Tech Companies Benefit Immensely from Assignees with Liberal Arts Degrees

Until very recently, the liberal arts and humanities courses were perceived by many employers, students, and career professionals alike as something out of an art gallery or an expensive piece of decoration in the living room:  prestigious-sounding, definitely highbrow, possibly elitist and hence valuable in the eyes of high society, but ultimately impractical and irrelevant to the hardcore demands of the workplace.

Popular convention had it that liberal arts and humanities graduates ended up mostly as college professors, museum curators, and art critics or journalists. Those who were lucky or more determined become working artists like a sculptor or a film director. Others who found they were suited for corporate life made careers in the marketing and advertising industries.

But thanks to a study published by The Washington Post, these same career professionals and their mentors are rethinking their impressions. It featured Google’s Project Oxygen, an intensive research that was designed to come up with the kind of professional profile that fit into the search engine’s culture.

All data in matters of hiring, promotion, and termination were crunched and ran by the company’s formidable algorithm. Many of those involved anticipated that the atypical Google employee would show strengths in the subjects that made tech companies thrive, namely Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math—or STEM for short.

What shocked everyone inside and outside of Google was that the traits that were most common among the company’s most valuable employees had more to do with those developed in liberal arts and humanities courses, and not STEM.

The report lists them as follows:  “being a good coach; communicating and listening well; possessing insights into others (including others different values and points of view); having empathy toward and being supportive of one’s colleagues; being a good critical thinker and problem solver; and being able to make connections across complex ideas.”

Not long after, the much-maligned courses of liberal arts and humanities experienced an increase in value, as far as perception was concerned.

Company owners and managers interviewed by the NH Business Review support Google’s conclusion.  Graduates of sociology, philosophy, and English, for example, are trained to look at the big picture, communicate clearly with their peers and superiors, and work harmoniously with their colleagues. All these are desirable qualities that HR Managers have often sought for in their recruits.

Another trait that makes liberal arts graduates assets are their capacity — and eagerness — for lifelong learning. They can intellectually adapt to the changing times, and invest in the time needed to learn new theories, ideas, and skills.

The acceleration of technology can make certain rigid skill sets, like a certain programming language, obsolete in a few years’ time. However, the person who can imbibe new knowledge and make them work in his current situation will always have a market or people willing to employ them.

Global mobility managers might want to prioritize assignees with STEM degrees, especially if they are recruiting for posts in companies located in Northern California or Silicon Valley.That drive will not slow down anytime, soon. However, given the recent developments, companies have been hiring more diverse candidates who have strong communication skills and can speak another language other than English. After all, these companies have the world as their market.