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  • Recruiting Liberal Arts Students for Tech Careers

    March 23, 2016 | By NACE Staff

    Special Populations
    A group of liberal arts students sits around a table.

    TAGS: technology, candidate selection, liberal arts, nace insights

    Spotlight for Recruiting Professionals

    Why are liberal arts graduates valuable hires for tech companies? These graduates are naturally curious and are able to take a multi-disciplinary approach to problem solving, says Alice Harra, associate dean of students and director of Reed College’s Center for Life Beyond Reed.

    “In addition, the value of strong writers, good listeners, and clear presenters cannot be underestimated,” Harra says. “These skills are in short supply today.”

    Tech companies are hiring liberal arts students for various roles, including as content strategists, audience analysts, concept artists, data storytellers, design engineers, intellectual rights negotiators, social connectors, game designers, coders, and more.

    “Prepared by an intellectually rigorous education and trained to think across disciplines, liberal arts graduates can move between tech and non-tech roles at companies, allowing quicker talent movement and growth,” Harra explains.

    She notes that a number of tech firms—from Apple to Air B&B to Switchboard to Urban Airship to Puppet Labs—have liberal arts founders or early employees. She also points out that there are similarities between liberal arts majors and STEM students entering the working world, as both groups need:

    • A sense of purpose.
    • Consistent and honest feedback.
    • A sense of belonging.
    • Equitable compensation.
    • Engaged colleagues
    • A clear understanding of their value to the larger enterprise and why. 

    However, one key consideration for tech employers recruiting liberal arts students is the learning environment of the schools from which they are recruiting them.

    “Knowing this speeds up the onboarding period and deepens the engagement between new employees and employers,” Harra says.

    For example, she explains that if the liberal arts education is conference-based, then the students as new employees will be organically good at groups and teams, and may thrive if placed in a team setting immediately. If the institution requires a thesis or capstone project in the senior year, the liberal arts students might be comfortable with independent work right away. 

    “However, students graduating from a lecture-style education may need more group facilitation at first and may need more support with independent projects,” Harra says.

    To reach liberal arts students, tech companies can share how the technology they created or use solves human and social problems. 

    “Talk about your community of purpose,” Harra suggests. “Are you in the business of the care and cure of illness? Enhancing human potential? Creating more civilized living in an increasingly urbanized world?  Bringing art and beauty to the world? Your business is your purpose, and students who have a common purpose may be outstanding employees because they already have the same heartbeat as your company, and they can be trained for the skills they need to help you further your purpose and business.”

    Some other recommendations Harra makes for tech companies to connect with and effectively recruit liberal arts students include:

    • Changing the narrative internally—If you talk about STEM versus the liberal arts, change the dialogue and perception. Understand that science and math are liberal arts, too. Talk about how you incorporate both/and at your company, and if you have a strategy for attracting the best engineering and computer science talent, also have a strategy that includes attracting the top scientists, social scientists, humanists, designers, and others.  
    • Expanding the way you think about target schools—Employers tend to stay with their core recruiting schools, but they may want to branch out as competition heats up and recruiting cycles move earlier. Identify the schools from which your most creative and productive employees come. Then, take time to visit the liberal arts and sciences institutions that intrigue you.  
    • Going beyond traditional methods of engagement—Meet students in engaging ways—like whiteboard sessions—so you can see their ability to deconstruct problems, frame arguments, and synthesize new information. Ask them different questions, not only "What do you know about our company?" but "What have you done to demonstrate interest in our primary purpose?"  
    • Starting early—Engage early with sophomores by bringing examples of what your summer interns do. Most interns finish their assignment by presenting projects to executives, so bring those projects to campus and ask students to refine them or comment on them. Students like to try things on (virtually and literally) to see if it feels like them, so invite students onsite, if local. 

    “At Reed, we also invited tech firms to pose everyday problems that they face and then come to campus and work alongside a team of students in a whiteboard session,” Harra adds. “It generated both talent identification and student development.”

    Harra will present “Why Liberal Arts Majors Thrive in Tech Companies” during NACE16.