When liberal arts majors look for jobs

Liberal arts majors about to graduate, I feel your pain: Many moons ago, I graduated from college, political science major in hand, in the midst of a brutal recession.

I had decided to put off law school for a year and to spend the interim time working.  However, my good grades and a long list of extracurricular activities put me in a better position to gain entrance to law school than to obtain a decent-paying job, especially during a difficult economy.    My efforts to get a full-time “professional” position proved unsuccessful.  I would spend the year working as a stock clerk for a local drug store chain where I had spent my collegiate summers and writing occasional news articles for a local weekly newspaper.

Looking back, that year at the drug store was a valuable experience.  It taught me a lot about how people dealt with a lousy job market and a bad economy.  I was living with my parents at the time, but many of my fellow workers had families, laid-off spouses, and rents and mortgages to pay.  Despite the difficulties that many of them faced, they were a decent, hardworking, and down-to-earth group of co-workers who did their best to weather life’s ups and downs.

Perhaps my liberal arts education did not open many doors immediately after graduation, but I wouldn’t trade it away even with the gift of hindsight.  Study in the liberal arts can be excellent preparation for work and for life.  But it’s true that many employers would prefer to see a business, engineering, or computer science degree.  So, liberal arts graduates often must work their way into good positions, or — like me and so many others — pursue some type of postgraduate professional or graduate training.

The challenges of marketing a liberal arts background are not lost on today’s career counselors.  For example, if you or someone you know happens to be a newly-minted liberal arts graduate, here’s an interesting post from Katharine Brooks, director of liberal arts career services at the University of Texas:

I call it THE QUESTION. It’s a question that every college student/graduate faces unless you picked one of those “practical” majors like accounting or engineering or computer science. The employer looks over your resume and there it is: the name of your college, the date you graduated, and then…YOUR MAJOR.

Brooks advises liberal arts graduates to prepare thoughtful responses to questions about their choice of major and to think through what they can offer an organization.  Her observations are worth checking out.  For the full post: http://blogs.psychologytoday.com/blog/career-transitions/200904/you-majored-in-what.

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