I have lived and worked in the Washington, D.C., area for most of my career. The city is sometimes known as "20 square miles surrounded by reality" and occasionally conjures up negative images of indecision, bureaucracy, and stalemate. However, the reality is that most of the world's great private sector companies operate here in some fashion and numerous government agencies here skillfully complete some of the most difficult missions in the world.
It is a city that remains thirsty for skilled graduates who bring confidence, global perspective, and a broad set of skills to their jobs. I remain fascinated by the evolution of the kinds of skills that these organizations require such as foreign language, political science, communications, and creative writing. To meet this change, graduates in liberal arts must couple their breadth and depth of skills and learning with specific personal experience using these skills and awareness of their strengths so that they can almost design/create/construct their own jobs and careers. Clearly, the days of the college diploma nearly guaranteeing a student a fruitful and rewarding career appear to be over. Today, it takes initiative, self-awareness, and a healthy dose of common sense.
With initiative, graduates will self-start and manage a job search in areas that both interest and continue to develop the individual. With self-awareness, they will gravitate to a job that uses the specific skills mastered in college while developing a personal development plan that will help find avenues to develop new skills over time. Finally, success demands a good old-fashioned dose of common sense. "Street smarts" that show a sense of interacting with the community using proper written, oral, and nonverbal skills are vital to differentiate a graduate from the pack.
Whether we are still in school, five years out, or even 50 years past graduation, we all must continue to evolve and teach ourselves new skills every year. There are millions of professionals around the globe gearing up to compete with our country and us as individuals. As Thomas Friedman discusses in his book That Used to Be Us, we need to return to the era of the skilled artisan who was so proud of his end product, whether a shoe, saddle, or clothing, that he actually branded his initials on his product.
In this new era, we all need to ask ourselves, "What will I put my initials on?"