Why You Should Hire a Liberal Arts Major

By Sho Dewan

The best talent you’re not hiring

Historically, Liberal Arts majors have had a bad reputation when it comes to their appeal in the job market. While unfair, this generalization has trickled into the way many recruiters hire, especially for tech companies.

Which candidate do you think a startup would prefer for a Data Scientist role: a Mathematics or a Sociology graduate? It depends is the right answer, but most recruiters are trained to look out for the buzzwords and go with the straightforward choice. This practice may be acceptable in the short-term, but tech companies are potentially losing out on game-changers by going down this route.

Yes, strong technical skills are great qualities, but they’re not the only ones that matter. The best candidates for long-term success are often dynamic in their skill sets and have varied backgrounds. What matters most for a growing startup are candidates with the ability to think outside of the box and solve real, human problems. 

According to a recent LinkedIn report, the top three most in-demand soft skills for 2020 are creativity, persuasion, and collaboration (The Skills Companies Need Most in 2020—And How to Learn Them). And which backgrounds are typically most equipped with these skills from their studies? Liberal Arts.

So how can startups best hire a great blend of talent for their organizations?

Focus on the skill sets, not on past titles

It’s easy to judge candidates based on their schools, majors, and previous roles, but this approach is not ideal when you want to foster diversity. Instead, identify the essential skills the candidates would need to succeed in the role and then look for them specifically. 

Referring back to the Data Scientist role, the ability to use analytical reasoning should be high on the priority list. As an interviewer, ask for examples of when the candidate showcased that skill. You’ll gain a much more in-depth understanding of the individual by doing so, such as what motivates them. 

Hire for attitude

According to Entrepreneur, “40 percent of all new hires fail because of issues with their attitude.” If given a choice between ability and attitude, go with attitude every time. Anyone can learn new skills, but it is much harder to convince candidates to feel excited for a company and its mission if they are missing that spark from day one.

Reward multi-skilled candidates 

Recruiters are sometimes so honed into identifying the few technical skills that they miss the talent sitting right in front of them. In today’s world, the best talents are no longer one-trick specialists, but well-rounded rockstars. Don’t detract star candidates from having multiple interests and skills–reward them for it. 

Back in the day, most tech recruiters wouldn’t even look twice at the CV of a Liberal Arts major, but times have changed. The best companies know that a diverse talent pool is better for business. More startups are now finding great success in hiring talent from less traditional paths. The CEOs of Airbnb, Alibaba, and YouTube all hold humanities degrees, and your next great hire may have one, too.

About the Author

Sho is the Founder of Workhap, a coaching and leadership training company in Hong Kong. Its mission is to make work a happier place for everyone. He helps ambitious job seekers find their ideal next role and partners with leading companies to teach leadership skills to managers.

workhap.com

This story was originally published in Jumpstart Issue 29: Back to Basics as Vindicating the Liberal Arts Major.

Photo by Palash Jain on Unsplash

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