Liberal Arts Degree to Employers
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.
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
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
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
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
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
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.
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
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.
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
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.
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.
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
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).
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
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:
||CEO, Mattel, Inc.
||English & Psychology, Queen's College
||Director, National Association of Women
||Greek & Latin Literature, Cornell University
||Mayor of San Francisco
||Liberal Studies, San Francisco State
|George W. Bush
||Governor of Texas, Presidential Candidate
||Political Science, Yale
||CEO, America Online
||Political Science, Williams College
||Director, American Red Cross
||Political Science, Duke
||English Literature, Yale
||CEO, Forbes, Inc.; Presidential Candidate
||American History, Princeton
||Political Science, Union College
||CEO, Black Enterprise Magazine
||Economics, Morgan State
|Tommy Lee Jones
||Speech & Communication, Purdue University
||Radio & TV Broadcasting, Ball State University