Preparing for the Job Market 1: What is my skill set?

Liberal Arts majors of all sorts sometimes struggle to communicate the value of their training to prospective employers. American Studies majors are no exception. In part, this is the collective fault of the Liberal Arts disciplines, for professors in those disciplines do a poor job of helping you identify and articulate your skill set, and an even worse job helping you cultivate the “social capital” you need to get that first big job (we do, however, teach you what “social capital” is, where the term came from, and why it matters). The next two posts should be considered a modest attempt to rectify the failures outlined above…

What is my skill set?   

American Studies majors have been trained to think broadly and creatively. We know how to identify problems, conduct research that clarifies the history, context and parameters of the problem, and devise solutions based on best practice. More mundanely, American Studies students know how to:

  • Conduct Research
  • Analyze Information, and
  • Translate it into meaningful knowledge

Heck, we know there’s a difference between data and knowledge; your technically trained peers often do not. More specifically, we American Studies folk possess the “soft skills” employers are looking for. We are

  • Curious
  • Information Literate
  • Know how to speak clearly and write well
  • Play well with others, and
  • Respect diversity of opinion and experience

These are SKILLS! Not everyone has them. YOU DO! This is what you sell.

If you don’t believe me, maybe you’ll believe Forbes magazine:

The career options available to graduates of general liberal arts degrees are far more diverse and attractive than we usually assume. . . . Businesses value these graduates’ critical thinking skills, communication abilities, and creativity. The breadth of focus gives the students knowledge that can help them thrive in a wide variety of fields.

Or perhaps you’ll believe the employers surveyed by the Association of American Colleges and Universities,

93 percent of . . . [whom] said the ability for job candidates to think critically, communicate and problem-solve outweighs their undergraduate degree. Companies that traditionally have looked only for hard skills are realizing a coding guru isn’t that valuable if he or she can’t communicate effectively. (

Or maybe you’ll believe human resource directors themselves. According to US News & World Report,

survey of 400 employers conducted by The Conference Board, Corporate Voices for Working Families, the Partnership for 21st Century Skills, and the Society for Human Resource Management found that applied skills such as oral communication, critical thinking, creativity and teamwork “trump basic knowledge and skills, such as reading comprehension and mathematics,” for career success.

In the same article, Val DiFebo, CEO of Deutsch NY, a New York-based advertising firm, clarified the rationale behind these survey results:

I find that liberal arts thinkers are the ones that try to problem solve and don’t just draw on experiences and skills from school . . . When interns tell me they’re majoring in marketing, I wonder if that’s the smartest thing. This industry changes so rapidly; I’m not sure what you’d learn as a marketing major would prepare you properly for what marketing will look like in the future. (Ibid)

Now this information should not be interpreted as a “golden ticket” to a job. Rather, it is designed to give you language to discuss your strengths. Tomorrow, I’ll post a follow-up discussing strategies for making the most of the contacts available at the upcoming Job Fair (OSUT: Tuesday, March 7, 3-5 pm).

Oh, and by the way, the best way to cultivate relations (social capital) that might be parlayed into a job is to do an internship!


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