Selling your Degree

Selling Your Liberal Arts Degree to Employers
URL: http://www.indiana.edu/~career/fulltime/selling_liberal_arts.html
 

 

The hallmark of a liberal arts education is the preparation it gives you for lifelong learning. While technical skills may become obsolete over time, skills gained through liberal arts coursework will not. Almost every profession requires you to communicate, write, solve problems, adapt to new situations, analyze information, and interact with a wide variety of people. These are skills gleaned through your liberal arts education and are of great value to any employer. Refer to the list of famous individuals at the end of this page for an idea of the potential you have with your liberal arts degree.

 

"In college I was a double major in Italian and Classical Studies. I liked all of my classes and had a great academic experience, but did not know for what jobs I was qualified. Because I did not want to follow the traditional paths of teaching or attending graduate school, I started interviewing for any position that sounded interesting to me. Those jobs were in the fields of marketing, government, sales, and management. In the course of the interviews, several top executives told me that they actively recruit liberal arts students because of their abilities to learn and communicate. I had a successful interviewing experience and accepted an exciting marketing position. This career offers professional challenges and gives me the opportunity to work with many different people in a family-oriented environment. From my experience, a person with a liberal arts degree can really do anything!"

Shannon White, 1998 Graduate
Italian and Classical Studies double major
Marketing Department, Steak 'n Shake, Inc.

 

What Employers Think of Liberal Arts Graduates

Employers seek workers who adapt well to change, communicate effectively, use critical and analytical thinking techniques to solve complex problems, and interact constructively with others in the workplace.

Paul Dominski, Manager of College Relations and Store Recruiter for The May Department Stores Company, states:

"We look for people who can think critically and analytically. If you can do those things, we can teach you our business." He emphasizes that the breadth and depth of a liberal education allows new hires to benefit the organization immediately.

Chanel Jackson, Division Recruiting Coordinator with IDS Financial Services, adds that as a liberal arts major,

"you possess skills that are transferable to a variety of fields" and underscores that the key to success is having "confidence in your degree" (LaMarco and Taylor, 1994).

In his autobiography, Lee Iacocca says,

"In addition to all the engineering and business courses, I also studied four years of psychology. ...I'm not being facetious when I say that these psychology courses were probably the most valuable courses of my college career....I've applied more of these courses when dealing with the 'nuts' I've met in the corporate world than all the engineering courses in dealing with the nuts (and bolts) of automobiles" (Iacocca with Novak, 1985).

The skills most valued by employers are best summed up in a 1996 survey funded by AT&T Foundation. These employers believe that a broad-based education produces students of strong character with generalized intellectual and social skills and a capacity for lifelong learning. Business leaders pointed out that students with a broad liberal arts background are often better able to see things in a new light and make sense of ideas in different contexts. Such students excel at problem solving, critical thinking, and "learning to learn." They are also better able to communicate in a clear, coherent manner and work cooperatively with diverse individuals in a variety of settings (Hersh, 1997). As you can see, a liberal arts education has widespread respect from a variety of employers. But simply having a liberal arts degree is not enough to land you a job. You must convince employers that you have the knowledge, skills, and experience typical of liberal arts graduates that will benefit their organizations.

 

"More and more companies, including specialized ones, are willing to invest in extensive training to snag bright employees with strong communication, analytical, and interpersonal skills, but not necessarily specialized technical skills."

 

(Kadaba, 1997)

Marketable Skills of the Liberal Arts Student

It is impossible to make a list of all the knowledge you have acquired, skills you have learned, and abilities you have mastered as a liberal arts student. Clearly your ability to research, write, and discuss important topics and issues in your field has been greatly enhanced throughout your college experience.

You have read about, thought about, and discussed at length important issues concerning today's world. This is what a liberal arts education is all about: being well-versed in multiple subject matters and having the ability to gain competency in a wide variety of jobs.

Having a broad range of skills and experiences, not just training in one specific skill, places you at an advantage as a liberal arts student.

What specific skills have you learned that may be marketable to potential employers? Only you know the answer to this question. However, this section details some examples of skills most liberal arts students have acquired through their college experience, both inside and outside the classroom. These five transferable skills, although chosen because of their broad appeal and relevance to a large number of liberal arts graduates, are only a beginning.

Transferable skills are abilities that can be applied to many different job situations and transferred from your collegiate experience to your work experience. Although liberal arts students will have the tools necessary to acquire transferable skills, there is no "recipe" for how to gain them. Everyone has different experiences and ways in which he or she learns and obtains these skills. Think about how your experiences plug into these skills and how you can use them to market yourself through resumes, cover letters, and interviews.

Ability to Communicate
No single skill is cited more often by employers as being important than the ability to communicate effectively in oral and written form. Effective communication involves the ability to write and speak clearly, persuasively, and coherently about yourself, your ideas, and your research.

Many surveys ranking job-related skills indicate that communications skills are considered most important among organizations, government agencies, and other employers of liberal arts graduates. "The ability to communicate-to make sense of and present clearly what appears to others as information chaos across many disciplines-is critical, say business leaders, if one is to advance in a career" (Hersh, 1997). Graduating with great grades or experiences will mean little in your job search if you cannot communicate them to potential employers.

As a liberal arts student, you have been asked to read extensively, draw conclusions from the material, and share your perspectives with others. You may not have always been successful, but the practice has allowed you to enhance your skills. Employers are searching for individuals who can read lengthy reports, listen to many opinions, draw conclusions, and effectively communicate the results.

As a liberal arts student, you are particularly well-suited for listening, synthesizing, and communicating. Why? Because you are constantly challenged to express, in both oral and written form, your reasoning behind solving a problem or making sense of an issue. Have you ever considered how many papers you have written, presentations you have given, or class discussions in which you have participated where you were challenged to evaluate your arguments and construct new hypotheses or solutions? Because the liberal arts deal extensively with making sense of the human condition, it has been extremely important for you to communicate effectively with others.

Only you can know how effective your communication skills have become as a result of majoring in the liberal arts. However, many employers will expect you to be an effective communicator as a student of the liberal arts. Most employers have been told that this is a strength of liberal arts graduates and many have experienced it firsthand. Liberal arts students have been found to be above average in communication skills in relation to other degrees, so you are already well on your way.

Interpersonal Skills
You will continue to realize the value of your your liberal arts degree as you advance in your career. Most professionals work closely with people, regardless of their field, and clearly, the liberal arts have taught you a great deal about people. You are at an advantage because your education has helped broaden your range of interests and, as a result, has made you a more interesting person.

Often referred to as 'getting along with people,' this set of skills can be acquired anywhere, and is highly valued. The ability to engage people, work cooperatively with them, motivate them, and deal well with conflicts can be demonstrated in the job interview itself, or by reference to past jobs, campus activities, community work, or leadership experiences.

Your liberal arts education has provided a foundation for both professional and personal interests. The liberal arts build a sense of curiosity in a person. The liberally-educated person wants to know how things work, why things are the way they are, and how things can be changed. Many students become more creative through exposure to such a wide array of perspectives and views of the world.

Not only is good interpersonal communication advantageous, it is imperative. It involves the ability to work cooperatively with other individuals in a variety of settings. Intercultural understanding-the ability to interact with people from different backgrounds-is also crucial for you to be effective in the workplace.

 

"Good interpersonal skills are necessary to succeed in the world of work. Being able to work effectively and communicate well with others is just as important as your knowledge. I gained interpersonal skills as a liberal arts student while working on group projects and being a leader in my fraternity. Such skills helped me become better at networking and working my way up in the company. Now I look for these skills when hiring new graduates."

 

Eric Boyer, 1996 Graduate
Telecommunications Major
Abercrombie & Fitch

Adaptability to Change
The world of work is changing at a dynamic pace. Changing demographics, increased use of technology, and a global economy all have influenced the employee of the 21st Century. In addition to the changes occurring within the workplace, there is one other change to which you will have to adapt: your job. You will most likely have several careers, and many more jobs, over the course of your lifetime. The ability to adapt and be flexible will be, perhaps, your greatest asset throughout your lifetime.

As a liberal arts major, you have been a student of change. Perhaps you have not thought of it in such terms. However, you have immersed yourself in a study of the changes taking place in your discipline, regardless of your field of study. For instance, one cannot study anthropology without studying the history of changes in a particular culture, and perhaps more importantly, the changes in how an anthropologist studies culture.

As a liberal arts student, you have a unique perspective on how change takes place, the tensions and conflicts it causes, and how individuals and groups overcome this phenomenon and learn from it. All employers are searching for potential change agents. As a liberal arts student, you are knowledgeable about a topic with which most organizations have significant difficulty: dealing with change.

Although knowledge about change is important, perhaps of greater significance is experience in managing change. Employers seek out potential employees who will be flexible within their positions and willing to adjust as necessary. You have gained these skills simply from being at school and while coping with life situations.

If you can combine your knowledge of change from an academic perspective with your personal experiences, it will be to your distinct advantage. Change is inevitable and employers are looking for individuals who understand and demonstrate the flexibility and adaptability necessary to be successful in a dynamic environment.

 

"Things are changing every day at my job, just like they did when I was in school. Whether it was a last-minute homework assignment, a change of major, or studying different subjects, as a liberal arts student, I became comfortable with and competent at adapting to change. This has served me very well in my current position, as it is extremely important to be flexible to be effective at my job."

 

Marc Sedwick, 1996 Graduate
Economics and Political Science double major
Travelers Property Casualty

Critical and Analytical Thinking
As a liberal arts student, you have learned to absorb and analyze complex material as well as identify important pieces of information while discarding irrelevant details. Through exposure to an interdisciplinary perspective, you can also evaluate a situation from a wide variety of viewpoints. Thus, your liberal arts education has prepared you to work in an environment requiring complex thinking skills.

It should be noted that one criticism of the liberal arts is the "impractical" nature of the discipline. In other words, it is sometimes argued that a liberal arts student is more capable of working with ideas than practical matters, and concepts rather than day-to-day concerns.

A liberal arts student may indeed be better trained to think than to act. For example, rather than just completing a project based on how it has been done before, a liberal arts student can process the information and examine how it can be done more effectively. Complex issues require complex thinking prior to acting. Simpleminded solutions to complex issues have never been successful in any field.

 

"My College of Arts & Sciences education challenged me through class discussions, research papers, and essay exams and helped me develop the critical and analytical thinking skills I now use every day in my job. Applying these skills has made me more effective in analyzing consumer research, recognizing the most important information, and presenting my recommendations to my management."

 

Judy Copetas, 1994 Graduate
Political Science Major
The Procter & Gamble Company

Problem-Solving Skills
As a result of the ability to critically analyze the complexities of an issue, the diligent liberal arts student has developed an ability to solve problems. A well-formulated problem will send you on your way toward a solution. As a liberal arts student, you have learned to extensively research the causes of a problem, evaluate potential solutions, choose a course of action, and evaluate the outcome.

Problem-solving skills allow for rapid movement up learning curves in response to new challenges. For example, good problem-solving skills will allow you to acquire new and expanded projects where you will continually be challenged and have the opportunity to learn.

In a recent nationwide study, employers said that this increased responsibility "requires the ability to see things in a new light and make sense of ideas in old and new contexts, the kind of intellectual agility and enthusiasm they (the employers) perceive to be found in the traditional notion of a liberal arts education" (Hersh, 1997).

 

"Through my liberal arts degree, I established problem-solving skills, which assisted in my career development. Regardless of your career goals, problem solving is a universal necessity. The liberal arts provide a solid educational base for practical job application."

Whitney Thomas, 1996 Graduate
Speech Communications Major
The Morely Group

 

Not only are you able to critically analyze problems, but you have also developed the ability to communicate your thoughts and recommendations. The interconnectedness of all the skills you have developed as a liberal arts major is one of the strengths you have as you enter the world of work. You are a problem solver and a change agent not because you have some technical expertise, but because of your ability to think critically, analyze the complexities of an issue, and communicate with others about your findings. Ultimately, you are able to offer solutions and make changes because you are flexible and understand the nature of organizational change.

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Top 10 Qualities Employers Seek In Job Candidates
  1. Communication Skills
  2. Motivation/Initiative
  3. Teamwork
  4. Leadership
  5. Academic Achievement/GPA
  6. Interpersonal Skills
  7. Flexibility/Adaptability
  8. Technical Skills
  9. Honest & Integrity
  10. Analytical/Problem Solving Skills

Source: National Association of Colleges and Employers

 

Transferrable Skills Gained from a Liberal Arts Education:
bulletInterpersonal Skills
bulletWritten & Oral Communication
bulletAdaptability to Change
bulletCritical and Analytical Thinking
bulletProblem-Solving

 

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Concluding Thoughts

As a liberal arts major, you have been exposed to a variety of academic disciplines and gained an excellent background for future work. Your education has given you the ability to adapt to a changing environment, communicate effectively, think critically, solve complex problems, and communicate well with others on an interpersonal level. Above all, you have gained the ability to learn. Because these skills are transferable to many work situations, you are valuable to employers.

So when they ask you, "What are you going to do with that major", here are a few good responses:

 

Name Job Title College Major
Jill Barad CEO, Mattel, Inc. English & Psychology, Queen's College
Ellen Bravo Director, National Association of Women Greek & Latin Literature, Cornell University
Willie Brown Mayor of San Francisco Liberal Studies, San Francisco State
George W. Bush Governor of Texas, Presidential Candidate Political Science, Yale
Steve Case CEO, America Online Political Science, Williams College
Elizabeth Dole Director, American Red Cross Political Science, Duke
David Duchovny Actor English Literature, Yale
Steve Forbes CEO, Forbes, Inc.; Presidential Candidate American History, Princeton
Michael Fuchs Chaiman, HBO Political Science, Union College
Earl Graves CEO, Black Enterprise Magazine Economics, Morgan State
Tommy Lee Jones Actor English, Harvard
Brian Lamb CEO, C-Span Speech & Communication, Purdue University
David Letterman Entertainer Radio & TV Broadcasting, Ball State University

 

Martha J. Reineke.     Please send correspondence to martha.reineke@uni.edu