Alumni Column – Liberal Arts in the Business World

Kathleen Dill

At its base, a liberal arts education prepares students to think critically and communicate clearly about the world in which they live. This is done primarily through engagement between faculty and students in learning environments both inside and outside the classroom. Liberal arts students work closely with subject matter experts, our esteemed professors, who are dedicated to the success of the students they teach. Professors presume the intelligence of their students and work with them to shape and mold their knowledge until the students gain increasingly greater confidence in what they know and how to present it to others. Professors challenge the students to perform at increasingly higher levels of skill and autonomy, knowing that they will achieve.

This is why businesses love liberal arts graduates. These students come into the business world, like most of our candidates, with intelligence and passion to succeed. What they also bring is a confidence in their ability to “get it” and to deliver “it” to their clients. What do I mean by “get it?” Students who are educated at small liberal arts schools are taught, in every class, how to think; how to take information from a chemistry experiment or a Shakespearean play, think about it, engage others in conversation about it, draw conclusions and communicate these conclusions to others.

These transferable skills are those that an employee takes with them regardless of the industry they choose or the function performed within that industry. Further, while keeping historical issues in mind, liberal arts students tend to be open to new ways of solving problems and are happy to apply knowledge from one course of study to solve a problem in another. That’s “it.” That’s all there is. Students who are taught in this environment know that they have much to offer and are usually keen to apply their skills to the working world.

This does not mean that every student at a small liberal arts college is guaranteed a great job starting the fall following their senior year. For undergraduates taking their first steps into the working world, success in any industry is based on similar attributes: how well you performed in the classroom, what you chose to engage in outside the classroom and how passionate you are about your anticipated pursuits.

Grades are important. Without a doubt any employer (or client for you entrepreneurs) is looking for an employee who is smart, willing to work hard and has the aptitude to understand and address the issues at hand. One way that they evaluate your strengths in these areas is through your GPA. They want to see that you are serious about your studies and capable of performing well.

Classes are important. Most employers will also request a copy of a transcript to review the details of your class selections. They want to confirm that you challenged yourself intellectually over the course of your college career and they also want to understand your story and what interests you.

Passion and Tenacity. What is most important from my standpoint is passion. I want everyone who works with me to be as engaged in the success of the team as I am. Certainly students demonstrate passion in the courses they choose and how well they do in those courses. Pursuits outside the classroom also demonstrate these passions. Regardless of what business you engage in, your future employers are going to want to see how you came to be interested in their industries and will want to see what it is that will get you excited to come to work everyday. This is not to say that you should forgo the liberal arts experience, but rather it is important that you choose to take classes that interest you and are difficult. Employers like to see that a student chooses a course and sticks with it; tenacity and commitment are critical to good employees.

Leadership and Teamwork. Employers also want to see demonstrated leadership both amongst peers and with the administration. Leadership may be demonstrated by serving as a class officer, captaining a team or editing the school paper. It is less important how you demonstrate it than that you demonstrate it. It is equally important to demonstrate that you can work in a team environment. So much of what transpires over the course of a day in any business is driven by teamwork. In any basic sales scenario, a salesperson can make a sale, but makes it more easily through a partnership with the marketing team and can only fulfill the sale by working closely with the production team. Without the ability to work with multiple people with multiple skill sets, the sale and delivering on the sale become quite a bit more difficult.

So I say all of that in order to say this: enjoy your time at Colgate, explore as many interests as you can and when you find the things that grab you, pursue them. Pursue them through your class work; pursue them through work with your professors, other students and community leaders; and pursue them during your summers. You are smart, talented and creative people who will make an impact in any field that you choose.