Last month, Selloutyoursoul.com launched a simple contest. Readers were asked to share the “best advice or lesson they’ve learned trying to find a career with a humanities degree.”
I really encourage you to check out the full response. There were really some insightful, knowledgable, and unique answers that will help you if you are searching for a job with your humanities degree.
Here is the winner of the $20. Without wanting to sound cliche, it was hard to pick the best answer. A lot of experience was shared. But I picked this answer because I think it is the first and most important breakthrough you need to experience if you are to find a job outside of academia with your BA, MA, or PhD. Everything remains in limbo until you realize this basic truth.
The winner. . .
Don’t be ashamed of your “impractical” background. An education in the humanities is not a “waste”—it’s good for you as a person, which (while it won’t guarantee you a job, especially at the entry level) will pay off in the long run in the form of your writing and critical thinking skills, which will be better than those of your colleagues who studied “practical” fields.
It’s a great big myth that what you go to college for determines your work history. Lots of people change careers, even engineers and managers. Changing directions, or taking time to find a direction, is not failure. For that reason, as well as because the entry-level job is the hardest to get for those of us with fewer hard skills, take every opportunity to get even little bits of work experience in different fields and to grow a variety of skills. Versatility is the best safety net.
Pretend you are out on the job market, looking for employment. Look for a job you really, really want. Then determine the skills/experience you need to land that job. Job ads will typically list these requirements. Then go out and obtain those specific skills/experience/networking contacts.
Take one representative job ad that really interests you, and work on obtaining the skills/experience necessary to qualify for that job. If what you are doing now or plan to do in the near future does not give you those skills/experience necessary for that job, then you need to ask yourself whether you are spending your time and money wisely.
Everything you do now and in the near future should make you a better candidate for that one job.
This assumes that the job will be still available after you obtain the skills/experience necessary to be an excellent candidate for the job. Therefore, it is important that you choose a job that you believe will still be in demand after you obtain the desired skills/experience.
(1) Always, always, always give yourself permission to walk away. I’ve been a reluctant academic all my life, and for me that’s been a good thing. I re-evaluate at the end of every term whether or not I’d like to stick around. If I answer myself in the affirmative, I approach the next term with renewed vigor. If I answer in the negative, well then I take the advice I’ll put forth in #2. I think completing one degree is the ideal time to do this sort of self-check.
(2) Keep your options wide open. If you’re applying for graduate programs, great! But your English degree can be useful in other ways. The State Department, Google, many non-profits and think tanks along with private sector employers hire folks in the humanities. Sign on to versatilephd.com and see what others are doing with their humanities degrees. Network. Even if you’re accepted at Harvard for your PhD, you should be keeping an eye on non-academic jobs in case you ever find your enthusiasm for the academy lacking. You never know.
No one cares more about your education/career than you do. You have to be your own champion/cheerleader. There are no easy paths or “right” answers. Everything feels like uncharted territory (and it is).
Go out and do it. Sell your skills, not your degree. Prepare to be getting someone coffees – everyone has to start somewhere. Don’t think you need an “education” to learn workplace skills (ie: you don’t HAVE to go back to college). Learn from the industry you want to be in. That’s how everyone else does it.
You can read some more excellent responses here.
More Resources for Humanities Degrees