Job listings rarely read, “Wanted: Philosophy majors specializing in Socrates,” or “Calling all English majors for top jobs at high-profile firm,” or “Were you a history major? Earn six-figures for performing intellectually fulfilling work.”
If you are a liberal arts major, targeting potential employers and marketing yourself may seem a monumental, if not impossible, task. You should have majored in electrical engineering, right?
Wrong. Sure, your technically-trained friends generally don’t have much trouble determining which employers to target and how to showcase their tangible skill sets. But, with a savvy approach to getting a job, you are just as likely as a computer science major to find meaningful work. And, best of all, your liberal arts degree generally isn’t limiting: You have the freedom to do nearly anything they want.
The first step is not to think of yourself in terms of your specific degree. Companies often do not hire students because of their specific degrees – instead they use job applicants’ skills as criteria for filling positions. So, instead of asking, “What are good jobs for Romance Languages majors?” ask, “What are my passions and strengths? What skills do I have? What do I want to be doing in my job?”
The first step in responding to these questions is to honestly address what you love to do. What fascinates you? What do you find compelling and fulfilling? Once you’ve answered these questions, address what skills you can bring to the work place.
Your first response may be that after four years of college, your skills amount to doing close readings of King Lear and analyzing the socioeconomic implications of the Kennedy administration. However, according to Phyllis R. Stein, a career coach in the Boston area, liberal arts majors tend to have a lot of skills they don’t even know they have. “It’s not just that you took a Shakespeare class,” Stein says. Instead, she explains, in that Shakespeare class you honed your researching skills, you learned to make coherent presentations, and you refined your ability to organize your thoughts in writing.
Stein adds that liberal arts majors generally have excellent administrative and management skills. They write well, they can think critically, they can analyze problems, and they can communicate well with co-workers. Liberal arts majors can work simultaneously with big picture concepts, and with the small details that fit into these large visions. They are also, she says, adept at adapting to the vocabulary of different occupational fields. For example, the jargon of marketing, law, and accounting is such that different words in each field often have similar definitions. Liberal arts majors are good at achieving fluency in many different occupational languages, simply by virtue of spending their undergraduate careers using terminology specific to English, philosophy, and history. This versatility is helpful to liberal arts majors as they tailor their resumes and job applications to prospective employers.
Also, when you assess your skills, don’t forget the skills you gained from doing volunteer and extra-curricular work.