How to get a job with a liberal arts degree

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As college graduation ceremonies come to an end, the arduous task of job hunting begins. According to NACE's Job Outlook, this undertaking should be easier for the class of 2016; employers are expected to hire 5.2 percent more new graduates this year than they hired from last year's class.

Yet despite this good news, liberal arts majors continue to struggle in the marketplace. They have difficulties structuring their job searches because there appears to be no clear connection to a specific career path. Typically they go to job boards like CareerBuilder or Monster and use their major as a search term to identify leads. This approach leads them on a circuitous path to nowhere and reinforces the notion that you can't get a job with a liberal arts education.

For those recent grads struggling in the job market, your problem isn't your major; the problem is you have not learned the art of job hunting. There is a formula to the process.

  1. Identify your skills and talents as well as your wants and needs.
  2. Conduct market research to identify which employers are in need of someone with your skills and talents and also meet your wants and needs.
  3. Craft industry specific resumes and cover letters showcasing the skills and talents you possess that are important to those employers.
  4. Develop interviewing skills to translate your skills and talents into benefits for employers.
  5. Negotiate and evaluate offers.

Most job seekers start by crafting resumes that simply document their experiences. By skipping the first two steps in the process, they are unable to see where their skills and talents align within the world of work. Without that critical piece of information, it is much harder to demonstrate the value they have to offer anybody.

The good news is you can do anything with a liberal arts degree. The bad news is you can do anything with a liberal arts degree. Narrowing down the options can seem overwhelming. The truth is most employers don't care what you majored in; they care about what you know and what you can do. While there are very few job postings that demand an English, History, Psychology, Sociology or Philosophy degree, that does not mean employers do not value those degrees nor does it mean they will not hire you. However, the burden lies on you, the job seeker, to articulate how your academic training has prepared you for the position to which you are applying.

A study by the National Association of Colleges and Employers identified the seven core competencies employers are seeking:

  1. Critical Thinking/Problem-solving
  2. Oral/Written Communication
  3. Teamwork/Collaboration
  4. Information Technology Application
  5. Leadership
  6. Professionalism/Work Ethic
  7. Career Management

For each competency, identify examples from your life that illustrate mastery in that area. Rather than accept the misconception that you have no experience, direct employers to your accomplishments in the classroom and your leadership roles in student activities or volunteer projects. Unabashedly tout your abilities, skills and talents as well as any specific knowledge you posses that would be beneficial in the role. Remember, a paycheck is not the only measure of experience. Create your narrative and you will be empowered to present yourself with confidence during interviews.

Of course, before you get to the interview stage, you have to find jobs to apply for. Defining your search terms will be critical to your success. Visit www.mynextmove.org to educate yourself about the world of work. It offers a wealth of information to help you zero in on your interests and possible job titles to search. Opportunities in your area of interest are likely to be found in a variety of settings ranging from Fortune 500 companies to social services organizations to cultural institutions to schools, non-profits, hospitals, museums, start-ups … you get the idea. Open your mind to the possibilities and don't be afraid to cast a wide net. Your goal is to be focused by flexible.

There are additional ways to discover how your experience and interests might benefit employers. If you are unsure what job title you are interested in but are drawn to a specific industry or company, go directly to company websites and explore their career sections. This method will not only shed light on career paths available, but more importantly, it will suggest an appropriate point of entry. If you are making your career decision based on geography, visit your school library and ask the reference librarian to help you create a list of top industries/companies in your area. Librarians have access to the premium databases that provide more in-depth information than a Google search can provide. (For example, EBSCO Business Sourceand EBSCO Regional Business News are great resources to find information on smaller, regional employers.) Again, visit the company websites for an idea about where you can contribute most effectively.

Finally, make an appointment to meet with your career services office. They can help you design a customized job search action plan.

The key to a successful job search is to believe in your own capabilities and enthusiastically showcase your talents to potential employers. Use every resource available to you and you will undoubtedly launch your career with great success.

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