As liberal arts graduates enter the job market, their direction may not be as obvious as that of their technically trained counterparts. For the most part, engineering or computer science majors know exactly where to target their efforts.
Liberal arts majors are less fortunate in that regard-such a heading cannot be found in the want ads. Yet if they learn to target their aptitudes, they have as good a chance as any-one to find meaningful work.
Students are no longer necessarily hired just because they have a particular degree. Math and physics majors are getting engineering jobs and liberal arts majors are getting accounting jobs. The reason new graduates are being hired is because they have specific skills that meet the needs of the employer.
No one is more suited to this approach than the liberal arts major. What you need to do, explains one career advisor, is to find out what you really want to do-regardless of your major. Students often ask, 'What can I do with a major in philosophy?' But that's the wrong question. The real questions are, 'What fascinates me? How can I connect my interests with a job? What do I really want to be doing in 20 years?'"
Once you have answered those questions, look at possibilities for matching your interests with a job. There are more options than you might think. Don't get stuck on titles. For instance, if you want to be an autonomous problem-solver, someone with good communication skills who can do a good job of synthesizing sources (as in writing term papers), forget about the titles and look at the job descriptions.
Management consultants, career specialists, personnel managers, teachers or trainers within organizations and schools are just a few options.
As a liberal arts major, you have to do much more work in terms of researching different job markets and finding out where there is a demand. Conduct in-depth research on any companies that appeal to you, and try to match their needs to your wants. You must be specific, however. It is possible to be too general, too open and too flexible.
To be successful, you should combine your long-term vision with short-term specificity. Present yourself to your potential employer as someone who both understands the broad goals of the company and has the ability to grow and contribute in the long run. But most importantly, show how you can excel in that specific job. And this, most likely, will involve some specialized skills. If you've taken business courses, had work experiences or utilized a computer in your liberal arts work, point out those strengths.
Once you've taken the time to determine your real interests and have set some long-term goals, map out a plan-long- and short-term-on how to get there. Resources are plentiful-from the Occupational Outlook Handbook or Dictionary of Occupational Titles to numerous general job search books, as well as those dealing with specific topics such as What to Do with a Degree in Psychology, The Business of Show Business, etc.
Your liberal arts education has equipped you to take a broad topic and research it. Use those skills to make the connection between what you want and what companies need. Once you find job descriptions that match your long-term interests, set about shaping your resume and, if need be, getting the additional specific skills, training or certification to get that first job.
Your first job may not match your long-term goal. But it's the first step. And that, at this point, is the all-important one.
WHAT LIBERAL ARTS GRADUATES ARE DOING
A sampling of the wide range of positions filled by liberal arts graduates:
Advertising account executive
Air traffic controller
Business systems analyst
Child support enforcement officer
Customer service representative
Employee relations specialist
Human resource specialist
Public relations specialist
Conduct in-depth research on any companies that appeal to you, and try to match their needs to your wants.