Skip to main contentA logo with &quat;the muse&quat; in dark blue text.
Advice / Career Paths / Exploring Careers

The Job Skills You Learned from the Liberal Arts

If you didn’t major in business, the transition from college to the working world can feel like a plunge into a no-man’s land of incomprehensible jargon. Sure, you can speed-read a research brief and plow through most any canonical novel—but when it comes to job postings, everything you read can sound like a foreign language (and not any of the ones you studied). Optimize? Forecast? Generate leads? You hardly have a clue what the employer is looking for—let alone if you would fit the bill.

And suddenly, you’re wondering whether you just spent four years (and quite a bit of money) devoting yourself to a subject that has absolutely no practical application in the post-college world.

But there’s no need to panic. Take it from me, an English and Spanish major: Your liberal arts studies did teach you some tangible, real-world skills that will set you up for success on the job—even if they aren’t in those job descriptions (not explicitly, anyway).

Of course, you’ll learn even more as your career takes off, but just because you didn’t take an accounting class, doesn’t mean you’re going out there empty-handed. Here are four important skills you’ve already got:

1. Asking Good Questions

All those participation points you racked up in your seminar classes? You earned those by asking good questions—not just the first thing that popped into your head—when you showed up to class prepared and ready to learn more. When your new employer sees that you not only know your stuff, but you can also be counted on to ask the necessary, incisive question at the right time, she’ll know you take your job just as seriously.

2. Responding Constructively

In your introductory classes, did you have to peer review each others’ papers? If so, once in a while you probably got that paper that—well, maybe it addressed the topic, but you couldn’t quite tell because the chaotic structure and abysmal grammar were so distracting. Despite your desire to just rewrite the whole thing yourself, you were expected to come up with a couple of positive things to share with the writer about her paper. And you did.

In the working world, you’re not expected to do your co-workers’ jobs, but you are expected to work as a team. And that requires knowing how to give feedback in a way that’s beneficial to your co-workers and your project. Just like when you critiqued your classmate’s essay, you don’t want anyone to end up in tears, but you’re also not going to settle for less than great (or at least decent).


3. Getting to the Point

No, you probably won’t directly use your in-depth knowledge of artistic movements in revolutionary Latin America, philosophy of language, or responses to early British literature in your first job, but those hours you spent in the library weren’t all for naught. All those research papers taught you how to boil a huge subject down into a single thesis statement and back it up.

You learned how to read dense, complex material, and, more importantly, synthesize the information you gleaned into a comprehensible essay of your own. And those skills will seriously come in handy when you need to sift through a pile of documents and come up with a concise and compelling report that’ll blow your boss and your clients away.

4. Respect for Others’ Viewpoints

If you majored in a language, you might be lucky enough to find a position that allows you to use those skills with customers here or abroad. But even if you don’t get to speak Spanish, Chinese, or Arabic on the job, your language classes and semesters out of the country have taught you how to learn from and work with people with views different from your own. You’re able to express your needs and opinions both effectively and respectfully in another language, and that ability will be key for your day-to-day responsibilities, whatever the lingua franca. Communication skills? Check.

Whether you’re a soon-to-be grad, recent graduate, or looking to move on from that first job that didn’t turn out to be your dream, know that your four years studying poetry, history, or philosophy have equipped you for the working world outside your campus—even more than you might realize.


If you were a liberal arts grad, how has your education benefitted you in the working world? 

Photo courtesy of Tulane Public Relations.