In recent weeks, I’ve been visiting universities and talking with faculty and career advisers about how valuable a liberal arts education is.  One of the advisers I met shared with me an insightful disclosure about her own education.  She said she didn’t really learn to “read between the lines” when she was in college.  She became a critical reader only later in life.

“I know it sounds really naïve but when I was in college, I used to accept whatever I read.  If it was in print, I pretty much believed it,” she confessed.  “’Downy gets your clothes softer than any other product!’  Hey, it says so here in black and white, so it must be true.”

Now this is an area where English majors have an educational advantage.  We take nothing at face value!

Fortunately, the career adviser who made this confession has a sense of humor about it now, and has become a much more discerning reader since those early days.  (Did I mention she majored in Business?)

In his book 10 Things Employers Want You to Learn in College, Bill Coplin calls this critical reading ability the “BS Detector.”  Dr. Coplin’s book encourages students to (1) get an education and (2) refine what they’ve learned by applying knowledge to everyday life, in particular everyday life on the job.  In his section about the “BS Detector,” he says that a liberal arts education provides opportunities “to improve your ability to distinguish appearance from reality.”

I can’t help but reflect on the many occasions I’ve seen people in business make decisions seemingly without the benefit of BS detection—for example:

– Taking a vendor’s word for it (“Sure, we’ve made this work before!”)

– Accepting “research” performed by, or paid for by, companies with a specific agenda (“Look, buy our product! This data says we’re the best!”)

– Enlisting services without checking references.

I’m afraid this is only the beginning of a much longer list.

As you’re reading this, if you’re thinking to yourself, “How gullible can you get?” that’s because you have an active BS detector, thanks to your education.  It is one of many qualifications you have to offer potential employers.  In a job interview, however, you might opt for a different phrase.  “My qualifications for the job include my ability to detect BS,” might not be quite the diction for the occasion (though as a hiring manager, I know it would bring a smile to my face),

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