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Demonstrating the Value of a Liberal Arts Education

Employers seek people who can communicate, solve problems, collaborate and think critically. Conveniently for them, a liberal arts education develops these very skills.

 

People with liberal arts degrees can offer organizations “an ability to connect with a wider range of environments and personalities,” said Eugene Durkee, Director of the Office of Career and Life Planning at New England College.

“Studying literature and the arts, one gains insight into how various people expressed themselves at different times and in different situations – and also what timeless values people hold. Working on written responses to literature and art improves communication skills.”

Infographic about selling your liberal arts educationThe challenge is for students to show a potential employer what they’ve learned can bring value to an organization, especially if a degree does not necessarily appear to be a clear match to a specific position.

While a computer science degree would appear to be a logical fit for a candidate seeking a job at a tech company such as Uber or Carbonite, or an accounting or finance major would likely find work at KPMG or Ernst & Young, how do people who studied communication, psychology or humanities land jobs at those companies?

The interdisciplinary knowledge that comes from a liberal arts degree – particularly interpersonal skills, communication and critical thinking – along with an understanding of technology are considered vital to succeed in today’s job climate, as reported by 85% of respondents in a 2016 Pew Research study. The technology sector in particular has been recruiting liberal arts graduates for sales, marketing and customer experience positions in addition to people with an IT background.

Employers themselves have a hard time clearly defining what they mean when they look for people who possess complex problem-solving and critical thinking skills. Critical thinking for example, means using available information to arrive at some conclusion or make a decision, Michael Desmarais, global head of recruiting at Goldman Sachs Group, told the Wall Street Journal. To Brittany Holloway, who works at TuneCore, critical thinking involves “forming your own opinion from a variety of different sources.”

While it may appear to be challenging for liberal arts graduates to show how their studies can translate into successful employment, they shouldn’t focus so much on the credential as much as the practical application of what they’ve learned.

“I think the best way to demonstrate learning is by actually helping somebody. If a student can increase student enrollment in a campus club, or design a brochure for the local food bank, or do some data organization for a nearby Red Cross – that’s the best way to show that they can form relationships and actually help out in society,” Durkee said.

Four ways students can connect the dots between what they study and potential career path:

  1. Practice describing yourself as a working person. What are you like in terms of skills, interests and work habits?
  2. Prepare some good questions and be as specific as possible.
  3. Make connections within your community. Find an organization that could use your talents and volunteer to help.
  4. Stay in touch with professors, former employees or volunteer supervisors.
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