Business Magazine

Liberal Arts “Skills”: What Are They?

Posted on the 25 August 2011 by Sdelavergne

In our culture, we believe that personal development is a matter of acquiring skills.  The more skills you acquire, the more capable you are.  We identify just about everything as a “skill”—basic motor skills, interpersonal skills, supervisory skills, negotiating skills, presentation skills, parenting skills, carpentry skills, sewing skills, culinary skills, social media skills. (Frankly, I think we overdo it.  Is everything really a skill?  Nonetheless, it’s a customary practice.)

Job descriptions, of course, always list specific skills under job requirements.  Regardless of whether the position is entry-level or senior executive, under requirements for the position you’ll find specific skills.

Liberal arts students, if you’re entering and crisscrossing the hiring fray you must, therefore, be able to identify the skills you’ve developed.  Hiring managers and recruiters may (probably) have no idea what skills liberal arts students have.

What are they, these “skills” that liberal arts students have that employers want?  They are:

Analysis – the ability to examine a situation or problem from many angles; compare and contrast events, facts, ideas, opinions;  assemble elements of research and develop an answer or argument from them; assemble facts meaningfully, using logic and reasoning.

Communication – the ability to organize ideas, facts, information into a logical flow; create clear, efficient messages and documents; write things that are readable, not dense and clunky (as so much of business writing is today!); aim the information at the audience.

Cultural literacy and foreign language proficiency – the ability to understand the ways in which cultures are different and how that’s reflected in levels of formality, expected behavior between generations and genders, the pace of activity, and many other ways that affect how business is conducted.

Emotional intelligence – the ability to understand human motivation, how individuals and groups behave, to be emotionally aware of oneself, and to use emotions in decision-making.

Leadership – a broad area, but briefly – the ability to visualize what needs to be done and can describe it to others;  the willingness to sign up to do what’s needed, demonstrate initiative, say, “I’ll do that!”—and then they do it, with integrity and intention.

Managing qualitative information – identifying, categorizing, tracking, and retrieving things like documents, diagrams, and maintaining the associations between them.

Planning and organizing – the ability to envision and manage a unit of work in the future, to anticipate events, including risks and contingencies, to recognize interdependencies, track progress, and to estimate timeframes.

Research -  to examine new business ideas, assess the competition, develop plans, understand laws and regulations, study customers (marketing research), investigate causes of problems, keep abreast of technology—and more.

Systemic thinking – the ability to see situations or problems as a collection of interconnected, interdependent parts, and be able to recognize or anticipate what will happen when one part changes, its effect on the rest.

Each and every one of these skills contributes to business goals, either by improving revenue or reducing expense. Those are, of course, the two things that matter to business: making money and saving money.

Which of these skills are you good at?  

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