Secrets of a Career with a Liberal Arts Degree

By Adela Penagos, PhD, President

Two weeks ago, I was visiting Notre Dame and volunteered to participate in the “Arts and Letters Career Conversations.”  The goal of the networking event was to provide Arts and Letters students with the opportunity to connect with alumni and gather tips and advice about the career process. 

Each alumnus provided at least two pieces of advice.  The following stayed in my mind since the event:

1.    Do internships:

Many companies want to hire candidates that have some work experience –this does not need to directly relate to the job they are pursuing.  The best way to acquire such experience is taking advantage of internship opportunities, even if unpaid.  If you don’t get paid for the internship, make sure that you become familiar with the credit granting policy at your university.  You might get elective credit toward graduation by completing an internship while gaining valuable experience.

2.    Connect with fellow alumni:

Domers like to hire Domers, since it takes one to know one.  My experience working at universities with strong traditions is that their alumni want to take care of one another.  Thus, create a LinkedIn profile and connect with fellow alumni at your school.  I encourage you to do this as soon as possible.   Don’t wait until you are beginning the job search.  You will be amazed at the relationships you can form, the informational interviews you can arrange, and the wisdom you can gather from those who came before you.  

3.    Be Optimistic:

Regardless of the challenges you may encounter in the job search, be optimistic –granted this also requires a dose of patience.  The consensus was that an optimistic person will be pleasant, a problem solver, and colleagues will want to be around him/her. 

4.    Show your Abilities:

Arts and Letters majors have learned to think critically, analytically, and approach topics from various perspectives.  As you are engaging in networking events or job interviews do not hold back on all of those traits that set you apart.   

Remember the research grants you applied for to spend time abroad in the summer and all the research papers you wrote?  Well…this is payback, research the company you are applying to and those interviewing you.  This will allow you to ace the interview and ask the right questions to determine if the job you are applying for is the right fit for you.

5.    Have an elevator pitch:

Everyone wants you to tell them, in 30 seconds, what defines you as a person, such as those unique skills that set you apart and leave the listener wanting to know more about you.  Be ready to do this.  The more you practice your elevator pitch, the better you will get at it.

While visiting campuses during your university search, make sure to get a clear sense of the institution’s alumni network.  The tightness of the network can make a tremendous difference on your future career, regardless of your major.