Print Friendly, PDF & Email

{Long-hand notes for a job prep conference presentation given at D’Youville College, February 5, 2005.}

Good morning. First of all, I’d like to thank Fran from the Career Development Center for inviting me. As always, it’s good to be home.

Today, I am going to speak to you today as a graduate in Liberal Arts. But keep in mind I am both a business owner and a professional in the IT industry. Also keep in mind that I didn’t go to college for job training. I came to get an education. But over the years, my Alma Mater has repeatedly sent surveys asking if I use my education at D’Youville in my current occupation. In the next five minutes, you will all have my answer.

“Philosophy” for many people is another name for “undecided”, but my problem was that my interest was in everything. I always joked that with my degree I could go into almost any field – except business. But life isn’t always what you expect. And that’s the main reason you better go after what you love instead of where the jobs are today, because shifts in employment trends don’t wait four or six years for anyone to graduate.

And I could talk about résumés, the interview process, or dressing for success, but that’s what the Career Development Center is for. I think you should know the unique advantages and challenges of having a Liberal Arts degree.

Be on guard against pessimism. People will question the value of your education based on marketability. I myself once had fallen to the notion – sadly – that I was not qualified to be hired in most fields. In fact, I had more transferable skills than anyone else who would ordinarily seek a place in any industry. I did not have specific skills for specific tasks, but general skills to apply to all things. Yes our skill set is perhaps unfashionable, but timeless and comparatively irreplaceable.

Liberal Arts gives you tremendous transferable skills – capitalize on it. Don’t ask an employer to accept your background – demand they respect it. You can effectively communicate, problem-solve, work ethically, and learn anything you need to no matter the pace of technology, globalization, and other changes in our culture.

And you also have the capacity for leadership because you can accept and analyze different viewpoints. It doesn’t mean having a bumper sticker that says “What Would Nielsen Do” – if you learn from him, you’ll know it means taking responsibility for what YOU would do.

But some students whine that the core curriculum of this amazing institution is too heavy a burden and they want to “get on with it”. But someday you will all look back and realize what you have either taken full advantage of – or missed.

Another important lesson is that you are a whole person. You are not a job description, a limited skill set, or a résumé. You don’t have to settle for a name badge with an occupational title under your name – you can excel and adapt, or in other words, be promoted. You are not limited by your “job training”. That is your long-term advantage.

So if you are unsatisfied with one field, you can always change fields. Unlike most people, you can switch careers more easily. You do not need wholesale retraining so much as the re-application of the skills you developed in Liberal Arts. You can taste the rewards of many professional realms over your lifetime.

And I can’t stress enough that no matter what field you choose, you can be lifted up or limited by the support group you chose. Don’t marry someone who will tell you the rest of your life you should have gotten a “more useful” degree. I just barely dodged that bullet myself.
There will always be people who criticize freethinkers, entrepreneurs, leaders, and those who take an ethical stand. But you don’t have to live with them.

On the other hand, don’t think I mean putting a career above your family. Ask yourself which one ought to serve the other in the end. Do you work to live or live to work? And whatever your answer, live your decision without guilt.

Which brings me to my final point. Where are all the jobs for us? You may have noticed there aren’t too many listings in the papers for “historians”, “philosophers”, or “sociologists”. But they ARE out there – under different names.

First, there’s always teaching. I’m not so sure of the value of going straight from being a student to a teacher in most disciplines, because it contributes no true experience to the field with the exception of field research. But in Liberal Arts, your disciplines are experiential by nature. It is more natural for one of us to contribute to the fields of philosophy, sociology, language and the like by being teachers. These fields are integral to teaching itself.

Secondly, there is the unlikely candidate – business. From my own experience I say this: business decisions are mere luck without discernment and clarity with regards to the reality of market conditions. If you cannot perceive and account for the basic sociological and psychological behaviors of consumers, you are gambling.

Then there is a mix of both. In my own field, everyone and their brother thinks they can build you a professional web site. I survive through focusing on consumer education and consultation. People don’t need to know how the Internet works, they need to know how it affects their business in the real world, and that takes communications skills, not technical ones. Liberal Arts separate you from the bean counters (accountants) and the artisans and the laborers. And you can teach yourself to consult in ANY field.

You can even CREATE a position in a company or organization by bringing these rare, yet vital skills. And make them pay for YOU, not your time or piece work.

And then we could ideally say that law needs more philosophers and government needs more historians in office – oh, what a wonderful world it would be. But in the meantime, you need to know a little about the future during your lifetime. I’m talking about the growing industry of information technology. Not trying to step on any toes here …

It takes linguists to develop the heuristics of language recognition. It takes amazing inter-disciplinary critical thinking skills to employ computer network theory in the fight against terrorist organizations’ social structure, or apply neural processing to new ways of computing. It takes psychology to understand what is an intuitive human-machine interface in software.

Who will sort out all the social and philosophical implications of advanced artificial intelligence? Like the generations before us, there will be advanced we cannot even imagine, yet our grandchildren will take for granted. Who will tackle the theological implications WHEN we find life on other planets? And who will speak up for the half of humanity who to this day has not even used a telephone?

So here is your answer. Will you use what you’ve learned? Anywhere you go, no matter what the world has in store. But in whatever field you choose at any time in your life, never stop learning, and expect to be looked upon in the end as a guide for others in every field.