You Have Your Liberal Arts Degree: Now What? The question parents of recent grads are probably asking this summer

08/08/2017 10:49 pm ET

Pitzer College in Claremont was a perfect fit for my youngest son, and he had a wonderful four years there. He started off thinking he would pursue a pre-med program, and isn’t that what every parent wants to hear? With those magic words—“Mom and Dad, I want to be a doctor”—my husband and I felt relieved and stopped worrying about his future. Wouldn’t any parent?

But Calculus and Organic Chemistry derailed those plans. Then, my son turned from medicine to Psychology, and he soon decided that statistical inference was somewhat pointless, too. Finally, he chose for his major Creative Writing and English and filled up his schedule with classes on Philosophy, Anthropology, Music, Environmental Studies, and Art.

By all accounts, he ended up with an ideal liberal arts education—but what next?

Fortunately for him, during his Pitzer years, he ventured across the street to the school where I am dean, the Drucker School of Management, and took classes in marketing and the economics of strategy. He was also active with internships. Near the end of his final college semester, he surprised me. He told me he was learning HTML and Python. Now, those were words I never thought to hear coming out of his mouth.

“Why HTML and Python?” I asked, trying to hide my surprise.

He said someone at my school, an industry leader in gaming, told him the market needs graduates who write great content and understand programming and scripting languages such as HTML, Python, Java or SQL. (Note to self: my son is seeking and listening to advice about how to prepare himself for a job AND the advice he’s been given is very good … hurray!)

I’m not writing this to brag, but to share with other parents what I’ve learned as the mother of a college graduate and as a dean.

My colleagues and I spend much of our time paying close attention to ever-changing employer needs and adjusting our curriculum to meet them. As a result, here are six areas your young graduate should master to be considered “job ready” by an employer:

1. Deep functional knowledge: The kinds of skills one gets from fields including marketing, accounting, finance, human resources, and supply chain. Functional knowledge alone is not enough.

2. Soft skills: A few years ago, employers started asking for better-developed soft skills, such as critical thinking, teamwork, and the ability to sell and influence others. That may explain why students do more project work and presentations now.

3. Ability to analyze data: Given how much data is being collected about behavior, organizations want graduates who have some experience using data to solve management problems.

4. Software proficiency: The list of software programs is long and ranges from statistical packages and digital marketing tools to finance tools and programming and scripting languages.

5. Micro-credentials: Adding credentials such as the Chartered Financial Analyst (CFA) certification or Chartered Public Accountant (CPA) certification are helpful. They might be essential to a specific job posting or simply ensure you are a more competitive candidate.

6. Work experience: This is a sore point for many graduates. The common reaction is: “How can I possibly get 1-2 years’ work experience before I graduate?” The harsh reality is, because employers reduced headcount after the 2008-09 Great Recession, they now expect new hires to already be job ready. That explains why projects and internships during College are important. Many employers will add together time spent on projects and internships to reach that 1-2 year goal.

What if your child is a liberal arts graduate? Good news: They generally excel in the soft skills above. And, based on the positive attention given to the liberal arts by Mark Cuban and other prominent business figures recently, more companies are recognizing the value of liberal arts backgrounds again.

At my school that has never changed—we have always valued the liberal arts for a simple reason: management is a human activity. Effective managers get things done through people. Our school’s founder, Peter Drucker, reminded managers that their responsibility extends beyond simply providing people with an income. He took a similarly human-centered approach to customers, too. When you consider his approach, you realize your child’s liberal arts education is actually a great springboard for any management career.

That said, considering the list of “job ready” skills above, a liberal arts education might not be enough. That is why we recently launched a one-year MA in Management to address all those things—functional skills, software competency, etc.—to cover those things that liberal arts graduates will need in the job hunt.

Today’s liberal arts graduates need options, especially if they’re not interested in building a startup or committing to a long graduate program (and especially if they don’t have a mom who happens to be a dean). It’s up to higher education institutions, post-undergraduate, to get them “job ready” and to provide them with answers when one of their parents asks, “OK, now what?”

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