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September 3, 2008 > Over time, liberal arts grads succeed in business

Over time, liberal arts grads succeed in business

The Associated Press, Aug 31_For a small school with a liberal arts bent, Hamilton College in rural upstate New York does quite well with recruiters, particularly from Wall Street. Goldman Sachs has hired as many as 13 graduates in one year, and there are always several picked for internships and jobs at leading companies like GE.

Indeed, a research study tracking a group of Hamilton graduates over their careers _ part of a project, funded by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, to evaluate liberal arts education _ is finding good news for these liberal arts students, or at least for ambitious ones.

Daniel Chambliss, a Hamilton sociology professor conducting the study, said these graduates sometimes take longer to get traction in the job market, but once they do, they often rise quickly as managers.

``There's a panic. They get out and say, 'What am I supposed to do?''' Chambliss said. But within a few years, a common story goes, they'll find themselves around a table with a group confronting a problem. Often, it's those with the liberal arts training who can best boil an issue down to its essence and advance a solution.

``And the next thing they know they're a vice president,'' Chambliss said.

It's true that technology is an almost-essential job skill, and technical skills open some doors that liberal arts training cannot. But technology changes, so the ability to learn, analyze and communicate are valued skills, too.

There's no one route to the top, but the liberal arts are one of them. Of the CEOs of the S&P 500 companies, 6 percent identified their undergraduate degrees as liberal arts subjects, according to a recent survey by SpencerStuart. Twenty-one percent of the CEOs had engineering degrees, and 13 percent studied business administration and 8 percent accounting. (Another 15 percent studied economics, which is taught in almost all liberal arts colleges. No further categories were provided in the results).

Hamilton's graduates include French and history double-major A.G. Lafley, now chairman and CEO of Procter & Gamble, as well as the ``Myers'' and ``Bristol'' who co-founded what's now Bristol-Myers Squibb. Barclays PLC president Robert Diamond studied economics at Colby College in Maine. Treasury Secretary and former Goldman Sachs CEO Henry Paulson majored in English at Dartmouth.

Even Accenture, the giant global consulting firm with a huge technology practice, hires about 1 in 10 entry-level employees from a liberal arts background, said senior global recruitment director John Campagnino. That may not sound like much, but it's sizable considering Accenture hires 60,000 people altogether annually.

``We're talking about a consulting firm coming and changing the way you do your work,'' Campagnino said. ``The communication of that to the people in the organization is a tremendously important aspect.''

The company makes regular recruiting trips to liberal arts colleges like Wellesley, Smith and Spellman. It looks for students with good grades, work experience and, yes, some technology skills.

``Liberal arts majors without an ability to do much beyond word processing put themselves at risk,'' he said. ``You need to be a little bit more savvy.''

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