Liberal Arts Grads: How to land a job

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As college graduations draw to a close, a “Business Insider” blog titled “How To Land A Job With A ‘Useless’ Liberal Arts Degree” caught my attention. The article begins by asking readers whether they majored in Anthropology; Art History; the Classics; Communications; Creative Writing; Economics; English; History; Government; Philosophy; Psychology; Sociology; or any other liberal arts program.

Anyone who answered yes was given a stark warning: “potential employers think your liberal arts degree is dead weight.” This dire observation is backed by research. According to Beyond.com, a career resource service, their survey revealed, “Only two percent of companies actively recruit students with liberal arts degrees.” Conversely, 27 percent and 18 percent of employers seek out engineering and business majors respectively. In support of these findings, 49 percent of job seekers reported, “no jobs existed for liberal arts grads.”

Historically, black job seekers have been less successful in gaining employment equal to their academic credentials. Black liberal arts grads can expect to be disproportionately affected by this trend. They can either resign themselves to a place at the bottom of the employment food chain, or immediately step up their game to successfully compete in today’s highly selective job market. The following recommendations are offered by Danny Rubin the author of, “25 Things Every Young Professional Should Know by Age 25.”

*For the application and job interview, research the company inside and out like you’re cracking the books on a history thesis.

*Understand how current events impact the company’s bottom line as though you’re back in Government 101 and have to read the news every day.

*Channel your Philosophy 253 professor and during an interview, ask thoughtful questions about the company’s challenges and opportunities.

*Like a sociology major, explain how you enjoy team projects and working with people; computer systems experience is valuable, sure, but so are ‘soft skills’— and you have them.

*Pen a unique and memorable resume/cover letter combo. You spent four years in a creative writing program: isn’t that your specialty?

*The mark of a communications major: respond to employer emails right away, arrive for the interview 20 minutes early and send a thank-you note (handwritten preferred) within 24 hours.

*Remember the economics final that decided your entire grade? The do-or-die situation? Prepare for your next job interview the same way and see how you do.

*Art history, psychology, anthropology— whatever the degree, you know how to step back, see the big picture and put a situation in context. The job market always needs people like you.

Lauren Vanderkam, author of “Grindhopping: Build a Rewarding Career Without Paying Your Dues,” acknowledges the transitioning from college to career is especially tough for liberal arts grads. “Don’t despair, liberal arts majors, says Vanderkamp. “Whatever your field of study, you can land a job by being strategic about the process.”

Vanderkamp’s first advice to get a head start is offered to students working towards their degree. “Whether you need to work or not, working during school is a great idea.” She shared the success story of Catlin Stevens, who at 23 years old secured “a librarian job managing a staff of seven. How did she pull that off? ‘I worked in the library the last two years of college, and I worked part-time in at least four libraries during graduate school,’ she says, often two roles at a time; not counting the official internships she did.”

Many of Caitlin’s “classmates didn’t intern or volunteer. So they have no experience and wonder why people won’t hire them.” Vanerkamp says “The reasoning I heard a lot from both undergrads and grad students was, ‘I’m focusing on school,’ but honestly people hiring rarely look at your GPA, so why would you focus on that?” Research supports this conclusion, “only two percent of employers in a Millennial Branding survey ranked GPA as the most important factor in hiring.”

Conventional wisdom says internships often lead to full-time employment upon graduation. Vanderkamp advises students to seek paid internships whenever possible. A new study from InternMatch finds that “students who’ve done paid internships are three times more likely have job offers at graduation than those doing unpaid ones.”

It is also recommended students seeking an arts degree build a portfolio of their work. “Smart job seekers know that class work doesn’t show what you can do in the real world. If you don’t have a huge network or experience, then you need to come up with a different way to show what you’re capable of. The good news— particularly for those in creative fields— is that college presents opportunities to build a portfolio you won’t get later.”

“You can encourage your fellow dance class students to perform your choreography, or your drama class students to stage your play,” says Vanderkamp. Her idea to stage an exhibition of artwork and asking local publications to cover it is an excellent way to get for a freshly minted artist to get their work before the public.

Next week: More career advice for liberal arts grads

Jayne Matthews Hopson writes about Education Matters because “only the educated are free.”