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Job tips for liberal arts grads, Part II

Jayne Matthews Hopson | 6/20/2014, 6 a.m.
Without question, Science Technology Engineering and Math (STEM) are majors in great demand by employers looking to hire recent college ...
Morgan State University graduation John Monroe

Without question, Science Technology Engineering and Math (STEM) are majors in great demand by employers looking to hire recent college grads. By some estimates STEM grads are three times more likely to be interviewed and offered a job than liberal arts majors. Nevertheless, I doubt this means universities should dismantle their history, music, arts and humanities departments forcing college students to abandon their liberal arts studies.

The STEM studies trend is driven in part by an increasing push to develop and bring to market new technologies and products that will render current innovations like smartphones, Kindles and iPods obsolete. But, the fact remains all of these devices require creative minds to produce content that is entertaining, informative, and of value to users. Someone has to write the books we read on Kindle, produce the music for our iPods and create television shows that compel us to binge watch.

For example, Thursday nights probably wouldn’t be as “scandalous” if Shonda Rhimes chose STEM over liberal arts. Rhimes is the creator of three incredibly popular television shows: “Scandal,” “Grey’s Anatomy,” and “Private Practice.” Rhimes, one of Hollywood’s most successful producers was a liberal arts major, earning a BA from Dartmouth College in English literature and creative writing and a MFA from the University of Southern California in Writing for the Screen and Television.

The best advice to help liberal arts majors secure employment in their field is to seek internships while still in school. This is, of course, a good idea for all college students regardless of their major. While classroom learning is necessary, practical work experience is an equally important step towards establishing a successful career.

Katharine Hansen, Ph.D. in her article “10 Ways to Market Your Liberal Arts Degree” offers a bit of good news.

“Sometimes liberal arts majors struggle a bit more than other majors when launching their careers,” says Dr. Hansen. “But, the evidence shows that they tend to advance farther and be more sought out by CEOs for high-level jobs than non-liberal-arts grads.” The director of Stanford University's MBA program is quoted as saying “he doesn't prefer applicants who had business as an undergraduate major; instead, liberal-arts majors are among the program's preferred applicants.

For liberal arts grads who are not planning to pursue an advanced degree, a well-written resume is a necessity. Dr. Hansen helped a college student earning a degree in Social Thought and Analysis prepare his resume. Even though he had great extracurricular activities, sports and computer experience, writes Dr. Hansen, “he had virtually no work experience. He was interested in a job at one of the big financial-services companies. He didn't have any training or background in finance, but he did have lots of skills that employers love."

She re-packaged his skills and academic experience for the resume's summary section as follows:

•Leadership-oriented college student with strong work ethic and moral compass.

•Creative problem-solver who excels at conflict resolution, as well as creating positive solutions, identifying efficient methods to correct situations, and following through to implementation.

•Exceptional interpersonal communicator who collaborates effectively with individuals at all levels— from students to deans, functions as a liaison among groups, builds and leads teams without being overbearing, and fosters cooperation among diverse individuals and organizations.

•Disciplined and highly organized self-starter who coordinates, manages and

juggles multiple committees, numerous daily meetings, judicial-board and campus ambassador functions, as well as a demanding school load.

•Motivated, mature achiever who takes the initiative and attacks issues with originality.

•Committed competitor who has demonstrated drive towards excellence through achievement of three-time election to class-president position and third-degree black belt in karate.

•Computer-proficient performer with skills covering operating systems, including Windows 9x/ME/2K/XP, and Mac OS, as well as software applications and programming languages, including C++, Java, HTML, Excel, PowerPoint, Minitab, Access, Word, and Outlook; A+ certified.

Dr. Hansen advises grads to compose a cover letter that “portrays the applicability” of their skills “Your cover letter can also play a significant role in touting your liberal arts skills. While the resume is usually written in short, clipped bullet points, the cover letter uses more narrative language to help the employer to see the connections between your liberal-arts skills and the employer's needs.”

Pointing to another cover-letter bonus Dr. Hansen adds, “A cover letter is a showcase for your writing skills. The very fact that your liberal-arts education has prepared you to craft a compelling, well-written cover letter will make a big impression on employers.”

Jayne Matthews Hopson writes about education matters because “only the educated are free.”