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How to uncover transferrable skills for humanities and arts majors

Okay, liberal arts major. Not everyone needs to be an engineer or an app developer. Or know how to wrangle big data into useful insights. You’ll be interested to know that most of your future employers were just like you when they got out of school—creative, smart, good at communicating and collaborating, and interested in the world around them. And completely, utterly lost when it came to figuring out what they wanted to do or how to get paid for doing what they were good at.

Take heart. During the four (or five) years it takes to earn your liberal arts degree, you will have honed skills and accumulated experiences that we employers look for in the people we want to hire. The key is for you to understand and communicate their value when you speak to us about employment. The same skills you used to make connections between different areas of study or to compare different civilizations will come in handy as you take an inventory of your skills, experiences and interests and consider how they might apply to the workplace and for the jobs you seek. The better and more explicitly you make these connections for us, the more likely we are to hire you.

What do you do if you don’t know enough about a job or career path in order to know how your skills and experiences might qualify you? There are a few basic steps you need to take, and you may have already taken one or two:

  • —Create an inventory of your knowledge, experiences, skills and interests and prioritize them based on which of these you would enjoy using most.
  • —Use career exploration and assessment tools like O*NET ( to help you match your experiences, skills and interests with job descriptions.
  • —Use personal networks (friends, family, peers, alumni) or social sites like LinkedIn to talk to people who:
    • Have the jobs you are considering about how they got their jobs, why they think they were hired over other candidates, and which skills and experiences have been most helpful to them on the job.
    • Have more senior positions to ask about what they look for and value in employees who have the role you are considering and why. Ask explicitly about how your background might be perceived and which skills and experiences they consider most relevant.

I know this last step is particularly scary, but remember: you’re not asking them for anything they cannot give for free. All you want is their perspective. Not a job, not a connection or even a reference. If you simply introduce yourself and your desire to know how to position yourself best for a particular career path, people will want to be helpful. Especially if it takes just a few minutes of their time—so be clear in your communication that your request is limited to a few insights based on their unique perspective.

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