Career Advice

Advice for Liberal Arts Graduates

Valued Careers May 25, 2019

When I graduated from college (author), it was 1992, and I was an English major - a classic liberal arts degree. The heady, growth period of the 1980s was long gone. It was well-known the early 1990s recession period was going to happen, but for us college graduates at the time we were still under that old impression that if you went college you were guaranteed a job on graduation.

Then my father was laid off from his company after 30 plus years of work. And when I hit the job market myself, even menial administrative jobs had 400 plus applicants in line. I lived through that hard lesson, and today in 2019 the same dynamic is occurring. But how one presents him or herself can make a big difference in job success.

Most liberal arts degrees train a person to work in that topic, but they don't train students how to find a job. You may learn theory, how to do research, and how to discuss your topic of study, but no one tells a graduate how to interview and how to translate that liberal arts area into a viable company resource. The trick has to do with translation.

Use Anthropology as an example: the field is very much about the study of human behavior. It has at least three major areas in Archaeology, Linguistics, and Culture. But these studies don't automatically translate to accounting, marketing, sales and human resources. The graduate has to think about the skill learned and what the company needs in labor and translate them. No, you're not doing a statistical research paper anymore on how ethnic trends influence communities, but you may very well be measuring metrics on sales and how their marketing activities penetrate given markets based on cultural demographics. You are using the same anthropology skills of statistics, cultural research, and writing, but presenting them in a way that is relevant to an employer.

Liberal arts students become experts at taking the ambiguous and creating new perspectives. Study the employer, learn the language, and translate your value to the organization. You will find when you approach job-hunting this way your resume, presentation, and interview persona will change dramatically. And your job-hunting success will likely improve as well.