Here Is What Most Universities and Language Departments Say About Your Career Prospects…

photo-12Over and over again, I see on campus websites, in alumni magazines, and in department offices things like this:

“Thousands of our liberal arts alumni are now successful business executives!”

“Next time your parents ask ‘What are you going to do with an English degree?’ tell them, ‘Steve Jobs studied calligraphy!'”

“Here are the professions a language degree qualifies you to work in: law, business, medicine, teaching, diplomacy, tourism [pretty much every profession!]

“Surveys of employers say that they are seeking employees with following traits that align with a liberal arts degree: ability to think critically, problem solve, and communicate effectively–both verbally and in writing.”

All true!

  • But beyond saying those words, what is the university doing to help you translate your work on campus into the language employers need to see on your job search materials?
  • What is going to connect the dots for all of today’s liberal arts students?
  • How do current students get from where they are now to the position of  those “thousands of alumni” who are now business executives?
  • How many of us are likely to be the next Steve Jobs? (Oh, and he dropped out of college!)
  • How does the language program on campus prepare students for any professions on that list?
  • Do “critical thinking skills” and “communication” mean the same thing for my literature professor as they do for my manager in the workplace?

It’s not enough to lure students to the liberal arts by telling them that someday they will be like all those accomplished alumni. Campuses have to help students transition. And sometimes they aren’t even speaking the same language as employers.

University programs can make room in their curricula for practical, professional training. It does not mean they have to abandon, alter, or even edit their current curricula.  They just have to walk students through “connecting the dots.”  Here are just 3 ways to help:

1-collaborate with campus career services offices to provide information to students while they’re in humanities courses and programs.  Have the career services professionals meet with students within in the humanities departments (or even classrooms) to answer questions such as:

  • what are real and realistic entry-level jobs for students?
  • How should students represent their liberal arts experiences in college on their résumés and other job search materials?
  • What are important strategies for success at campus job fairs?  

The important thing here is: bring campus career services to your students instead of expecting students to go to campus career services.  That ensures that the focus is on connecting the dots between liberal arts degrees and professional careers.

2-after completing any humanities unit or course, bring in a career services expert to show students how to present the work they just did for class in job search documents and interview preparation.

That does double duty by first: explicitly connecting specific components of the academic work of the humanities to real-world applications of that work; and second: it gives students practice with both written (job search documents) and verbal (interview preparation) communication of the kind employers are seeking.

3-bring in alumni guest speakers to explicitly talk about their own transition from liberal arts degree to professional career.  Ask them to address this question: what experiences do you wish you’d had in college to better prepare you for the transition to your professional career?

Students love guest speakers, though it can be hard to secure speakers on a class-by-class basis so this might be better structured as a series that is open to all students in a particular program and hosted in a large auditorium setting.  Either way, it’s a different kind of guest speaker than most humanities programs normally host!

The fact that liberal arts colleges, university departments and alumni magazines are talking about professional careers for their graduates is an important first step.  It means that a humanities degree and the professional world are not at odds.  It shows that campuses as well as employers are acknowledging a need to collaborate in order to prepare the next generation of employees for the workforce.  

But there is still some distance to cover for existing liberal arts programs to embrace the reality that most of their grads are not headed for a life of the mind and to make room for that reality within their programs without feeling like the integrity of the programs themselves is under threat.

2009 Head ShotDarcy Lear is a Chicago-based career coach specializing in training students to highlight their language studies so they standout in the job search and workplace. To set up a workshop or for one-on-one coaching, contact Darcy:
This entry was posted in Career Advice, document preparation, interview prep. Bookmark the permalink.

1 Response to Here Is What Most Universities and Language Departments Say About Your Career Prospects…

  1. Pingback: Language Students: You Have an Advantage Over Other Job Candidates When It Comes to This Coveted Workplace Skill–Communication! | darcylear

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