-depth knowledge in a particular area and then seek to find a new position can leverage that knowledge with a company that is willing to pay for it.  Alternatively, some individuals seek a new position that represents a step-up in responsibility that does not solely leverage their past experience.  Companies often are looking for a candidate that will fill an existing position and want to find a candidate with a proven track record in that particular area.  Understanding the fundamental goals is an important task that both the candidate and the company need to consider.

An obvious but seldom openly discussed factor that should be explored in the hiring process is the fundamental motivation by both parties and what that means for both now and in the future.  Is the company focused on the candidate’s breath or depth of knowledge for the particular position?  It is easy to fall back to the “We want both” answer to the question.  The candidate should ask a similar question, “Do I offer breath or depth of experience and what do I want to leverage?”.  An old, tongue in cheek joke frames this issue:  An engineer learns more and more about less and less until they know everything about nothing.  A sales rep keeps learning less and less about more and more until they know nothing about everything.  A product manager, because of their close working relationships with engineering and sales, keeps learning less and less about less and less until they nothing about nothing!  This joke is equally offensive to everyone but has some truth to it.

It is not uncommon for a company seeking a person to fill an immediate vacancy or void in the organization and quickly get up to speed to continue to help in the flow of business.  A candidate, on the other hand, may be attracted to the opportunity as a step-up in their career path, leaving their expertise behind and expanding their role.  They may want to manage others who are doing what they used to do.

Some examples of the breadth versus depth issues are: A company wants to hire a new Accounting Manager with a very deep understanding of generally accepted accounting principles (GAAP).  While a company hiring a CFO wants someone well-versed in all aspects of the overall finances of the business. Or a company hiring a Manufacturing Manager wants someone with an intimate knowledge of processes and workflow as opposed to a Chief Operating Officer than must have a general knowledge of all aspects of the business.

The depth versus breath issue most often arises when an individual is applying for a “step-up” position.  They may have established an outstanding track record based upon their depth of knowledge of one area while the new position requires a far broader-based knowledge of multiple areas.  The reverse situation can also be true, past success based on broad knowledge may not be helpful if the new position requires in-depth knowledge of one area.  A final example further illustrates this point.  Not many outstanding athletes become outstanding coaches.  To excel in either area requires unique skills that may not translate to the other roll.

Both the company and candidate must first determine what they want now and, in the future, and then openly discuss their expectations with each other.

Article Number : 9.020102   

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