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Center for Professional Development
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Explanations for Skills Acquired

Skills Gained Through Your Liberal Arts Education: Employers Are Looking For These!

Critical and Analytical Thinking. Perhaps now your most valuable asset to employers, critical and analytical thinking is the overarching aim of a classically defined rigorous liberal arts education. “Critical/Analytical Thinking” involves the ability to gather information (research), process its meaning (analysis), understand its importance and implications (evaluation), communicate that importance appropriately to specific ends or different audiences (writing and argumentation), and use that information in future action (creative analysis).

In theory, this is what you are asked to do every time you analyze a text for an English class, write a research paper for a sociology class, or do an experiment in a chemistry lab, or take an exam in an engineering class: gather data, understand and synthesize information, construct an argument, and articulate that argument and its importance.

Crucial Elements in “Critical and Analytical Thinking” include:

  • Research. Research involves the ability to identify at topic, define relevant questions, develop strategies to answer those questions, gather information, organize that information, and ultimately analyze that information towards an end.
  • Writing and Communication. Although the academic writing that is required of you in college is its own genre (with may sub-genres), the basic ability to articulate your ideas, construct argument, and persuade an audience is one of your most important skills. A subcategory of communication is oral presentation, that is the ability to present ideas verbally. Writing and communication may involve writing a grant for funding, giving a presentation to a board, talking the media, writing a legal brief, being able to articulate the value of a new software program to potential buyer. Not to mention writing a cover letter or resume.
  • Creativity. The creative impulse – to generate new ideas, envision alternate possibilities and/or solution, and re-imagine the possible.

Cultural Competency. One of the things liberal education seeks to do is to teach students that their own view of the world is only one view. Ideally, the process of critical engagement trains students to understand difference, and thus be able to better appreciate and understand the importance of variety and diversity. This is important on two levels. The first is that an ability to appreciate variety and difference is crucial in Critical Thinking (as above). And further, in an increasingly global world, the ability to work effectively outside of one’s own culture and comfort zone is increasingly a necessity.

Time Management. Employers want to know that you will meet deadlines, effectively prioritize your work, balance priorities and assignments, and make the best use of the time they are paying you for. You can point to your time management abilities every time you have gotten a paper in on time, studied in advance of your exam, planned an extracurricular event on campus, or managed your coursework during your athletic-season, theatre production (and so forth...).

Self Management. Employers seek people who, despite their specific area of accountability, will contribute the workplace as a whole. This means not only knowing how to work responsibly, manage multiple demands, and adapt to new requirements, it means knowing how to negotiate office politics, how to be supervised and mentored, and how, in turn, to provide leadership.

Note: Time management is about efficiency. Self management is about ego.

Teamwork. Working “for” a company means working towards its larger goals. It also means being able to define common goals, negotiate with subordinates, superiors, and coworkers, and be reliable and consistent, particularly when others are depending on you. College has provided your with multiple opportunities to do team work – from collaborative projects in the classroom to a myriad of extracurricular activities (e.g.: sports, student government, event planning for sorority, community service, student worker in an administrative or academic office, and so forth)

Leadership. Leadership is the ability not only to see forward, but to articulate that vision and bring others with you. It also means being able to “listen” (and hear) what others say, and incorporate what you learn into your larger vision. Leadership involves building relationships, articulating expectations, and inspiring and motivating others towards goals.

The very nature of the academic enterprise itself, which is often (though not always, see below) solitary and for which the product (“paper,” “experiment,” “exam”) is often an end to itself, may not seem to lend itself to the demonstration of leadership qualities – and you may want to look to different ways in which you have manifested leadership in athletics, community service, and so forth, to demonstrate this instinct. But, many of the “critical thinking” skills that you have acquired through academic expertise – “interpreting”, “articulating”, “hearing”, “understanding”, “communicating” – are, when paired with vision and initiative, the building blocks of successful leadership.

Quantitative. An ability to use mathematical skills, concepts and ideas, to direct that ability to interpret data, and ultimately to solve problems. Quantitative mastery is not only evidence of the ability to do quantitative work, but also speaks to skills such as “problem solving” and “interpretation”. (We’re back to critical thinking).

Technology. Increasingly we must all be comfortable working with computer systems, search engines, different software programs, databases. Employers interest in “technology” comprises not only your knowledge of these systems, but also your ability to manipulate them to specific ends and to garner the information you want and need from them. We are back to “critical thinking” and “research”.

Some technology may be career field specific (for example, “knowing” GIS systems, or the ability to do high-level programming, graphic production). In some cases, employers insist on prior knowledge in field-specific technology, in other cases, employers are willing to train you.

Integrity and Professional Ethics. The academic ideals enshrined in the honor code and Dartmouth’s principles of community translate into the working world, and employers want to hire people who are anchored by guiding principles, who accept responsibility for their actions, whose word they can count on, and who have a set of core values that will well represent their employer (and perhaps above all, not get their employer into trouble).

Last Updated: 6/21/12