March 2019
St. Thomas students at a job fair

From technical to social-emotional, employers are looking for a wide variety of skills in their potential new hires. These employers continue to rely on graduates from private nonprofit liberal arts colleges knowing they have the skills needed to succeed.

“Its communications, critical thinking, analytical skills, problem solving — these are the core skills that employers are looking for and not-so-coincidentally those are all skills we teach here at a liberal arts college,” said Jennifer Rogers, associate director, employer relations at the University of St. Thomas. “Most employers say they appreciate students who are well rounded and that’s exactly what we are producing.”

Last month’s job and internship fair for students at Minnesota Private Colleges was another reminder of what employers are seeking. Organized by the career development offices, more than 300 hiring organizations were present this year and over 2,000 students attended.

Beyond any set of skills, students working to land that first post-college job can be helped by having an ability to show their commitment: “Stand out students show passion for what we do, for what they do, their major, their interest area. This is something that really stands out to us,” said Daisy Hinding, JAMF Software, one of the fair participants.

Another key quality can be a spirit of inquiry. “We’re looking for curiosity in candidates,” said Alli Balgaard, recruiter at Bio-Techne, another fair participant. “We want someone to come into our company, learn the ropes a little bit and question why we do things.”

From her vantage point in the career development office, when Rogers reflects on what she sees showing up as priorities for new hires, it’s hard to beat the importance of communications. “Every employer will tell you communication skills are paramount,” Rogers said. “They are often defining communication skills broadly, including interpersonal communications and written communications.”

For many reasons, small private colleges are uniquely help students build high demand skills, from communications to critical thinking. “Students receive better instruction with small class sizes and professors who are focused on teaching,” Rogers said. “The ability to gather leadership skills is another important way students become desirable for employers. At larger institutions students are competing for leadership positions. At small private colleges there are many leadership opportunities.”

Looking for more on what employers are seeking and the role of liberal arts? View a 2018 employer survey sponsored by AAC&U.

By Tom Lancaster