THE LIBERAL ARTS ADVANTAGE
Employers and alumni have overwhelmingly told us that a liberal arts degree, with its emphasis on a well-rounded education, is the foundation for a productive career. They have also told us that essential competencies—such as thinking critically, communicating clearly, and solving complex problems—are more important than specific undergraduate majors.
This guide has one simple purpose: To help you be READY for your future career, whatever that career may be—because liberal arts students are well prepared to go many directions. Whether you’re in your first year or your last or somewhere in between, if you came here from an urban or a rural area, from this state or another state or another country, entering as a freshman or transferring in—and no matter what gender expression or cultural practices or varying backgrounds and experiences you bring: This book is for you. It’s for all students as unique individuals with intersectional identities, to help you navigate your career path in a way that supports who you are.
In the context of the liberal arts, career readiness means:
• Developing the Core Career Competencies, which reflect the very essence of liberal arts education—and the competitive advantage it offers in today’s uncertain and dynamic economy.
• Learning to articulate your competencies.
• Being able to translate your competencies into the language of employers and others.
The first part of this guide describes what career readiness is in the context of the liberal arts.
You’ll learn about the rationale behind it, get a sense of its organizing framework, and discover the collegiate resources available to help you become career ready. Most of what you need is already present in a liberal arts education. The unique focus of the career readiness concept is helping you recognize the Core Career Competencies you gain as a liberal arts student and then articulate them in other settings.
We begin doing that here and continue it throughout the guide.
One aspect of career readiness that is not a standard component of a liberal arts education is Career Management. So the second part of this guide offers an in-depth discussion of Career Management concepts. Here you’ll find very practical, nuts-and-bolts advice on everything from exploring majors and pursuing significant experiences to searching for a job or applying for graduate school.
All along the way you’ll be guided by the Career Management Model—created to help you develop your Career Management competency and prepare you for your lifelong career journey. The model is made up of three interdependent phases, which you cycle through continuously as both you and the world around you change:
Explore » Experience » Excel
Whatever you do, wherever you go, however you plan to get there, we want you to be READY.
Poised for a positive, productive life after college.
THE MORE YOU PUT IN, THE MORE YOU’LL GET OUT
This guide isn’t meant to be read straight through in one sitting. We recognize that you will jump around various sections as you need them. Just make sure you use it! It’s like the rest of your liberal arts education: The more you put into it, the more you’ll get out of it.
So read the guide, but don’t stop there. Apply what you’re learning. Do the reflection and decision- making exercises and take action. Visit the people, offices, and websites we suggest, and take the time to reflect on—and consistently document!—the Core Career Competencies you are continuously developing through all of your experiences, in and out of the classroom.
Becoming career ready involves hard work and dedicated reflection and decision making, along with taking specific action steps—you’ll notice prompts to help you throughout this guide. Career readiness is also exciting and rewarding, especially if you are willing and able to take it on as your challenge and embrace it as yet another reason to study in the liberal arts.
That said: Please know that this guide is not your sole career readiness resource. We also have programs, systems, and knowledgeable people—including advisors, career counselors, faculty members, and others—in place to help you become career ready.
Know, too, that there are many other resources at your fingertips to complement the people who will support you along your way. You’ll find a comprehensive list of them on page 3 of this guide.
IT’S TIME TO START DOWN YOUR PATH TO CAREER
READINESS; WE’LL BE WITH YOU EVERY STEP OF THE WAY.
Advice from Liberal Arts Grads
Give Yourself “the Time, the Space, and the Effort” to Become Career Ready
“Deciding on your career is (obviously) an enormous decision, and one that requires a lot of careful thought and reflection. But college is so oppressively busy, with so many different demands and obligations cluttering up your mind, that—at least in my experience—it’s very difficult to find the time and mental space to consider anything deeply. It can be easy, therefore, to get swept up in a particular track or a particular career path by inertia: because that’s the path you started on, and because you’ve never really taken the time to consider getting off of it. That doesn’t mean, of course, that there’s anything wrong with staying on the path you started on. Just make sure you give yourself the time, the space, and the effort to really consider what you want to do.”
All Sorts of Career Readiness Help Is Available to You—Right on Campus
“Take advantage of the many resources offered here. Talk to professors. (Even in large classes, they will almost certainly be happy—even excited—to talk with you.) Go to the career center. Watch your email for opportunities sent out by your academic department or the career center. Get involved with alumni mentors. Go to special events and network.”
WHAT IS CAREER READINESS?
WHY IT MATTERS FOR LIBERAL ARTS STUDENTS
There are many ways to define and acknowledge the value of a liberal arts degree. Your liberal arts education is preparing you to be an active citizen, a smart consumer, an innovator, a problem solver, an analytical and critical thinker in all you do and in your many life roles. It is also giving you the sheer joy of studying, in depth, something you care deeply about. All of these outcomes matter. All of them are worth the time, energy, and money you invest.
But if you’re like most students, one of the reasons you’re here in college is to prepare for a future career, whatever that may look like for you. And you want to be READY— career ready—when you leave here.
Let’s break down this concept of career readiness, starting with the word “career.”
In the liberal arts, we recognize and support the idea that “career” means different things to different people at different times. For most college students, it means pursuing employment after graduation, usually in the
form of a private-sector job but sometimes in nonprofit organizations, public service (government) agencies, the military, or related opportunities like AmeriCorps or
teaching abroad programs. For some college students, “career” means pursuing additional education (i.e., graduate or professional school). For a small but growing few, it means pursuing some sort of independent journey, like starting a small business or
doing freelance work.
We define “career readiness” as developing—and then being able to convincingly demonstrate and articulate— ten Core Career Competencies that reflect the very essence of your liberal arts education. These competencies have been identified through exhaustive discussions with employers, graduate and professional schools, faculty members, alumni, government agencies, and national career development organizations.
The Core Career Competencies are:
» Analytical & Critical Thinking
» Applied Problem Solving
» Ethical Reasoning &
» Innovation & Creativity
» Oral & Written Communication
» Teamwork & Leadership
» Engaging Diversity
» Active Citizenship &
» Digital Literacy
» Career Management
The Core Career Competencies not only define career readiness, they give you a practical framework to show your career readiness—to prove it—to prospective employers or to graduate school admissions committees. They also help you and your family see the liberal arts advantage, spelled out in tangible terms.
If you are intentional and plan your education carefully, you will develop these Core Career Competencies in your classes and through outside engagement activities
you can pursue as a liberal arts student. You can then make a consistent habit of carefully documenting your experiences and pinpointing how they have helped you build the various Core Career Competencies. (Note: Your advisor, a career counselor, and/or a faculty member can guide you.)
All of this—all of your proactive, sustained critical thinking and actions—will give you an indisputable competitive edge in today’s changing, complex world.
YOUR LIBERAL ARTS ADVANTAGE
The Core Career Competencies That Define Career Readiness
THE CORE CAREER COMPETENCIES THAT DEFINE CAREER READINESS
Analytical & Critical Thinking comprehensively explores issues, ideas, knowledge, evidence, and values before accepting or formulating an opinion or conclusion. Those competent in Analytical & Critical Thinking:
• Recognize there may be more than one valid point of view.
• Evaluate an issue or problem based on multiple perspectives, while accounting for personal biases.
• Identify when information is missing or if there is a problem, prior to coming to conclusions and making decisions.
Applied Problem Solving is the process of designing, evaluating, and implementing a workable strategy to achieve a goal. Those competent in Applied Problem Solving:
• Recognize constraints.
• Generate a set of alternative courses of action.
• Evaluate alternatives using a set of criteria.
• Select and implement the most effective solution.
• Monitor the actual outcomes of that solution.
Ethical Reasoning & Decision Making recognizes ethical issues arising in a variety of settings or social contexts, reflects on the ethical concerns that pertain to the issue, and chooses a course of action based on these reflections. Those competent in Ethical Reasoning & Decision Making:
• Assess their own personal and moral values and perspectives as well as those of other stakeholders.
• Integrate these values and perspectives into an ethical framework for decision-making.
• Consider intentions and the short- and long-term consequences of actions and the ethical principles that apply in the situation before making decisions.
Innovation & Creativity generates new, varied, and unique ideas, and makes connections between previously unrelated ideas. Those competent in Innovation & Creativity:
• Challenge existing paradigms and propose alternatives without being constrained by established approaches or anticipated responses of others.
• Employ their knowledge, skills, abilities, and sense of originality.
• Have a willingness to take risks and overcome internal struggle to expose their creative self in order to bring forward new work or ideas.
Oral & Written Communication intentionally engages with an audience to inform, persuade, or entertain. Those competent in Oral & Written Communication:
• Consider relationships with the audience and the social and political context in which one communicates, as well as the needs, goals, and motivations of all involved.
• Have proficiency in, knowledge of, and competence with the means of communication (including relevant language and technical skills).
• Ensure that communication is functional and clear.
Teamwork & Leadership builds and maintains collaborative relationships based on the needs, abilities, and goals of each member of a group. Those competent in Teamwork & Leadership:
• Understand their own roles and responsibilities within a group, and how they may change in differing situations.
• Are able to influence others without necessarily holding a formal position of authority, and have the willingness to take action.
• Leverage the strengths of the group to achieve a shared vision or objective.
• Effectively acknowledge and manage conflict toward solutions.
Engaging Diversity cultivates awareness of one’s own identity and cultural background and that of others through an exploration of domains of diversity, which may include: race, ethnicity, country of origin, sexual orientation, ability, class, gender, age, spirituality, etc. This requires an understanding of historical and social contexts and a willingness to confront perspectives of dominant cultural narratives and ideologies, locally, nationally, or globally. Those competent in Engaging Diversity:
• Understand how culture affects perceptions, attitudes, values, and behaviors.
• Recognize how social structures and systems create and perpetuate inequities, resulting in social and economic marginalization and limited opportunities.
• Commit to the fundamental principles of freedom of thought and expression, equality, respect for others, diversity, and social justice; and to participate in society as conscious global citizens.
• Are able to navigate an increasingly complex and diverse world by appreciating and adopting multiple cultural perspectives or worldviews.
Active Citizenship & Community Engagement develops a consciousness about one’s potential contributions and roles in the many communities one inhabits, in person and online, and takes action accordingly. Those competent in Active Citizenship & Community Engagement:
• Actively engage with the communities in which they are involved.
• Build awareness of how communities impact individuals, and how, in turn, an individual impacts, serves, and shapes communities.
• Evolve their awareness of culture and power in community dynamics.
Digital Literacy leverages knowledge of information and communications technology and media literacies, and utilizes the interpersonal skills necessary to succeed in a digital space. Those competent in Digital Literacy:
• Assess sources of information.
• Use technologies responsibly.
• Adapt tools to new purposes.
• Keep up with the evolving technology landscape.
Career Management is the active engagement in the process of exploring possible careers, gaining meaningful experience, and building skills that help one excel after college and lead to employment or other successful postgraduation outcomes. Those competent in Career Management:
• Understand their values, interests, identity, personality, skills,strengths, and Core Career Competencies.
• Are able to articulate how those characteristics, combined with and shaped by a liberal arts education, lead to career success.
BEYOND YOUR MAJOR
Notice that the Core Career Competencies are independent of your major. When the Association of American Colleges & Universities asked employers what they most value in both their recently hired and their more experienced employees, 93 percent of the respondents said they want employees with liberal arts backgrounds—and that fundamental liberal arts competencies such as thinking critically, communicating clearly, and solving complex problems are more important to them than a specific undergraduate major.
Employers are telling us again and again that your value goes beyond your major. They are concerned far less about what you major in and far more about what you can do: about your competencies. That’s why you need to complement your major with a competency mindset and ensure that you develop the Core Career Competencies during your undergraduate years. Developing the Core Career Competencies—and being able to show it—is career readiness.
All of that being said, it makes sense to spend some time and energy choosing a major that is a good fit for you. Your major should reflect your interests and values because it dictates what you will be studying in many of your college classes. In some ways it should reflect what you’re most interested in studying. Your major might end up leading you toward a career area where you may spend much of your professional life. It will be part of your identity, and the gym where you give your mind its most in-depth workout. So choose your major wisely, but do not let career indecision prohibit you from making a choice
REFLECTION AND DECISION MAKING
What steps do you need to take to actively and purposefully plan your education so
that it works for you—so that it helps you achieve your interests and goals?
——- ACTION STEPS ——-
Which Core Career Competencies might you want to focus on the most, and how
might you tailor your academic and engagement experiences to help you develop these
COMPETENCIES: THEIR KEY ROLE IN YOUR LIBERAL ARTS EDUCATION
Liberal arts institutions use many lists that guide where they will take you as a student—lists that articulate what you’ll learn by the time you graduate. There are lists of student learning outcomes; student development outcomes; and now the Core Career Competencies that signify career readiness.
If you examine these lists—whether they come from institutions themselves or from outside groups like the Association of American Colleges & Universities (AAC&U) or the National Association of Colleges and Employers (NACE)—you will see that certain ideas appear in multiple places. This is not simple redundancy. The fact that some ideas, such as critical thinking and communication, show up on multiple lists merely indicates the importance of the idea in multiple contexts.
All of the academic and engagement activities you pursue as a liberal arts student contribute to your development of the Core Career Competencies, related competencies, your knowledge and skills associated with your major, and your broader liberal arts education. So you must not only plan your undergraduate years to complete your major(s), minor(s), and other requirements; you should also plan carefully to develop your Core Career Competencies. This alone does not make you career ready, but it is the first step: Learn it, then show it. That’s what you need to do in a competitive world.
—— This is the first of seven articles in this series. Click here to go to the next article. This series of articles are courtesy of the collective expertise of the staff in the Office of Undergraduate Education and Career Services in the College of Liberal Arts at the University of Minnesota.