I can’t remember a time when I didn’t think of myself as a writer. I was a six year old who wrote a poem about the monster under the bed, so when it came time to decide on college and what I wanted to do for the rest of my life, I had no doubts. As soon as I could declare my major, I walked into the administration building and filled out the form. “English Writing”, I wrote; “fiction”, in particular. I knew what I loved so what I loved should obviously be my job when I grew up. Easy.
But it wasn’t so easy to convince everyone that I could do something with an English degree. There have always been a handful of career paths that are the typical make-your-parents-proud careers. Your lawyer, doctor, STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) career path; these are the people who are going to be successful when it comes to finding a job after graduation, right? STEM degrees get you career-ready; liberal arts... not so much.
For a long time, I believed that; while I loved what I learned in college and writing was my only soulmate, pursuing my passion left me woefully unprepared for a real job. I’d apply to a dozen job openings a month that seemed like a good fit — copywriting jobs, editorial jobs, I even applied to be the person who writes descriptions for the new clothing items at my favorite online retailer. I rarely heard back from these hiring managers, unless it was a polite, well-crafted bot email letting me know that, should I still be interested in working for so-and-so company, keep checking the job board for new positions! So, needing a job to pay for life — and that first student loan payment looming on the horizon — I started looking elsewhere. What followed was a string of customer service and barista jobs (pro tip: many coffee shops let you have free coffee on shift, so I saved some money on my expensive caffeine habit) that kept me afloat, able to pay rent and sometimes buy groceries, too.
And, you know what? It wasn’t the tragedy I thought it’d be! I met some of my best friends at work and I strengthened some skills I didn’t even realize I had to begin with. Besides fascinating new friends with how quickly I can read a book, a liberal arts education, an English degree, gave me some foundational soft skills that proved to be invaluable. Soft Skills, which can be boiled down to great communication skills, leadership skills, and the ability to adapt quickly to new situations, are all things I developed in my liberal arts education and skills that are highly valued in the workplace. These soft skills helped me get promotions, find new positions that were a better fit, and, eventually, led to me to start at Penn Foster as an Admissions Specialist. From there, I was able to utilize those soft skills and my writing to make the jump to a job I love — writing blog posts and social media content that you read and, hopefully, enjoy.
But what about those STEM careers I mentioned earlier? Do people who pursue those industries and areas lack soft skills? Does it even matter, since they’re being set up for career readiness by pursuing a desirable field? I mean, tech skills and coding basics have become seemingly essential to finding a well-paying, stable interesting job these days; you have those skills on your resume, you’re a competitive force to be reckoned with in the workplace!
In a recent article shared on LinkedIn, Alex Chriss, SVP + Chief Product Officer for Intuit, writes:
“The proliferation of advanced technology like artificial intelligence and its highly publicized potential to change the workforce has fueled an intense focus on STEM [...] education across the United States. Schools around the country are adjusting their curriculum accordingly [...]”
This means schools are maybe focusing less on the idea of providing students with a well-rounded education and more on preparing them for the STEM-driven workforce of today.
That makes perfect sense, right? We should prepare our students for careers; isn’t that the point of furthering your education? Sure. But by preparing students to be technologically savvy and ignoring other essential skills, we’re leaving them with a gap in knowledge that’s only recently been addressed. The importance placed on “soft skills” seems a new development, maybe even a fad — but employers are just as interested in soft skills as they are technical knowledge. A 2017 CareerBuilder forecast that Chriss mentions in his article found that “62% of employers rated soft skills as very important.”
The interesting thing here (and the reason I took up so much space talking about myself) is that a Liberal Arts education can actually provide a decent foundation in soft skills. While it took years to find a position where I actually used the things I learned in my college’s writing program, I can see in past jobs that the communication skills I picked up helped a lot. Someone who can communicate what they’re thinking and know how to share that information well with other people is a pretty hireable individual these days. So, obviously, everyone with an interest in STEM and tackling the digital frontier should reconsider and enroll in English and Art programs!
Actually, no. That would be terrible advice. Realistically, we will all follow our passions or be drawn to certain things over others. I will never Math well. Never. But that’s why I have Google and several math-y apps on my phone. For those students and graduates who have an analytical mind and love nothing better than digging into meaty code, taking on a Liberal Arts education focus might be the completely wrong thing to do. But that doesn’t mean you’re stuck or you lack the ability to build soft skills.
As cliche as it is to say, we all learn something new everyday. That’s where online programs and certificates come in. I’m currently struggling through a Google Analytics certification because I lack the ability to enjoy any form of data. On the opposite end, a Career Readiness training course can teach those who are new to soft skills how to begin to develop them and how to become a soft skills champion. I’d argue that we all, whether we’re English majors or Engineering students, could benefit from a soft skills class.
Chriss advises that we “shift our dialogue from ‘how can today’s students prepare for the jobs of tomorrow?’ to ‘how can today’s students differentiate themselves and provide the most value in the new world of work?’” How can you differentiate yourself among thick stacks of professional, sleek resumes when you’re applying to a new company? How can you differentiate yourself from your coworkers who are looking at the same leadership position you are?
Whether artistically or technologically inclined, we should all be career ready. Are you?
Read more from Chriss’ piece “Want to Get Hired? Don’t Ditch Your Liberal Arts Degree” here!