How to Sell Your Liberal Arts Background in a Business Interview

Portrait of a young smiling businesswoman at office

 

It’s one thing to know the answer when people ask “What are you going to do with that degree?” But it’s more important to know the answer when a potential employer asks, “What can you do for us with that degree?”

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If this is how you feel about your upcoming interview, we can help.

At the end of the day, it’s your talent and ability that matters, not your major. Hopefully studying the liberal arts has helped you become the well-rounded, critical-thinking candidate that employers crave–but it’s your job to prove it. The business world cares about what you can do for them, not what you can do in a classroom, and many hiring managers fear that an entry-level liberal arts major lacks transferable business skills. We wrote last week about how to build the skills that make you undeniable to employers. But let’s say your interview is tomorrow, and you need counteract their fears in, like, less than 24 hours. It goes without saying that you should emphasize the professional experience you (may) have had. But that’s not your only hope: you can proactively assert yourself to showcase your talent and prove that your liberal arts degree makes you valuable in the workplace. Here’s how:

 

Speak their language

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You know how to talk nerdy. Now, it’s time to talk business-savvy. Start by doing your homework on the company and the position at hand. In the interview, don’t forget to mention how you possess the specific skills they’re looking for (based on the job listing or the interviewer’s words) and stress your belief in their company mission. You can also translate your studies into business-speak. Was your major research-heavy? Talk about the work you did in terms of data analysis and your ability to synthesize complex ideas. Did you meet regularly with your professors? Emphasize your proactivity and ability to “communicate up.” Did you master the art of group projects? Stress that you’re a team player with a knack for collaboration.

Practical prep: Make a two-column list. First column: The types of assignments you’ve done and classes you’ve taken. Second column: How they transfer to the tasks of the job you’re interviewing for.

 

Own your talent

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You are not your major or your degree. You’re an individual with unique talents, abilities, and interests. Show your interviewers who you are, and be prepared to speak about your “superpowers”—the one or two things that you do particularly well that make you a true catch.

Practical prep: Brainstorm the things you do better than everyone else. Ask your friends if you get stuck. Practice articulating them.

 

Show that you can learn and adapt

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The specific products and applications used in business are changing all the time, but the ability to think critically, learn, and adapt quickly will be valuable forever. Don’t be too worried if they ask you about your experience with programs that you’ve never used before (although it’s a great idea to familiarize yourself beforehand with the tools and applications they’re likely to use.) Just show that you’re eager to learn and fast to catch on, giving examples of how you’ve done so in the past, and you’ll prove to your interviewers that you can learn and adapt to be what they need.

Practical prep: Make a list of experiences you’ve had that required you learn quickly.

 

Sell your writing and communication skills

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If you find yourself writing a paper every. single. week. (and giving presentations on the weeks that you’re not), you’re already ahead of other candidates. Many colleges have little to no writing requirements for business and tech courses, which gives you an edge on one of the skills employers are looking for most. If you’ve learned to condense complex literary theories or historical events into a tidy, one-sentence thesis, you’ve learned to be concise and to argue a clear point. If you were a frequent contributor to class discussions, you know how to articulate your ideas. And to really seal the deal? Demonstrate that you can communicate outside an academic setting, by sharing something you’ve done for a personal blog, a student publication, or a previous job or internship.

Practical prep: Write a list of 5-10 examples of effective communication you’ve produced (both in and out of the classroom.)

 

Demonstrate that you can think outside the box

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Because the liberal arts are centered on critical, interdisciplinary thought, you have a broad knowledge-base and the ability to think in an innovative way. This skillset is incredibly valuable to a company, so talk about how your mind for ethics and interconnectedness will help them to understand their customers and to plan for the future with strategy. Jump on the chance to show that you’ve done your research, and express ideas you have for solving current problems confronting their industry. Ask thoughtful questions about their company, and engage in considerate discussion around their responses. 

Practical prep: Look up the issues confronting your industry of interest, and write out your ideas for how to solve them, or for things to consider when trying to solve them. 

 

Let your passion show

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Never be afraid of a nerd-out. Explain your passions to your interviewers–for your major, for the work their company does, or for (seemingly) unrelated hobbies (but try to connect the dots). As Emma Stone’s character says in La La Land, “People love what other people are passionate about.”

Practical prep: Write out a paragraph on why you love your major. Write another paragraph on why you’re excited about the company you’re interviewing for. Write another paragraph on something else you really love. 

 

Believe that you are needed

In a keynote address, former Apple CEO Steve Jobs said, “It is in Apple’s DNA that technology alone is not enough—it’s technology married with liberal arts, married with the humanities, that yields us the results that make our heart sing.” If Apple needs the liberal arts, everybody needs the liberal arts—which means that everybody needs you. Now put on your best power suit and SLAY.

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Next up:

Liberal Arts Students: How to Make Yourself Undeniable to Employers

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Clara Milligan
clara

This entry has 2 replies

  1. Janet Brown says:

    Very creative and convincing. You’ve proved your skills. As someone who has conducted and participated in hundreds of interviews for very demanding positions, I can say that that the content of the information that you have shared is proof that you have excellent communication skills, clear thinking and a strong work ethic.

  2. Chuck says:

    Youre very eloquent .

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