Humanities Degree and Career Prep Are Not Mutually Exclusive

IMG_4698How can we build a bridge from the humanities degrees we’re giving out on college campuses to the real-world professional jobs most of our students will hold after graduation?

William Pannapacker’s article, “No More Digitally Challenged Liberal-Arts Majors: How to Give B.A.’s in Arts and Humanities More Career Options Without Abandoning the Life of the Mind,” in The Chronicle of Higher Education goes a long way toward answering that question.

Pannapacker’s primary assertion: it’s good to study the humanities for all the “old” reasons, but we have to also prepare students for the realities of the 21st century professional workplace.  

Here are some of the existing gaps between campus and career that Pannapacker identifies:

1- How to represent a humanities degree in the job search. 

Executives value liberal-arts graduates, almost without regard to discipline, but…those graduates are seldom hired unless they can get past the screening processes of human-resources offices dealing with large numbers of applicants.”  

Will executives hire someone with a humanities degree? Yes! But you have to know how to represent your humanities degree. Students coming out of college have to know these basics about the job placement landscape:

  • You have to customize your resume to each and every job you apply for. For each application, it is essential to use keywords from the job ad–those are the words the robot screens for.
  • Don’t be boring! Here is the reaction I often have when I meet a client whose job search documents I’ve already seen: wow, you’re charming in real life!  You have fascinating experiences to share!  You possess really deep knowledge in a particular subject area! Why didn’t I know any of those things?  Remember:
  • After the robot screens your resume, it goes to a real person–and you have to hook that person by letting the real you shine through in your application materials.  Don’t bury the lead!

2- The need to develop and highlight technical skills.

Executives say they want to hire “someone who can build and maintain our website and publicize our work appropriately using social media. We want graduates who can generate content, of course, but they also need some technical skills.” 

One of two things is usually happening here:

Young candidates “bury the lead” and take all of their social media marketing savvy for granted. Using social media is like stirring cream and sugar into coffee–so automatic that it doesn’t seem worth mentioning. But it’s a skill that the management generation didn’t grow up with. They know social media can be a value to their organization, but probably aren’t as comfortable with using it as recent grads are.  

Or young candidates shy away from the things they haven’t already learned about.  Generally, this is websites. To young candidates, I say, “take two hours and do this now: build your own website.” Just get on WordPress or Blogger or any other web design site and figure it out. Then when an employer needs to know you can do it for them, you can show them that you have done it by showing them your website.

3- The ability to work on diverse teams. 

“Evidence of teamwork—the ability to work collaboratively on large projects with different kinds of people—is extremely important.”

“Teamwork” does not mean divide-and-conquer: you do part A, I’ll do B, and she’ll do C; then we’ll paste it all together right before we hand it in. Teamwork is about working together in a way that takes advantage of everyone’s strengths so that the final, coherent products are better than what any one person could have done. See this post for an example of how to set up a team in a professional context.  

Over and over, we see that humanities students are developing the skills employers want in young new hires, but we aren’t always taking the necessary steps to translate those skills into the language of the employer so that graduates go into the job market with strong job search documents and interview skills.  It is refreshing to see William Pannapacker identify specific workplace skills that are in high demand and address ways in which humanities students can acquire and highlight those skills.

2009 Head ShotDarcy Lear is a career coach specializing in job search documents, professional school applications, and interview preparation. For more tips on translating humanities skills for the workplace or to set up a campus workshop for faculty or students, contact Darcy:
This entry was posted in Career Advice, Careers for Humanities Majors, darcy lear. Bookmark the permalink.

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