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Why Recruit Liberal Arts Graduates? Soft Skills

Why Recruit Liberal Arts Graduates? Soft Skills

By: Catherine Conlan

If you’re looking to hire well-rounded, curious and mission-driven employees, liberal arts graduates are a good bet, experts say. 

According to the American Association of Colleges and Universities, 55 percent of employers are looking for both field-specific and a broad range of knowledge and skills among recent graduates -- and liberal arts grads often fit the bill.

“Because all liberal arts subjects are connected, graduates learn how to see the bigger picture in all situations,” says Stacey Wiley, director of career development at the State University of New York at Geneseo in Geneseo, New York. That prepares them for a wide range of roles, including management and leadership.

Here’s how to recruit liberal arts graduates and help them hit the ground running.

Look Beyond the Major
Liberal arts grads are sometimes stereotyped as unemployable in the private sector. Why? Liberal arts majors often emphasize the humanities or the social sciences. The result: they don't seem applicable to the workplace.  

But that overlooks a key strength in an often missing skill -- and that’s the soft skills

Students in liberal arts majors often develop strong written and oral communication skills, learn to be effective problem solvers and become analytical thinkers, says Lori Sparger, chief operating officer at Purdue University’s College of Liberal Arts in West Lafayette, Indiana. “As a group, they are inquisitive and creative,” she says.

Potential employers need to look past the actual majors and ask about the skills that candidates have. For example, English, history or philosophy majors have learned to read dense texts and to communicate complex ideas in simple, understandable language and to see how various pieces are interrelated, Sparger says. 

Meanwhile, theater majors can be exceptional team players with a deep appreciation for deadlines. “And when the curtain goes up, there are no excuses -- a show will go on,” she says. 

To tap those so-called soft skills, experts recommend asking behavioral interview questions that enable recent grads to illustrate the skills they’ve gained.

Highlight your Company Mission
Liberal arts majors often choose a field because of their passion for the subject, Sparger says. And they want to use that passion in the work they do. 

“Tapping into that passion, finding ways for them to help identify and execute on innovative solutions, will empower them to contribute in meaningful ways,” she says.

So how can you best match that passion? Build on your employer brand and highlight your mission, then reach out to liberal arts programs and grads in the same fields, experts say. 

“Contact the career services office at your liberal arts college of choice and ask to recruit on campus, or to at least post open positions through their job postings database,” Wiley says. 

The key components of your employer brand -- your company website, job ads and social media strategy -- should all accurately reflect your company’s mission, values and vision. This will help you attract liberal arts grads and other grads too.

Give Them Room to Work
Resiliency, communication skills and critical thinking -- these abilities make liberal arts graduates good performers in roles that require creativity and innovation. And creativity often requires leeway to explore, experiment, and yes, a stated tolerance for failure.

Employers who can give them the freedom and flexibility to collaborate and make unexpected connections on projects will be seen as great places to work by liberal arts grads.

“The students I've encountered appreciate being ‘set free’ to accomplish their work,” says Persephone Hall, who is the Hale Family director of career and professional development at Connecticut College in New London, Connecticut. 

“While some grads appreciate regular guidance and direction, many are motivated by the authority to make something -- whatever that something is --- happen. Many liberal arts grads thrive in settings where they have the freedom to accomplish their work goals in a manner that works best for them.”