Overall, I was in a good spot. By 24, I had finished my Bachelor’s Degree and nearly completed my Master’s Degree too; I had taught two courses to Undergraduate students at Concordia; and won a few awards (some even came with cash prizes) for my work throughout the whole process. I kept my head down throughout the halls of the English department, but needless to say, I was running the joint. I had an office with my name on the door. People knew me, people respected me (at least a little bit), and professors looked at me like a colleague, asking my opinion every so often on this or that issue. I was convinced they’d be offering me a full-time teaching position in no time. The sweet life of academia was around the corner – I could practically smell my crammed, damp office and the sweaty fear of my future young students. Things were good.
Ultimately, nobody ever made me a job offer, and eventually, I realized there were about 15 graduate students smarter and better-spoken than I was – all of whom thought they would end up teaching at the university, and none of whom actually did. Their plans were, similarly to mine, shot straight to hell. To sum it up, we were all screwed. I had finished my courses and had no business lounging in the university hallways or buying four-dollar espresso anymore; apparently it was closing time, and they didn’t really care where I went, but I couldn’t stay there.
So I groped alone along the dark tunnel into the “real” business world – unwillingly. I knew my degrees in English Literature wouldn’t be worth much in a concrete sense: all jobs postings I noticed required Business, Science, or Accounting degrees – in truth, I was better off with a degree in cabinet-making. I knew I had some skills that must have been valuable to someone, but I had no idea what those skills were, or who in their right mind would invest real money in helping me find out. All over the internet you’ll find interesting articles that discuss how a serious shift is occurring: large corporations and institutions around the world are actively hiring people with Humanities degrees, people who think outside of the realm of traditional business instruction, people who bring something “new” to the table. I was stoked on these articles, but weirdly enough, none of that new philosophy seemed to translate onto the job boards at Monster, Workopolis, or Jobboom. Where were these companies who were apparently looking for young, sharp grads with degrees in Sociology, Political Science, Urban Studies and Literature? I sure as hell couldn’t find them anywhere. So how was I really expected to successfully make the jump from academia to the business world without being swallowed up whole by corporate disinterest and inflexible expectations?
After a while, I managed to figure it out – it wasn’t easy, but it was relatively simple. Those very basic things that academia teaches you which don’t translate too easily via paper onto a CV are the same assets which you think barely contribute to your “marketability”: critical thinking, hardcore discipline, and rigorous self-motivation are the key to standing out, regardless of industry or position. Someone sharp, sophisticated, and well-spoken who would rather die than potentially face failure is worth much more than a boring, comfortable, uninspiring person with experience, bottom line.
So yeah, humanities grads, that’s it, that’s the trick: be inspired, be sharp, be humble but confident – people will take notice, and your soft skills will be worth investing in over your lack of hard skills or experience. Unfortunately, in today’s market, those skills which your Humanities degrees taught you so well would likely be scoffed at by any classic, square-headed HR department looking to fill a junior position. Newsflash, grads: if that HR person thinks Humanities degrees have nothing to offer, and that HR department has no way of comprehending why your incredible sense of discipline, focus, and strong communication skills are relevant, then you shouldn’t want to work for that company. Any progressive, modern institution or company nowadays should know that, ironically, those qualities that you possess are easily the hardest to find in the concrete modern business world and, I’d argue, the most important as vehicles of progress and innovation.
An Accounting degree almost guarantees a career – or, at the very least, a job after graduation – in accounting. Humanities degrees are, accordingly, a willful choice – a choice which says “there’s time to be a successful accountant; let me be a successful human being first.” Preach! I’m fully on board, and I agree with the decision – well done. But don’t complain or mope when the job opportunities are not the most obvious. Instead, I urge you to hone those skills that you pride yourself on; you can do much more than be a “coordinator,” whatever that even means. Discover different industries, different avenues, read and question and explore – isn’t that what you spent years doing in university? Don’t let that process end; translate it into the business world, to the benefit of us all.
– Stefano Faustini, Headhunter with Pronexia Inc. – Montreal headhunters of the new generation