Initiative: Do You Know the Higher Standards of Success?

Phil Gardner is the director of the Collegiate Employment Research Institute at Michigan State University and the international authority on career trends for college students entering the workforce. His research among thousands of national and international employers makes it pretty clear that initiative is the single most valuable skill a job applicant can possess. Gardner lists 12 essentials, including strong communication and team work abilities that a college student must develop in order to be marketable after graduation. But initiative sits at the top of the “higher standards” list, 10 über-attributes that will lift an applicant above the competition. Here is where new careerists can invest efforts that will pay off, both immediately, in terms of job offers, and in the long run, having been groomed for management and advanced professional opportunities.

The “Higher Standards”

  • Initiative: The Holy Grail
  • Build and sustain professional relationships
  • Analyze, evaluate and interpret data
  • Engage in continuous learning
  • Communicate through persuasion and justification
  • Plan and manage a project
  • Create new knowledge
  • Seek global understanding
  • Mentor and develop others
  • Build a team

Unfortunately, there is no “Higher Standards” major at BYU. But maybe that’s not all bad. The university experience at its finest develops these abilities through a broad exposure to course work and university-facilitated experience. Frans Johansson, author of The Medici Effect, argues persuasively that innovation comes at the intersection of disciplines. His study reveals that most great inventions are the result of crisscrossed educational and experiential backgrounds. When students can choose a major in an area they are passionate about, and supplement it with a minor or course work in another discipline, they dramatically increase their ability to function at the intersection. Phil Gardner suggests that a narrow set of specialized skills is no longer sufficient for today’s jobs. It’s all happening at the intersection of education and experience. Really, he states, there are only two options, "to be a technically savvy liberal arts graduate or a liberally educated technical graduate."

The thing is, many of our liberal arts students are developing the higher standards, but either don’t know it, or at very least, aren’t sure how to articulate it. Even more vexing is how do liberal arts students bring those higher standards to the intersection with other disciplines. The BYU College of Humanities has recently created a class to help students identify and articulate the “Higher Standards” they naturally gain through their humanities studies, and help them understand what they have to offer at the intersection. Course materials draw from the current debate over the value of a humanities education in a world driven by economics, and humanities alumni who have applied their education to careers in finance, government, consulting, technology, and others. We will discuss ways humanities majors can supplement their education with extra skills sets and experience. Students will learn how to build a strategy for getting marketable experience out of their education and then explaining its value to potential employers or graduate programs.

The best thing a student can do is to study their passion, be it engineering or Spanish literature, and supplement it with the other. Statistically, students who study what they love do better academically, which can often translate in to more marketability for both graduate school and the workforce. BYU has a unique environment where students have access to quality education in both hard and soft skills. There are English undergrads doing research in biology labs and finance students working with German professors. Encourage your students to seek opportunities that will help them develop the higher standards and give them a level of technical skills.