Advertisement

KILLINGS, daily columns and blog —

Column: Books and Writing

The write skills

by Estelle Tang , May 28, 201215 Comments

Photo credit: sami73

An article came across my desk last week that put a twinkle in my eye and a profoundly satisfying I told you so on my lips. Titled ‘Revenge of the Liberal Arts Major’, the article was about a recent survey of the recruitment intentions of 225 employers in the United States. The article opened with: ‘If you’re in college, or happen to be about to graduate, and you’ve been mocked for getting a liberal arts degree, here’s a piece of welcome news: You’re actually in more demand than those who are getting finance and accounting degrees’.

The report found that 98% of employers were looking for communication skills in recruits. Over 90% said that communication skills were the most difficult attributes to secure.

After the initial warm glow of hobby horse affirmation dimmed, what struck me most about this piece of ‘news’ is how damnably obvious it is. Of course people need to be effective communicators. Of course they need to be able to write well, which means writing fluently, coherently and persuasively.

Why, then, do we persist with our fatuous denigration of the degrees that are most likely to inculcate communication skills? Such denigration ranges from jokes of the ‘would you like fries with that?’ variety to snickering about the comparatively low entrance scores required for Arts degrees. It’s also present in the value-laden distinction between ‘soft’ skills (of which communication is one) and ‘hard’ skills.

At the heart of this, I suspect, is a belief that ‘communication skills’ are not all that difficult to acquire. It is as if they are an adjunct to ‘real skills’ like bookkeeping or bridge design that can casually be acquired, almost by osmosis, along the way. This assumption is bullshit of the first and smelliest order. After twenty-two years in the workforce and having managed hundreds of people, I’ve worked with a surprisingly small number who could write really well. By this I mean they could digest fat wads of disparate information, sniff out what was credible, discard the dross, distil the essence and repackage it all into a coherent, logical argument. Of those staff members, most have held Arts degrees.

At one time I was half-jokingly accused of running a sheltered workshop for Arts graduates. I did so unapologetically because despite whatever else you might bring to the table, if you can’t write, you’re no good to me. Picture this situation: you’re working to tight, merciless deadlines in a politically sensitive environment. Your staff are beavering away at producing briefs. The briefs land on your desk at 2pm and have to be turned around by 5. You begin to read, and there it is: that familiar sinking feeling about how late you’re going to have to work to turn this incoherent mush into tight, convincing prose.

The people who have produced the mush are often highly skilled, highly educated people who are light years away from stupid. They are economists who can chew up numbers and turn them into trends and lawyers who can kick a policy from here to the tea room for being ultra vires. But if they can’t communicate that in writing, they’ve only done half the job. Sometimes, when I delicately attempt to point this out I’m brushed off with ‘Well, just get an editor to look over it’ – as if it is not part of their job to drag the argument out of the word-jumble in which it has been lost.

I’ve instituted a recruitment practice designed to test a candidate’s writing skills before they get anywhere near a contract. All candidates are required to bring a piece of their writing to the interview. If they are called back for a second interview, they are given an exercise in which they have to produce a written briefing note within one hour. Our HR department humour me in this, as if it’s a quaint whim of mine.

It’s not. It’s a calculated exercise in time-saving. My time. I’m yet to see a job description that doesn’t have ‘communication skills’ as an essential criterion. It’s one of those ubiquitous terms that by dint of repetition has lost all its meaning. Let’s cut to the chase and instil ‘Arts degree’ as an essential employment criterion instead.

S.A. Jones is a Killings columnist, and the author of the novel Red Dress Walking and of numerous essays.

 




  • Julia T

    This is a great piece – I agree with everything you’ve said. I am an arts graduate, and now work as a government policy writer. People often ask me, “how did you manage to score that job, when your study was so unrelated?” This question baffles me, – I was hired to write policy because I know how to write!

    • http://www.sajones.com.au S.A. Jones

      I know, I know. It’s like *headdesk, headdesk*

  • Sarah

    As a recent arts graduate I hate being asked: “Oh…so what can you actually do with that?”. Whatever I want. At least with this degree I’m not confined to one tiny box of a career. As I am abroad for the year I have yet to find said career but this article gives me hope :)

    • http://www.sajones.com.au S.A. Jones

      Sarah – I’ve worked as a Ministerial staffer, management consultant, policy analyst, academic and project director all on the strength of two arts degrees. Don’t despair. The arts-grad revolution is coming…

  • gen

    I’ve gone from a standard Arts degree to a communications degree with a major in integrated media, and although I’m in my first year of study in this area I’m already paid for my communication skills.
    Despite my (medical professional-dominated) family calling my Arts degree a “bachelor of unemployment,” I’m gainfully employed in my chosen field while studying, and my paramedicine student sister lives on centrelink and her summer job savings. Ha!

  • http://annabelsmith.tumblr.com/ Annabel Smith

    Huzzah for you Sarah! The writing, analysing and research skills I earned during my Arts degree have served me well in every job I’ve had in a diverse range of fields.

  • Simon C

    I’m an Arts/Law student, and I couldn’t agree with you more: many of the very bright people I study with struggle to write concisely and clearly. However, in defence of the more strictly vocational faculties, or at least the law schools, they are beginning to see the light. As part of my law degree I’ve written multiple research essays and several letters of advice, all of which have placed significant weight on clarity of expression. Obviously this isn’t quite as radical a change as requiring law students to read Strunk and White, as I would prefer, but it is a start.

  • http://www.clairecorbett.com Claire Corbett

    Great piece – I used to be a senior government policy adviser and can vouch for how true every word of this is. If you know how to write, then you know how to think. I’d much rather hire an Arts graduate for a whole range of roles rather than someone who specialised in something like marketing – that’s too narrow. I’ve noticed that some law and medicine grads haven’t necessarily been trained in how to think so it’s good to see Simon’s comment that this is being tackled.

  • DollyBoy

    Taken time off from an Occupy Movement to pen an article have we? Nice one Jones.

    • http://www.sajones.com.au S.A. Jones

      Trolling much Dollyboy?

  • Pingback: The Write Stuff Thursdays | Freedom Tights!()

  • Pingback: Day Eight | ________________________________()

  • Pingback: Yes, good writing can be taught « cut the page()

  • Jerrell Topolski

    Article directories allow users to submit unique articles to the directory. These directories allow articles to embed links to other websites with relevant anchor text. Popular article directories are considered authority sites and are constantly crawled by search engine bots. Webmasters submit articles with relevant anchor text linking back to their site to obtain backlinks.^

    Most up-to-date posting on our very own webpage
    <.http://www.caramoan.co/caramoan-tour-package/

  • http://escoutbasketball.com/nba-basketball-player-photo-collection/nba-basketball-player-kobe-bryant-photos/kobe-bryant-pics-gallery-pic-7/attachment/kobe-bryant-pics-gallery-pic-7/ basketball pics

    I’ve been exploring for a little bit for any high quality articles or blog posts in this kind of house . Exploring in Yahoo I at last stumbled upon this site. Studying this information So i am glad to convey that I have a very good uncanny feeling I came upon just what I needed. I such a lot indisputably will make sure to don?t omit this website and provides it a glance regularly.

9864007066_4a196b364d_z

Tim Robertson

Fear, loathing, and the erosion of civil liberties

The hysteria currently being concocted by Australia’s political leaders is a smokescreen for the more serious threat facing everyone – an attack of the very freedoms and values our nation has been built on. Read more »

308982705_be9f94455b_b

Marika Sosnowski

Back inside: Life on the Syrian-Turkish border

In Turkey, less than 50 kilometres from the border, Syrians have chosen their favourite cafes, have opened Aleppine sweet shops and set up stores in the old city. Read more »

Frances Abbott

David Donaldson

Why #whitehousegate matters

A few days after the release of the budget, in which the Coalition government announced it was spreading the burden by increasing university fees, cutting school funding, and cutting welfare for young people comes a story that confirms what many already suspect to be the nature of opportunity: it’s much easier to come by if you’re born into privilege. Read more »

cover_bad_feminist

Nathan Smith

These kinds of girls: The feminist essays of Roxane Gay and Lena Dunham

A galvanising moment is occurring now in popular gender politics and contemporary cultural texts. But unlike the 1990s wave of feminism, which heavily criticised mainstream representations of women in film and television, these new literary works not only accept these representations, but actively generate them. Read more »

9781863956932

Carody Culver

Charmless lives: Helen Garner’s This House of Grief and Erik Jensen’s Acute Misfortune

How do narrative non-fiction writers who dare to dissect the darker aspects of humanity keep their readers engaged, rather than simply horrified? Read more »

KrissyKneen_credit_DarrenJames

Carody Culver

‘As if the top of my head were taken off’: The digital possibilities of poetry

‘When Emily Dickinson says, “If I feel physically as if the top of my head were taken off, I know that is poetry,” I can’t help but think she would be stupefied by the possibilities of digital literature.’ Read more »

15115828030_526f79c515_z

Julia Tulloh

The celebrity spokesperson phenomenon

What should we expect celebrity advocates to deliver? Emma Watson is not a full-time activist, but if she inspires young people to take an interest in gender equality, is that not a good thing? Read more »

Clara and Doctor

Julia Tulloh

Doctor Who’s gender dynamics: a mid-season evaluation

In some ways, Peter Capaldi was a problematic choice for the newest regeneration of Doctor Who. How on earth were the producers going to pull off a successful friendship between a middle-aged man and a twenty-something woman, without it seeming at best patriarchal and at worst creepy? Read more »

blue-ombr-speckle-liner

Julia Tulloh

From the outside in: the beauty vlogger phenomenon

A current cohort of beauty bloggers are helping to break down distinctions between internal and external expressions of self in ways that allow them to generate new ideas of beauty on their own terms, rather than according to society’s expectations of what women (or men) should look like. Read more »

Whiplash-Damien-Chazelle

Rochelle Siemienowicz

Whiplash: bloody fingers and broken drumsticks

Whiplash is one of the year’s most exciting and electrically charged films. Admittedly, that’s a large claim to make for a little movie about a New York music student, his abrasive teacher, and a whole lot of banging and yelling in band practice. Read more »

Gone-Girl-Ben-Affleck-Rosamund-Pike-Entertainment-Weekly-cover

Rochelle Siemienowicz

Marital Crises: Gone Girl and Force Majeure

You can share your body, your bed, your bank account, and even your toothbrush, with another human being. But each mind contains a private world that can never be fully understood or examined, let alone shared with another. Read more »

theskeletontwins1

Rochelle Siemienowicz

Suicide, Laughter and The Skeleton Twins

Even the best parents can inflict some form of lifelong damage upon their children. But when parents are outright mad, bad or dangerous – or in the case of the funny, bittersweet comic drama The Skeleton Twins, so depressed they commit suicide – the damage can feel impossible to bear, even decades down the track. Read more »

IMG_4309

Connor Tomas O'Brien

Patrons and gamemakers in the shadow of Gamergate

There is a lot to unpack about Gamergate, and a great deal more that isn’t at all worth taking seriously, but what the patronage pseudo-controversy has drawn attention to is the fact that there are potentially huge issues with moving to a model of monetary transactions in which our payments are increasingly networked and ‘social’. Read more »

ST_Ello_600

Connor Tomas O'Brien

The Rise of the High-Minded Startup

Ello’s manifesto is the key to understanding its relative success, and how it has managed to sign up hundreds of thousands of users despite offering a wafer-thin feature set. Read more »

6289302147_38e8035680_z

Connor Tomas O'Brien

Jacqui Lambie and the limits of Remix Culture

The combination of Google Image Search, Photoshop, and Facebook is a powerful one, providing web users with the ability to seek out swaths of copyrighted visual material, rip and manipulate these pictures so the original source is obscured, then share the freshly “remixed” images to a broad audience with no real fear of legal action. Read more »

9780062211194

Danielle Binks

Nepotism, bullying and stalking: When online reviews go bad

The tangible power author Kathleen Hale wields, evinced by her numerous connections and Guardian platform, enabled her continued harassment of her book’s 1-star reviewer. The vocal support and defence put forward by Hale’s influential friends and family appears to be a case of privilege feeding narcissism. Read more »

nonaandme

Danielle Binks

Race, growing up and Nona and Me

Nona & Me beautifully explores female friendship amid cultural and political upheaval. It’s a tender portrayal of two girls who have so much in common, but are worlds apart. Read more »

7183815590_de3f64bca6_z

Danielle Binks

‘YA-bashing’: sexism meets elitism

Another month, another critic who doesn’t read YA literature but still feels superior enough to dictate to those who do. And with this latest instalment of ‘YA bashing’ comes critique of the critics – as many start pointing to a patriarchal undercurrent that runs beneath such articles that claim young adult and children’s fiction is unworthy. Read more »

augie-march-havens-dumb-300x194

Sean Watson

Literal metaphors: Augie March’s Havens Dumb

Havens Dumb, Augie March’s first studio album in six years, opens with an uncharacteristically forthright song about the anxieties of fatherhood. Over a fifteen-year career, lead singer-songwriter Glenn Richards has developed a distinctive lyrical style grounded in visual evocation. Biography rarely seeps through, and when it does, … Read more »

PEREZ_3©yann_morrison-546x364

Chad Parkhill

The not-so-universal language of mankind

Music is, demonstrably, not the universal language of mankind: if that were the case I could make myself understood in Paris’s cafés and boulangeries by carrying around an iPod full of songs titled ‘A Coffee, Please’ or ‘A Baguette With Duck Rillettes To Go, Thanks’. Read more »

homepage_large.9419e472

Chad Parkhill

The music of exhaustion

The War on Drugs new album Lost in the Dream is the startling sound of exhaustion – both a personal exhaustion and a broader cultural exhaustion – transformed into art that is thrillingly and paradoxically vital. Read more »

thecode_main-620x349

Stephanie Van Schilt

An obligation to be kind? Australian TV critics and The Code

When Margaret Pomeranz recently spoke out about the obligation of local film critics to support the Australian film industry, she generated an interesting conversation in the critical community. Are critics who discuss the small screen in the public sphere obligated to be critically kind in their local coverage? Read more »

bojack-horseman-exclusive-trailer-debut_bghe

Stephanie Van Schilt

Jerks, antiheroes and failed adulthood in You’re The Worst and BoJack Horseman

In addition to both being really funny, two new US comedies – You’re The Worst and BoJack Horseman – speak to a widely-held fear about what, exactly, constitutes ‘adulthood’. Read more »

images

Stephanie Van Schilt

How To Talk Australians and the rise of web series

How To Talk Australians has deservedly garnered widespread praise both locally and internationally. With close to two million views worldwide, it could be deemed our first truly successful locally-produced web series. Read more »