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Why Employers Like Liberal Arts Grads

Laura Morsch, CareerBuilder.com writer

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Some college students simply prefer studying Monet over math and Freudian theory over physics. For them, it makes sense to major in a liberal arts discipline like history or philosophy.

But liberal arts majors get more out of college than an interesting transcript; they also master the writing and communication skills experts say are crucial to success in almost any career.

Why it pays to write well
The benefits of a liberal arts major start early: A degree in liberal arts rarely restricts a student to just one career path. Whereas some majors -- engineering or computer science, for example -- provide specialized training in a specific field, liberal arts degrees tend to provide a much broader educational background and skills applicable to almost any job.

In addition, good writing skills shine through on résumés and cover letters. David Teten, CEO of New York-based independent research firm Nitron Advisers, says he has seen communications from some job seekers that were incoherent, ungrammatical and rude.

"One out of five people who apply to jobs with my company get rejected because their writing skills are so bad," he says. Score one for liberal arts majors.

The same communication skills employers look for during the job search are valued even more highly on the job -- in part because they can save the company money.

One-third of employees at blue-chip companies can't write well, and businesses spend up to $3.1 billion annually on remedial training to improve their workers' writing skills, according to a report by the National Commission on Writing.

And writing skills are only getting more valuable. "As companies get bigger and less and less cohesive... the written word becomes even more important," says Lisa Earle McLeod, columnist and author of Forget Perfect (Penguin/Putnam). "You don't have people in one place working together anymore, so being able to write concisely and directively for people will become a more valued skill."

Thus, some liberal arts majors find their superior communication skills eventually catapulting them to top management positions -- and top income brackets.

"The jobs that really, really pay the best involve getting large bodies of people to do what you want them to do," McLeod says, pointing to TV producers and CEOs as examples. "And that's all communicating."

Starting Small
With all of the benefits of a liberal arts major, there's little wonder why these degrees are so popular. Students earning associate's and bachelor's degrees in liberal arts disciplines far outnumber students studying in mathematic or scientific fields, according to data from the U.S. Center for Education Statistics.

And this large supply often means entry-level salaries for liberal arts majors plummet far below those offered to their quantitatively-focused classmates.

Starting salaries for this year's liberal arts graduates average around $30,300 -- well below the $52,000 offered to electrical engineering grads and the $43,800 for accounting majors, according to a spring salary survey by the National Association of Colleges and Employers.

McLeod says the nature of liberal arts majors' skills also prevent them from earning immediate career success. "Everybody can read and write, and everybody can talk," she says. "That's why it takes so long for the people who do that to differentiate themselves."

'Adding' new skills
According to Teten, one way for good communicators to enter the fast track is to learn to use numbers. "You don't need higher math for the vast majority of jobs in this country," he says, "but everyone needs to understand what numbers mean."

Teten says people can improve their basic quantitative skills by calculating day-to-day math mentally. "If you make a point of calculating the tip yourself instead of relying on the calculator, you'll build the skill of simple mental mathematics," he says.


Laura Morsch is a writer for CareerBuilder.com. She researches and writes about job search strategy, career management, hiring trends and workplace issues.

Last Updated: 24/09/2007 - 3:50 PM


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