Having so many options to consider in a career search should be encouraging, but it can also be difficult because the options are so broad. While your colleagues in the sciences and professional programs will feel anxieties about finding a job within their narrow technical field, you will feel the anxiety of locating yourself in a much wider range of career paths. You should therefore sense the need to focus your particular career exploration by linking your personal goals with jobs that make use of the skills you have developed.
To begin with, think of a career not as something you must achieve by graduation, but rather as something you should take the initiative to begin designing for yourself during your undergraduate years. As Burton J. Nadler indicates in his Liberal Arts Jobs, "the so-called plight of the liberal arts graduate is not (as so many students, parents and well-meaning advisors think) that employers do not hire liberal arts job seekers. It is that liberal arts graduates tend to be less willing and less able to articulate career goals, thus resulting in a more difficult and unsuccessful job search." We hope to make sure that your education as a history major prepares you both to discern who you are as well as to articulate your career goals. This will enable you to successfully negotiate the transition from collegiate education to career path. To manage this transition smoothly, we recommend the following plan for discerning your career decisions:
Freshman Year: Increase Self-Awareness
- Meet with your academic advisor to discuss your academic interests.
- Meet with a Career Center counselor to help identify interests, values, and abilities.
- Use one of the Career Center's guidance programs to learn more about the world of work.
- Interview friends and family members about the nature of their jobs (informational interviewing).
Sophomore Year: Explore Careers
- Obtain information about occupations (reading and research).
- Begin to identify what is important to you in a career (e.g. using interpersonal skills, technical skills, the work culture of a given career path, etc.).
- Target electives to increase marketability; consider a minor related to your interests.
- Consider opportunities for study abroad and undergraduate research.
- Explore relevant work experiences such as internships and summer jobs.
Junior Year: Link Self-Knowledge with Occupation Information
- Begin to relate values, interests, and abilities to career fields.
- Develop networking relationships with faculty and professionals.
- Enhance leadership skills through participation in campus and community activities.
- Participate in an internship, study abroad, or undergraduate research opportunity.
- Begin to develop an effective resumé that highlights education, work, and student activities.
- Meet with prospective employers or graduate schools in your career field (through on-campus recruiting, off-campus contacts, or correspondence).
Senior Year: Career Implementation
Use the resources of the Career Center to:
- Complete an effective resumé that highlights education, work, and student activities.
- Sharpen interview skills.
- Learn to write effective letters of application.
- Have the confidence to "sell yourself" in interviews!
Students we counsel about career decisions generally fall into two groups: those who know what they want to do but feel they lack the necessary experience, and those that feel confident in their abilities but are overwhelmed by the possibilities before them. Those feeling the need for experience should address this through internships, while those feeling overwhelmed should do some self-exploration to identify what is important to them. Then both groups can match their experience and personal characteristics with future career paths. Once they have identified which career direction they would like to pursue, the next challenge is learning how to articulate their skills, experiences, and enthusiasm to employers. This is time to remember all those general liberal arts and specific historical skills, along with the personal growth, that has come from your collegiate career as a history major!
Hopefully it is clear by now that a liberal arts degree in general, and a history degree in particular, is not just about landing a job. It is also about coming to know yourself and translating that knowledge, along with the employment skills learned, into terms that employers understand. With a little extra time spent on discernment and thorough educational preparation, you will find yourself with an abundance of opportunities for further personal growth and advancement in a career.