Creating T-Shaped Professionals

"Design Thinking Business Programs" & "Second Bachelor's Degrees for Career Starters"

These white papers (the first two in our four-part Industry Futures series) explore programs that create professionals with a depth of expertise in one topic area, and a breadth of interpersonal skills necessary to collaborate across industries.

A new employer rubric for skills and competencies

As the Great Recession draws to a close, many job seekers still struggle to find gainful employment. Years of operating under hiring freezes, coupled with advances in technology, have taught employers how to maintain—and even increase—productivity with a lean staff. As a result, employers can afford to be even choosier in hiring new talent. Although companies have sought out well-rounded candidates for decades, a new concept is turning the search for well-roundedness into a formulaic process.

Large employers like IBM, IDEO, and Cisco are spearheading initiatives to hire “T-shaped professionals.” This concept contends that the ideal employee possesses a number of soft skills that allow him or her to collaborate (the “T-top”) as well as unmatched knowledge of a skill, process, product, or body of work (the “T-stem”). Employers like IBM are experimenting with ways to scan and code an applicant’s resume to assess her “T-score.” A study abroad experience, for example, may indicate cultural sensitivity, while a leadership role in a student organization may demonstrate management ability.

What's Your T-score?

What's your T-score?

Assessing graduates on a T-scale

An individual’s “T-shape” is built over the entirety of his or her career, but college students who possess a mix of “T-top” and “T-stem” skills upon graduation face the most promising short-and long-term employment prospects. However, most students only build out one dimension of their “T” during their undergraduate studies.

Divided Competencies in Undergraduate Studies

Divided competencies in undergraduate studies

Recognizing the importance of building out both dimensions of a student’s “T”, several universities are following the lead of companies like IBM, IDEO, and Cisco, making T-shaping a central goal of their curricula.

“[We must] lead the nation in our reputation for graduating T-shaped people whose frame of reference and skills are a combination of broad and deep—people who are work-ready and highly sought after in the new global, intensively technological, data- and innovation-driven workplace.”
-Lou Anna K. Simon, President, Michigan State University

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