May 2018

OpEd

Want a great employee? Hire a dancer

Barbara Feldman, provost and vice president for academic affairs

Editor's Note: This article first appeared in the Sarasota Herald-Tribune on April 26, 2018

If I were a CEO, I would hire a dancer.

Barbara Feldman

Barbara Feldman

Good employees are not hard to find. Great ones are very hard to find. They are very hard to find, not because they aren’t out there, but because we are looking in the wrong places for the wrong people with the wrong experience and preparation. I know this is true because, as the provost at New College, I lead a faculty who prepare students who are exactly the kind of great employees that CEOs need.

We, as educators, know that employers are looking for students who are reliable, creative, good thinkers, collaborative, dedicated and can communicate well. The liberal arts develop all of these skills and talents. So why a dancer?

A student who has studied dance has shown an ability to perform under pressure and in front of an audience. When an audience watches dance students perform, it sees a finished product. It is a finished product that reveals talent, poise, composure and a willingness to put one’s self in front of an audience and take a risk. As a CEO, I want a person who possesses these talents.

What one doesn’t see at the dance performance — but what has necessarily occurred — is a great deal of preparation, commitment to the project, follow-through and execution. A dance performance requires many hours of rehearsal, choreography, training, repetition, the ability to adapt and make changes as necessary. Imagine a dancer who has choreographed some series of steps but then suffers an injury that does not allow for that sequence. Changing the choreography requires that the dancer remain calm, level-headed and nimble. (Of course, the stress of any such glitch increases the nearer it occurs to the performance).

Performing with a dance troupe requires a new set of valuable skills. Dancers need to coordinate schedules, work together, and accommodate each other’s strengths, weaknesses and idiosyncrasies. They rely on each other to create the performance and learn about the need to be part of team. They learn what it means to be relied upon and to rely upon others to create a product that is greater than any one of them.

A dancer is but one example of the kind of student I would hire if I were a CEO. I’d consider a musician, a chemistry lab partner, or any liberal arts student who has learned the ethics of hard work, critical thinking, working in groups and rising to leadership in those groups. I would hire the student I believed I could rely on to give me their best, without regard to area of study. I would hire the student that I knew could learn, adapt and support those around them. I know that there is room and value in any organization for this type of student.

So, my advice is while you are looking for your next great employee, look for students who have taken some liberal arts courses, even in the most unlikely areas of study. You will get much more than you might have imagined, and will hire a student who can imagine much more than you thought.

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