NYU’s Liberal Arts “Boot Camp”

Every January, NYU’s Wasserman Career Center hosts a “Liberal Arts Boot Camp” for undergrads who’d like to better understand their future career prospects in business.  This year, I was invited to join them and to talk to students about what exceptional preparation a liberal arts education is for business leadership, as well as some specific ways they can think about how to apply what they know to positions in business.

There were about 100 students at this event, and I’m happy to say I got time to talk with many of them over lunch, during coffee breaks and hallway interludes.  Two things really struck me about them.  First, they’re interesting—well-read, well-traveled, bi-lingual (many of them) and articulate.  To a person, they seem to have a sense of purpose, a sense of direction and a sense of humor.  Second—and this took me by surprise—most of them are already convinced that their education in Political Science, English, Liberal Studies, etc., is preparing them for careers in business, and they’re ready to become hard-working contributors to commercial success somewhere.  They’re not exactly sure how to get started—that’s why they came to this event.  However, they are sure that successful business careers are not only entirely possible, they’re also entirely sensible.

This took me by surprise because I usually meet liberal arts students who say either:

(1)  “Working in business is not ‘me’; I don’t have any idea what I’d do in a commercial, for-profit kind of place”;

OR

(2) “Business hiring managers have made it pretty clear they’re looking elsewhere for their next crop of employees; alas, all those predictions about my future prospects in fast food prep are probably true.” 

The NYU liberal arts students at this “business boot camp” said neither.  They do not need to be convinced to head into business.  They’re past that.  Instead, they’re dying to know just how to do it, how to create the resume that says “I can write, I’m analytical, I’m an organized planner,” with the unspoken subtext “even though I didn’t major in Accounting”—and here’s how you, Oh Employer, can put me to work. 

Some of their questions were about how to get the most out of social networking for professional purposes.  “Should I be on LinkedIn now or should I wait ‘til I graduate?” (Now!) “Should I follow up with any of the business people I’ve met here today, or should I wait until I’m closer to graduation?”  (Don’t wait!)

They also asked what entry level positions they should apply for, along with that never-ending question “What if I don’t know how to do that job?”—reflecting their concerns about the competition from professional schools, assuming the competition has been trained to “do that job.”  I answered this way:  No one is prepared to do that job on “day 1.”  Everyone needs additional training.  Don’t think that just because you move your tassel to the right side of the mortarboard, you’re done with your education.  Education is a lifelong, career-long, process.  You learn a lot about how to do that job on the job, and your friends from the School of Business will do the same.  The School of Business guys may have a few more financial calculations at their disposal to apply to the job, but you, Liberal Arts Majors, have a share of equally useful skills, the kinds we’ve been talking about all day—writing, analysis, organization, and more.

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