Why Liberal Arts Skills Are Important in Every Profession
In a 2013 study by the Association of American Colleges and Universities, 93 percent of employers reported that “a demonstrated capacity to think critically, communicate clearly and solve complex problems is more important than [a candidate's] undergraduate major.” Those skills, sometimes referred to as soft skills, are at the heart of a traditional liberal arts education. Whether you’re considering undergraduate options or interested in taking your career to the next level with an online MBA degree, here’s how you can benefit from a program that incorporates liberal arts components into the curriculum.
Comfort with Subjectivity
In recent years, much has been made of the alleged dichotomy between STEM and liberal arts degrees. The economic crisis and tight job market of the early 2000s led some to promote the idea that the only way to justify the cost of a college education was to choose a major geared toward a specific career path, like biometrics or cybersecurity.
Many tech company leaders, however, see the value of hiring employees who are comfortable grappling with questions that don’t have a clear answer. As Fast Company writer Elizabeth Segran explains, “The liberal arts train students to thrive in subjectivity and ambiguity, a necessary skill in the tech world, where few things are black and white.” While technically minded team members may tend to assume there is one right answer to every problem, a liberal arts background encourages creative and critical thinking that can lead to more innovative solutions.
Strong Interpersonal Skills
Liberal arts curricula often involve collaborative projects that require students to work closely alongside peers with varied backgrounds and viewpoints. As a result, job candidates with a liberal arts background have practical experience considering a broad range of perspectives, engaging in constructive discussion and reaching consensus with minimal conflict. That experience is valuable in any field, and tech companies are no exception. Industry leaders like Google place tremendous value on interpersonal skills when making hiring decisions, and they provide ongoing training to help employees keep those skills sharp.
One of the criticisms of a liberal arts education is that students spend too much time in general studies, rather than gaining a specialized education in the field they plan to pursue professionally. When everyone on a team has a similar background, though, creativity can suffer. In a Washington Post piece, former Hewlett-Packard CEO and 2016 presidential hopeful Carly Fiorina cites her liberal arts degree as qualification for running a Fortune 20 tech company and goes on to explain, “If you go into a setting and everybody thinks alike, it’s easy … but you will probably get the wrong answer.”
A liberal arts background may also be attractive to employers because it reminds them of themselves. It’s estimated that as many as one-third of Fortune 500 CEOs have liberal arts degrees. In a competitive job market, it’s hard to build a successful career in any field without liberal arts skills like critical thinking, communication and problem solving. The best way for students to prepare for a successful career in any field may be by choosing a school that integrates the liberal arts across all disciplines.