I recently saw an article on Twitter that all but infuriated me.
“10 Worst College Majors of 2017” it read, with a picture of a person sitting on stone steps holding up a sign that said “LOOKING FOR A JOB” in wonky, capital letters.
When I opened the article it was one of those infuriating “I’ll give you one paragraph of information before I make you click to the next page so I can show you more ad content” articles, which is part of the reason why I refuse to link to its click-baity format and give that website more views. But needless to say, it listed off ten majors that – surprise! – all fell under the umbrella of liberal or fine arts. In fact, “Fine Arts” alone was number one, while “Liberal Arts” (because that’s definitely a degree and not a discipline of studies, right?) fell at number six.
The article went on to list the percentage of graduates that found employment after graduation and their starting salaries. While it was well-researched, sure, it was incredibly fatalistic: “Change your major now if you want to be able to live and eat!” it practically screamed at me.
And I’ll admit, it downright incensed me. After all, here I am, opening up this blog post with a rant about it rather than the original opener I had planned because of how it made me feel.
Here’s the reality of the matter: just like all things in life, marketing your major and your experience to employers is less about content and more about context.
Let me explain.
If you look at any of the standard interview questions that recruiters like to ask, hardly any of them will be asking you for any learned content (unless you’re applying for a technical position). Each company has its own way of doing things, its own “brand” it wants you to sell, and its own processes, too. If you have experience in the same field, then that’s an added plus! But if you don’t? More than likely you’re going to be taught it anyways. Thus employers are going to be more interested in the context of what you learned, or, in other words, what skills you gained from that experience that are transferable to the work you’ll be expected to do.
And what skills did you gain? Well, friends, those are what we like to call “soft skills.”
The Soft Skills
In your mind, I want you to think about what you believe to be the attributes of an A+ employee. Is this employee a hard worker and good at communicating with their superiors and subordinates? Do they work well with others, pick up on things quickly, and address problems with a critical eye and creative solutions?
All of these attributes we just came up with translate to soft skills that are coveted in any employee for any position. Do you have to have had a liberal arts major to have these skills? No, but generally these aren’t the skills that job seekers with more technical majors focus on when they’re pitching themselves to employers. They tend to favor their mastery of hard skills when discussing their qualifications for the position. By honing in on these soft skills during your elevator pitch and your discussion with recruiters, you’ll be framing your “unexpected” major as an asset to them and their mission rather than a setback. Focusing on the diversity in thought and skill you’ll be able to bring to their team while simultaneously keeping discussion about your major positive is one of the best ways to set yourself apart from your technical-minded competition and land yourself that interview.
But wait, Logan, everyone talks about how well they communicate! How does this set me apart?
Here’s the fact of the matter: as a liberal arts major, how many times did you have to stand up in front of the class and give a presentation on a subject? How many times did this presentation take the place of the professor actually teaching, meaning your ability to explain a concept to your class would affect how well they would do on their final exam? Were you ever in a public speaking class that required you to give oral arguments on a subject weekly, and defend your position? How many papers did you write where you were expected to communicate your points clearly and concisely within the word count requirement?
“Communication” doesn’t just come down to how you talk with people on the day-to-day. In a work environment, especially a corporate environment, you could be tasked with pitching a project to a prospective client, writing up detailed productivity reports for your superiors, or articulating your idea for a new process that would increase efficiency for your work stream. You’ll also be expected to clearly and frequently communicate, both in person and through email, with your superiors and coworkers on a day-to-day basis about anything relevant to your work. Being able to effectively communicate is one of the most important skills that any employee needs to have and your liberal arts major, by virtue of the work you were expected to do every semester, has set you up to succeed in this area.
Remember those presentations we talked about under the “Communication” section? During how many of those projects were you expected to work with a group of students to present the section you were assigned, and graded as a group instead of individually? Were you someone who took charge during to project, or who helped delegate the tasks among your teammates? What role did you play while you worked with your classmates and what did you learn from this experience?
More and more, modern-day workplaces are shifting away from individualized work and towards “teaming” to get work done in a more efficient manner. Not only does this allow you to get more work done in a short period of time, but it allows a company to crowd-source new innovations for work stream processes and find the most efficient way to provide a product or service for their clients. Work is delegated to different members of the team with the expectation that the end product will be better as a result of having so many different viewpoints coming together. Sounds a lot like that group project you did in your Human Sexuality class, right? So make sure to leverage that experience!
How many classes did you take a semester while you were working towards your majors and minors? At any given time, how many exams were you studying for, papers were you researching for, and homework were you working on for each of your classes? Not to mention any of the extra-curricular activities you may have been a part of – or in charge of – along with any part-time job you may have held?
Balancing all of these assignments, tasks, and activities takes an immense amount of organization to stay on top of without falling behind and detrimentally hurting your GPA. At any given time during your career at a company you could be balancing a great many things that all have to get done by a certain time, meaning your ability to prioritize your work and organize yourself will be instrumental to your ability to succeed at your job.
You know all those classes, exams, projects, presentations, papers, and homework assignments we just talked about? How much of that information came from long, esoteric readings that your professors assigned to you that you were expected to thoroughly understand before the lecture discussion during the next class?
The fact of the matter is that liberal arts classes can have the most variety in class format of any discipline due to the wide variety of content being taught, and regardless of how the professor chooses to lecture, you’re expected to learn the information one way or another. Often times it’s not as simple as “sitting down and doing practice problems over and over until you remember how to get from question to answer,” instead you’re expected to recall concepts, dates, and information without really being taught how to get from Point A to Point B. You had to learn how you learn in order to make sure that the ten hours you spent studying for your essay exam didn’t culminate in you staring a blank piece of paper with only a minimal amount of information retained in your mind.
At the start of a new career, all you’ll be doing for the first few weeks or even months is learning. If you already know the quickest and most efficient way for you to learn something, whether that be a new process or a new hard skill, you’ll be able to take off the training wheels and begin contributing to your team and company faster than expected.
Creative Problem Solving & Critical Thinking
How many times did you sit down to take an exam, look at the questions, and realize there were at least two different ways you could have answered the question? Or compared answers to a test with a friend and realized that even though you both had the same answer, you came to the conclusion from a different perspective, but still both got the question right?
One of the most beautiful (but mostly frustrating) things about studying a liberal arts major is that the majority of the time, the questions that you’re asked don’t just have one answer, or one method of getting to the answer. This requires you to think critically about your response, and which response will be the most effective, to solve the problem at hand. While this can make taking exams and answering homework questions frustrating, it also means that by the time you finish your degree you’ve become used to coming up with creative solutions to questions or problems that have been presented to you.
One of the most important aspects of working on a team is being able to come up with creative solutions to problems, and as a liberal arts major, you’ve been doing this in practice for the entirety of your undergrad career. You can bring new perspectives to a problem, however technical, because of your ability to think out of the proverbial box due to the diverse experiences that you’ve had in your major!
With all of these skills that you’ve developed – passively and actively – throughout your time pursuing your liberal arts major, you’re definitely a contender for any position that you set your mind to. Don’t let anyone tell you that your major is useless, or a dead end, or that you won’t find a job after graduation. If you focus on the context of what you learned and how it will help you as an employee in the future, you’re guaranteed to keep the discussion positive and set yourself up for success.
What are some of the best skills that your major has taught you? Let me know in the comments below!