The 4 untold benefits of hiring a liberal arts graduate

By Kenneth J. Koopmans

The world is full of people with contrary and contentious opinions about almost everything. The ability to challenge others and be challenged in return…is vital to critical thinking.

A good liberal arts education equips students with certain qualities that employers deem essential to hiring the right people. What are these qualities?

In my 15 years helping students decide on a career path, and now as the head of career services at a liberal arts college, it is a topic I have spent a great deal of time thinking about. I believe there are four distinct characteristics that differentiate a proper liberal arts education from other fields of study: perspective, toughness, humility, and core principles.

Let’s start with perspective. Having a broad understanding of history, politics, philosophy, literature and the arts helps students understand who they are, where they come from, and their place in the larger world. This knowledge instills critical analysis and sustains logical thought throughout one’s life.

In an age where specialists abound, having a wide-ranging education has never been more important. Simply put, knowing stuff, the right stuff, makes people more confident when engaging with others, and allows for solutions when problems arise.

I also believe that the pursuit of knowledge tends to make people happier. Knowledge is not just about memorizing the Western canon. It’s about having a sense of awareness that helps to unravel life’s paradoxes.

Toughness is another virtue that is a product of a liberal arts education. I don’t mean the kind of toughness that comes in the form of one’s fists, but mental toughness.

The world is full of people with contrary and contentious opinions about almost everything. The ability to challenge others and be challenged in return, without falling to pieces or running to a “safe space,” is vital to critical thinking. It’s vital not just for the individual, but for society as a whole.

Quality and variety of thought should be encouraged, not discouraged. Being versed in an expanse of topics makes for a more adaptable and balanced human being (and employee), animating curiosity in individuals who then seek the best knowledge.

Humility is an element that leads to a well-rounded life. It also makes for great employees. We’ve all worked with that brash person who relishes the opportunity to show off or to show other people up.

Being confident in one’s skills, beliefs, and ideas — without arrogance and mockery — engenders the respect of others, even those who don’t necessarily adhere to all your ideas. Employees can get a lot done when others trust and respect them. Employers know this.

This is where being principled comes into play. Liberal arts majors don’t have a monopoly on wisdom or morality. That’s for sure. But knowing who you are and what you believe in goes a long way in grounding an individual in reality.

Flights of fancy don’t play well in the workplace. Companies want to hire dependable and trustworthy people. Being principled doesn’t mean sticking to some hardened idea without thought and consideration. People are allowed to change their mind. But having core principles that help guide decision-making is integral to making the right decisions.

Job seekers with these four qualities stand out to hiring professionals.

The higher education culture often emphasizes a student-centered approach, but it carries little weight in the professional realm. Companies are often frustrated by young employees’ lack of preparedness for the workplace in their conduct and thoughtfulness. An Association of American Colleges and Universities (AACU) survey released last year confirmed this perception, showing a striking difference between how employers view recent college graduates and how they view themselves.

Employers understand hiring smart and principled people who have perspective that is grounded in toughness and humility make effective employees who add value to everything they do. An education in the liberal arts produces just those sorts of person.

Kenneth J. Koopmans is the executive director of career services at Hillsdale College. Follow Hillsdale College on Twitter @hillsdale.

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