Giving good career advice can be tough, especially if you're trying to make it quick. Sometimes you have to spell out your thoughts in more detail, especially if you have to explain how you went from a history degree to starting a tech company...
I was recently asked to be a guest on a podcast for my university’s College of Arts and Sciences career center. I was kind of surprised when they contacted me, but then again I do have a rather surprising job for someone with a degree in history. The interview was fun, but there was one question I was asked that I didn’t feel I was able to answer adequately. I thought a blog post might be in order to expand upon my thoughts.
It was a pretty basic question, along the lines of “What advice do you have for students who are studying the liberal arts and want to explore careers?” I managed to get out some generic advice about doing internships and talking to people in the industry, but it wasn’t until I finished the call that my thoughts on the matter kind of crystallized.
The gist of it is this — whatever it is you’re studying or are interested in, there’s a huge variety of jobs out there worth exploring. When I was an undergraduate, I would always say that I wanted to be a museum curator. Just that. I didn’t really stop and think about the fact that museums often need staff in technology, communications, finance, and many other fields. Liberal arts degrees tend to be associated with a small handful of jobs -- teaching, frequently, but publishing for an English major or foreign aid for an International Studies major. The thing is, you rarely end up in one specific job, you end up in an industry.
So if I have one piece of advice for students studying the liberal arts, it’s this: don’t limit your career exploration to one role. Instead, take your time to learn about as many different options in the particular industry or field you want to work in. Use LinkedIn or organizations’ websites to find out about the departments and job titles at the kinds of places you’d like to work. Maybe you’re absolutely, 100% committed to going to law school to become an immigration attorney and that would be a great fit for you, but maybe that just seemed like the obvious answer and you’d do better organizing events for an immigration advocacy organization.
Keeping these assorted jobs in mind also helps you tailor your skills for the future. Technology skills are generally useful, but they’re certainly not the only thing you need. A foreign language major volunteering with campus cultural groups helps you with the skills you need to work for the cultural office of a country’s embassy. Keep in mind that nothing you learn will ever really go to waste. At the very least, being able to learn new skills is an extremely valuable asset itself. And who knows, you might one day decide you want to start your own business and find you have to do a little bit of everything!
Never stop exploring. The world is full of opportunities and paths that you can’t fathom right now, at least not until you’ve gotten a little bit of experience. Get internships or volunteer in different areas, talk to people who do different things. Look for professional groups that can offer resources for your career. Take advantage of your college or university’s career services. Do this all knowing that the best option for you might not always be the most obvious one.
Because the thing is, you’d be surprised how many different paths will ultimately get you to a career that aligns with your goals. When I wanted to work in museums, I was obsessed with the idea of getting more people to experience their own history and culture. When I was more involved in politics, I wanted to encourage as many people as possible to take part in their government. I always wanted to encourage people to be curious and seek out knowledge and connections with the world around them.
Fast-forward a couple years, and here I am doing exactly that. Well, officially I’m building a tool that will assist people in doing that. But if you’ve looked around the Drover website or follow us on social media, it’s pretty obvious how much I still care about museums and other civic pursuits. I feel like I’ve come full circle in a way I never would have imagined. It has its good days and bad days, but I love it.
Because when all is said and done, your career is much more like mapping uncharted terrain than following a GPS. There’s plenty of help along the way, and if you keep an open mind and always keep looking for new opportunities there you never know what you’ll discover.