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7 Reasons Your Humanities Major Doesn’t Mean Unemployment

7 Reasons Your Humanities Major Doesn’t Mean Unemployment

Recently, I had a conversation with a new acquaintance about where we went to school. I told him my alma mater (a large state university), and after we talked about its March Madness bracket potential this year (mediocre to decent), he asked what I studied there. The answer: English. The response: “Oh, so you must teach.”

The implication was that if I had such an impractical major, it was teaching or bust. Now, the lovely person didn’t mean to imply that I was otherwise unemployable, but that’s how conversations like that can feel when you’re the one with a humanities degree.

If you tell people you majored in accounting or computer programming, they likely have a good idea of what you do every day. But what about those of us who majored in philosophy or history? Are we doomed to a life of standing on street corners in the middle of the afternoon, giving speeches on the many subtexts of Hamlet? Short answer: no. And if you too are a humanities grad, you don’t need to fret too much about your employability. Here’s why.

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1. The employment picture isn’t as grim as you may have heard.

According to Business Insider, humanities majors face an unemployment rate of 9%, which is on par with the rate for non-humanities majors like math (9.1% unemployment), and all majors overall (7.9% unemployment). Graduates of most majors face a challenging job market, but it’s not necessarily worse for humanities majors by default.

2. You actually have a number of options once you graduate.

Many humanities majors have to make a decision: Continue on the academia path, or go out into the “real” world? Both are valid choices, with different higher ed and employment concerns. This allows you to do your own thing and choose a career path that works for your interests and immediate goals. You’re not locked into a specific job type.

3. Your skills aren’t easily summed up by a major name.

Sure, you studied art history or cultural anthropology. You also spent your time in college developing critical thinking skills, writing skills, and comprehension skills. Humanities especially lean heavily on using writing and communication skills to develop concepts. These are essential in any job, whether or not that job is directly related to your course of study.

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That can give you a leg up over people who took mostly specialized classes in college and may have very specific knowledge and skills, but weaker writing and communication skills. Writing skills will get you everywhere.

4. Your skills aren’t easily outsourced.

When the economy shifts and companies try to find ways to outsource jobs to other countries or to computer algorithms, humanities majors aren’t easily replicated. Again, those writing and critical thinking skills are extra essential. Your ability to take information and apply it toward a solution is something that can’t be replaced easily. Empathy and social skills, same deal. There are some elements that can’t be pushed out, and that makes those skill holders valuable in any economy.

5. That you graduated is often more important than what you studied.

On a resume, that A.A., B.A., M.A., or Ph.D. tells the reader that you had the skills and drive to finish your degree. Regardless of where you went to school or what you majored in, it gives a baseline sense of your accomplishments.

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6. Social intelligence may beat subject-specific intelligence.

This is not necessarily true for, say, surgery (or maybe it is!), but in most professional fields, employers are now seeking candidates with emotional intelligence on top of hard skills. The kinds of skills you develop in the humanities can give you an edge, and show that you’re the kind of employee who can grow, analyze, and flourish on the job. You can always go and learn skills like coding, but it’s tough to go back and teach yourself how to analyze situations and talk about them coherently.

7. A major is not a lifelong decision.

We make lots of decisions between the ages of 18 and 22 that we wouldn’t want dogging us for the rest of our days. Perspectives change, realities change; needs change. Even having a “practical” and specific major is no guarantee that you will have lifelong employment in that field.

For example, I have a friend who gave up her engineering career, and is now a cake designer and a small business owner. Building a specific set of skills through a major is pretty important, but it’s not necessarily the most important thing forever. Building a set of skills that will serve you flexibly throughout your career evolution, that’s the key to longterm success.

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The next time you start to feel like your liberal arts major may fail you in the long run, remember that you made a choice that set you on a path—not a dead end. You can work with the skills you’ve built to make your humanities degree match your professional goals. And you don’t have to panic the next time someone looks skeptical and says, “So, uh, are you just going to go to law school, then?”

Featured photo credit: Shutterstock via shutterstock.com

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Jessie Liu

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Last Updated on March 29, 2021

5 Types of Horrible Bosses and How to Beat Them All

5 Types of Horrible Bosses and How to Beat Them All

When I left university I took a job immediately, I had been lucky as I had spent a year earning almost nothing as an intern so I was offered a role. On my first day I found that I had not been allocated a desk, there was no one to greet me so I was left for some hours ignored. I happened to snipe about this to another employee at the coffee machine two things happened. The first was that the person I had complained to was my new manager’s wife, and the second was, in his own words, ‘that he would come down on me like a ton of bricks if I crossed him…’

What a great start to a job! I had moved to a new city, and had been at work for less than a morning when I had my first run in with the first style of bad manager. I didn’t stay long enough to find out what Mr Agressive would do next. Bad managers are a major issue. Research from Approved Index shows that more than four in ten employees (42%) state that they have previously quit a job because of a bad manager.

The Dream Type Of Manager

My best manager was a total opposite. A man who had been the head of the UK tax system and was working his retirement running a company I was a very junior and green employee for. I made a stupid mistake, one which cost a lot of time and money and I felt I was going to be sacked without doubt.

I was nervous, beating myself up about what I had done, what would happen. At the end of the day I was called to his office, he had made me wait and I had spent that day talking to other employees, trying to understand where I had gone wrong. It had been a simple mistyped line of code which sent a massive print job out totally wrong. I learn how I should have done it and I fretted.

My boss asked me to step into his office, he asked me to sit down. “Do you know what you did?” I babbled, yes, I had been stupid, I had not double-checked or asked for advice when I was doing something I had not really understood. It was totally my fault. He paused. “Will you do that again?” Of course I told him I would not, I would always double check, ask for help and not try to be so clever when I was not!

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“Okay…”

That was it. I paused and asked, should I clear my desk. He smiled. “You have learnt a valuable lesson, I can be sure that you will never make a mistake like that again. Why would I want to get rid of an employee who knows that?”

I stayed with that company for many years, the way I was treated was a real object lesson in good management. Sadly, far too many poor managers exist out there.

The Complete Catalogue of Bad Managers

The Bully

My first boss fitted into the classic bully class. This is so often the ‘old school’ management by power style. I encountered this style again in the retail sector where one manager felt the only way to get the best from staff was to bawl and yell.

However, like so many bullies you will often find that this can be someone who either knows no better or is under stress and they are themselves running scared of the situation they have found themselves in.

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The Invisible Boss

This can either present itself as management from afar (usually the golf course or ‘important meetings) or just a boss who is too busy being important to deal with their staff.

It can feel refreshing as you will often have almost total freedom with your manager taking little or no interest in your activities, however you will soon find that you also lack the support that a good manager will provide. Without direction you may feel you are doing well just to find that you are not delivering against expectations you were not told about and suddenly it is all your fault.

The Micro Manager

The frustration of having a manager who feels the need to be involved in everything you do. The polar opposite to the Invisible Boss you will feel that there is no trust in your work as they will want to meddle in everything you do.

Dealing with the micro-manager can be difficult. Often their management style comes from their own insecurity. You can try confronting them, tell them that you can do your job however in many cases this will not succeed and can in fact make things worse.

The Over Promoted Boss

The Over promoted boss categorises someone who has no idea. They have found themselves in a management position through service, family or some corporate mystery. They are people who are not only highly unqualified to be managers they will generally be unable to do even your job.

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You can find yourself persistently frustrated by the situation you are in, however it can seem impossible to get out without handing over your resignation.

The Credit Stealer

The credit stealer is the boss who will never publically acknowledge the work you do. You will put in the extra hours working on a project and you know that, in the ‘big meeting’ it will be your credit stealing boss who will take all of the credit!

Again it is demoralising, you see all of the credit for your labour being stolen and this can often lead to good employees looking for new careers.

3 Essential Ways to Work (Cope) with Bad Managers

Whatever type of bad boss you have there are certain things that you can do to ensure that you get the recognition and protection you require to not only remain sane but to also build your career.

1. Keep evidence

Whether it is incidents with the bully or examples of projects you have completed with the credit stealer you will always be well served to keep notes and supporting evidence for projects you are working on.

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Buy your own notebook and ensure that you are always making notes, it becomes a habit and a very useful one as you have a constant reminder as well as somewhere to explore ideas.

Importantly, if you do have to go to HR or stand-up for yourself you will have clear records! Also, don’t always trust that corporate servers or emails will always be available or not tampered with. Keep your own content.

2. Hold regular meetings

Ensure that you make time for regular meetings with your boss. This is especially useful for the over-promoted or the invisible boss to allow you to ‘manage upwards’. Take charge where you can to set your objectives and use these meetings to set clear objectives and document the status of your work.

3. Stand your ground, but be ready to jump…

Remember that you don’t have to put up with poor management. If you have issues you should face them with your boss, maybe they do not know that they are coming across in a bad way.

However, be ready to recognise if the situation is not going to change. If that is the case, keep your head down and get working on polishing your CV! If it isn’t working, there will be something better out there for you!

Good luck!

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