As liberal arts graduates enter the job market, their direction may not be as obvious as that of their technically trained counterparts. For the most part, engineering or computer science majors know exactly where to target their efforts.
Liberal arts majors are less fortunate in that regard - such a heading cannot be found in the want ads. But the fact is that liberal arts majors, if they learn to target their aptitudes, have as good a chance as anyone to find meaningful work.
Students no longer are necessarily hired just because they have a particular degree. Math and physics majors are getting engineering jobs and liberal arts majors are getting accounting jobs. The reason new graduates are being hired is because they have specific skills that meet the needs of the employer.
No one is more suited to this approach than the liberal arts major. "What you need to do," explains one career advisor, "is to find out what you really want to do - regardless of your major. Students often ask, 'What can I do with a major in philosophy?' But that's the wrong question. The real questions are, 'What fascinates me? How can I hook up my interest with a job? What do I really want to be doing in 20 years?'"
Once you have answered those questions, look at possibilities that can match your interests with a job. There are many more options than you might think. Human resources consultant Jo-Ann Vega advises not to get stuck on titles. For instance, if you want to be an autonomous problem-solver, someone with good communication skills who can do a good job of synthesizing sources (as in writing term papers), forget about the titles and look at the job descriptions. Management consultants, career specialists, personnel managers, teachers or trainers within organizations as well as schools are just a few options.
As a liberal arts major, you have to do much more work in terms of researching different job markets and finding out where there is a demand. Plan on conducting in-depth research on any companies that may appeal to you and try to match their needs with your wants. You must be specific, however. It is possible to be too general, too open and too flexible. One career services professional says, "Traditionally, students have said, 'I'm wonderfully trainable; lead me, groom me, teach me to grow.' I think that's what's changing. Employers have fewer opportunities to offer and, therefore, have to be much more careful in selecting one among many. Over the long term, the one chosen will be the one who shows the most direction."
To be successful, you should combine your long-term vision with short-term specificity. Present yourself to your potential employer as someone who both understands the broad goals of the company and has the ability to grow and contribute in the long run. But most importantly, show how you can excel in that specific job. And this, most likely, will involve some specialized skill. If you've taken business courses, had work experiences, or utilized a computer in your liberal arts work, point out those strengths.
Once you've taken the time to determine your real interests and have set some long-term goals, map out a plan -- long and short-term -- on how to get there. Resources are plentiful, from the Occupational Outlook Handbook or Dictionary of Occupational Titles to numerous general job search books, as well as those dealing with specific topics such as What to Do with a Degree in Psychology, The Business of Show Business, etc.
Your liberal arts education has equipped you to take a broad topic and research it. Use those skills to make the connection between what you want and what companies need. Once you find job descriptions that match your long-term interests, set about shaping your resume and, if need be, getting the additional specific skills, training or certification to get that first job.
That first job is not likely to match your long-term goal. But it's the first step. And that, at this point, is the all-important one.
A sampling of the wide range of postitions filled by liberal arts graduates: