by Clara Milligan
Here’s the good news: Liberal arts students generally get rave reviews from their employers for their communication and critical-thinking abilities.
Here’s what you’re up against: Many employers are still reluctant about entry-level candidates from the liberal arts. The most typical concerns (based on our conversations with employers and hiring managers, and validated by the report “An Arts & Science Degree: Defining its Value in the Workplace”) are: lack of technical skills, lack of career focus, lack of professional experience, and having “book smarts” without real-world skills.
But we’re not here to knock your confidence—we’re here to boost it! With a little hustle and intentionality, you can quell all potential concerns before you ever sit down in an office, and make yourself totally irresistible as a job candidate. Here are five ways to supplement your liberal arts background with the qualities employers are looking for.
Just because you didn’t focus on a technical discipline in school doesn’t mean you can’t and shouldn’t learn . Find what hard skills are needed for your field of interest and pick up an online course. And if you’re still in college? Instead of taking ice skating or wine tasting as an elective, challenge yourself to take a class that will give you technical skills outside of your major. Technical skills that all employers desire include Adobe Suite, coding, and data analytics.
Choose a career focus.
While your liberal arts degree can prepare you for many career paths, you’ll be more confident and more compelling in your interviews if you can clearly articulate some career goals. Be able to explain why you want to work for that company in that role, and how it fits into your larger picture. This doesn’t mean you need to have you’re whole life planned out! Just think of some things you’re passionate about and hone in on industries that relate to those passions and a few roles that interest you. Vocatio’s Fit Tests, Career Groups, and Industry Groups are designed to help you go through that process.
Be strategic about your on-campus job.
Instead of answering phones in an office or peeling potatoes in a dining hall, choose on-campus work that offers a more professional environment with transferable work skills. At many universities, there are paid research programs that allow you to work one-on-one with a professor and become more familiar with data analysis and current issues in the field. There are job opportunities in university writing centers and tutoring programs which are great preparation for collaborating and communicating in the workplace. Internships may be available also, such as in in student affairs, leadership, or community engagement. And if you prefer (or must) work in foodservice or reception? Make it your mission to move up to a managerial/supervisory role to build your leadership skills!
Find a meaningful internship experience.
Since liberal arts majors don’t have an explicit, direct connection with many job roles (the way, say, an engineering major becomes an engineer), employers will want to be reassured that you understand and can navigate the professional workplace. This means internships are doubly important for you. They’re not only a chance to try different fields and industries and get a feel for what you want to do, but they give you a broad set of experiences with which you can reassure future employers that you are day-one ready.
To do this successfully, you’ll want to have a meaningful internship, (rather than sitting in a corner twiddling your thumbs or getting people coffee). Start early and seek out companies with a good track record for internships, and if you can’t find postings you like, reach out to someone at your dream company to see if they have any unlisted positions or if they could take on another intern. Remember also that an internship is what you make of it: if you don’t have an assigned task, do research or create content that could be of use to the team and valuable for your experience.
Surround yourself with inspiring media.
Learning more about careers and industries is easier to integrate into your life than ever. Trade the radio for podcasts or an episode on Netflix for a TedTalk. Subscribe to online journals in your field of interest and to broader publications, too—many have student discounts! Follow companies you’re interested in on social media. You’ll be fluent in the lingo of marketing, technology, or journalism in no time.
What are your best tips for preparing for your first job? Tell us in the comments!
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