Friday, December 08, 2006

Is the Job Market for Liberal Arts Graduates REALLY as Bad as Some People Think?

It is amazing to me, how so many academics have internalized an outdated, limited view of the career paths available to those with a Liberal Arts education. In particular, I hear a consistent drone of pessimism from professors, graduate students, and professional organizations in the Liberal Arts disciplines.

I believe that this pessimism is a largely the result of a self-fulfilling prophecy. Granted, if you want to become a tenured professor in, say, English or American Literature, the prospects are not very good. However, is teaching the only career path open for undergraduate and graduate students from the Liberal Arts disciplines? No.

There are a number of career paths available to Liberal Arts graduates.

If you're a grad student, I'd like to share a few helpful tips from someone who has recently made a go of it on the job market.

Take a moment, and ask yourself: If I leave the ivory tower, what skills would I have? You'd be surprised.

The most important part of your job search is that you need to remember that it's up to you to educate your audience. You'll have to focus on creative ways of "selling" your skills.

So be sure to put together a diverse skill set while you're in school, and your graduate scholarship/assistantship is footing the bill. Get publishing and editing experience, train yourself in basic/relevant applications of technology (such as starting, maintaining, and marketing a website about something you your field of study). In the process of your education, be sure to:

  1. Keep a professional portfolio of everything you're involved with, or have written/designed, that the public sees (such as posters/flyers, event advertisements, as well as school publications like literary magazines, departmental/organizational newsletters, etc.)
  2. Detail your activities/responsibilities if you run campus events (such as helping to organize academic conferences, recitals, or sports events), host guest speakers, etc.
  3. Take a few classes in Marketing and Communications--particularly those that deal with Online Marketing. And maintain detailed reports of marketing activities/campaigns for your professional website mentioned above.
These experiences and skills can then be used for positions in (and this is just a sample of what is out there):
  • EVENT PLANNING (entry level median salary of $54,000)
  • Promotional materials (flyers, etc.) and the writing/advertising you do for your website (coupled with a degree of training in Marketing and Communications) can be used for positions in ONLINE MARKETING (entry level median salary of $70,000)
  • ONLINE CONTENT GENERATION i.e. writing for a website (entry level median salary of $47,000)
  • ONLINE CONTENT EDITOR "Duh!" Any English Professor--with some basic training in Marketing and Communications--can do this today! (entry level median salary of $59,000)
  • LAW CLERK Another "Duh!" This position is focused on research--which graduate students can do better than anyone (entry level median salary of $44,000)
  • CORPORATE TRAINER You're already thoroughly trained in adult education (having been a college-level instructor), and by virtue of your graduate education, are one of the strongest candidates for nearly every position you could apply for (entry level median salary of $45,000)

Just do some research, and with a little creativity, you can land a great job with the skills/experience you've assembled on your way to earning that Ph.D. in English. If you want, you can always go into teaching later on in life. Many professors in Business, Engineering, and many other industry-focused disciplines take this career path. They consider teaching to be their retirement--a working retirement--where they can give something back to the next generation of professionals in their respective fields.

Of course, while you work in whatever position you secure, you can adjunct at a local college once or twice a week, to keep current in the discipline, and earn a few extra dollars in the process.

Graduates just don't receive adequate training/mentoring in how to "market" ourselves in the private sector. This is particularly true in the Liberal Arts disciplines (such as English). I'm not faulting the faculty for this... It's an institutional/administrative oversight, which leaves many students lacking when it's time to enter "the real world."

So, as you can see, there are plenty of jobs out there for graduates of Liberal Arts disciplines. The trick is to do your homework, get creative about ways to sell yourself, and develop complimentary skills from outside your field.

Be an interdisciplinarian. Like a good investment strategy, diversification = security.

As grad students, we know we're smart, and we know that what we do has value. The problem is that most people outside of our respective disciplines don't know that.

It's up to you to reveal the treasure you are.

More at my Web Biographies page

*All info on salaries from and, based on the Denver, CO market (median salaries will vary from one geographic/economic region to another)



Charles said...

What a great service you do by putting together this information; and by putting in a positive, proactive context.
I know a few folks I'll forward this to.

dsargent said...

Wonderful. :-) I hope it helps.