Whether you've already got a liberal arts degree or are just working on one, you're probably already tired of hearing these eight little words:
"What are you going to do with that?"
English majors have heard it since the beginning of time. So have students of history, philosophy, sociology, linguistics, art, and even economics. In our business and tech-obsessed society, it's hard for some people to imagine that specializing in something other than math or science could be worthwhile, let alone lucrative.
But we've got good news: From finance to marketing to sales and more, there are tons of jobs out there for liberal arts grads.
If you're ready to put your degree to use, here's what you need to know.
Yes, Liberal Arts Grads Can Get Great Jobs
The next time your cranky uncle starts telling you that you've squandered your education, point him to some examples of CEOs with liberal arts or unconventional degrees. Larry Fink, Chairman and CEO of investment firm BlackRock, graduated with a degree in political science. Disney CEO Robert Iger got his degree in communications. Whole Foods CEO John Mackey majored in philosophy and religion.
The list goes on, of course, but the point is this: These folks started their careers with liberal arts degrees and eventually came to lead some of the largest companies in the United States—and so can you.
That's because a liberal arts education teaches more than just a subject matter. First, it trains students on how to become broadly analytical and creative thinkers. English, philosophy, and history all require looking at complex and subjective concepts from many angles and emphasize the fact that there may be more than one solution to a given problem.
Pursuing a liberal arts degree also exposes people to ideas and subjects outside the world of business or technology, giving grads a broader perspective on issues and challenges they may face in the workplace. And with that wider view, they may discover the route they want to take requires an advanced degree, like an MBA or JD.
Even if you don't go back to school, remember: It’s important that no matter what you want to do, you always keep learning. “I’m still a student. I am still learning today as much as I was learning 36 years ago when I started in this business,” said Larry Fink, CEO of BlackRock, in an interview with McKinsey & Company.
Where the Jobs Are
Now that you've got the facts to shut down your uncle for good, it's time to take your new liberal arts degree for a spin on the job market. Here are some fields where you can put your skills to use, along with a few sample gigs you might encounter.
Marketing and Communications
If your degree emphasized writing, the world of marketing and communications is full of career opportunities. The financial sector is especially fertile ground for these roles. People in this field need to engage with customers, investors, fund managers, and even internal employees around the globe, so great communication skills are in high demand.
Marketing Communications Associate
In this role, you'll be executing on a firm's overall communication plan. That means doing a lot of writing, a good amount of research, and probably a fair amount of social media work. Expect to write email newsletters, case studies, fact sheets, and more. You'll likely work closely with the PR and Events teams, too.
What you need:
- A solid professional writing portfolio (fiction doesn't count, alas)
- Strong presentation skills
- Experience with CMSs like Wordpress, major social media platforms, and presentation tools like PowerPoint
- Bonus points: an internship or other experience with the financial services world
Business Analysis and Research
Do you love diving into statistics and finding a narrative? If so, there's a good chance that you pursued a degree in history or economics. Those degrees set you up perfectly for the world of business analysis and research.
Junior Business Analyst
These roles involve digging through massive amounts of data points to find the trends and themes that will inform major business decisions. Many companies prefer to hire analysts with finance degrees, but history and economics majors can make the cut if they've got the right skills.
What you need:
- Great communication and presentation skills
- An analytical mindset
- Experience working with large sets of data
- Strong Excel skills
- Bonus points: Demonstrable database chops with tools like SQL
Are you a "people person?" Do you love finding solutions to complex problems? If so, sales can be a lucrative career path for liberal arts grads of any stripe, but psychology majors be especially well-suited due to sales' dependance on understanding and forging human relationships.
Inside Sales Representative
There's no better way to kick off a sales career than an inside sales role. This is typically an entry-level gig that's highly competitive and commission-based. You'll spend most of your time cold calling prospects and trying to close new business for your employer. Plus, virtually every large organization employs inside sales reps, so there are tons of opportunities out there.
What you need:
- The desire to talk to a lot of people and build new relationships
- A healthy sense of competition
- The ability to handle rejection well
- A willingness to work potentially long hours to meet quotas
- Bonus points: Being what sales leaders call "money motivated"—in other words, cash rules everything around you.
These are just a few of the possibilities open to liberal arts graduates. So don't let today's STEM-driven mindset get you down. No matter your major, the world is truly your oyster. Now go land a killer gig.
Photo of women on laptop courtesy of Hero Images/ Getty Images.
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