I initially took this course as my official “back-up plan”, should I ever willingly or, more realistically, encounter enough failures that I retreat from the world of academia out of sheer humiliation and defeat. If I decided I wanted to pursue a career rather than sign up for more graduate school, I didn’t want to venture into that realm completely unprepared. Now that I have taken this class, not only am I actually committed to finding an “alt-ac” (alternative to academia) job, I am actually excited to branch out into new fields; and, for the first time, I feel prepared for the challenges that will come my way. It was halfway through this course, so Thursday of week one, that I began to see this as a chance to really workshop my skills and experiences so that I could land myself a good job, one that I wanted. More than that, it was an eye-opening experience that showed me how woefully unprepared I was to start applying for full-time, professional jobs in the first place.
This course was invaluable to me for so many reasons. Prior to actually beginning the job-searching process on my own, I had never even heard of the phrase “cover letter”. It was demoralizing, a low point in my professional career, when I had to Google search templates and examples of cover letters, their format, stylistic choices, and content. Even with all the advanced essay writing I had done over the years, I struggled with this style of document. Humanities scholars are accustomed to writing eloquent, descriptive essays and arguments; and if we are worried about length constraints, then it’s because our professor told us to put a cap on our thoughts at page 15 rather than ramble on for another four pages. Writing in a business sense is completely different; I found myself having to retrain my thought process in an effort to come across as concise and straightforward, be detail-oriented but without falling down the nearest rabbit hole.
When I went through this process on my own, it resulted in cover letters and resumes that completely failed to make me sound like an interesting person, let alone a worthy candidate for a company’s job opening. This course though, allowed me to pose my questions about content and style to a professor who has personally gone through this “alt-ac” process in the past, read through cover letter and resume strategies that sell my qualities rather than just typing them into a Word doc, and let me workshop with other liberal arts students who were struggling with the same problems. It gave me an edge on college graduates who had taken courses in their undergraduate that taught them these exact skills. We’re kidding ourselves if we don’t treat the job market as a high stakes competition; if a liberal arts major wants a marketing job but lacks the same professionalization skills that a business major has, there is no competition. The liberal arts student in question would forfeit that position to a marketing or advertising major because they didn’t even know how to market themselves.
This course was essential for me to improve my professional documents in a way that would translate my liberal arts experience into skills that a successful corporation would perceive as useful. More than that, though, this course and specifically its readings, showed me all the different jobs that I’m actually qualified to do. Some careers, like marketing or advertising, I was familiar with; but I had always assumed that only business graduates would be hired for those positions. While there is some truth in that, many people don’t realize that the liberal arts major is just as qualified as the marketing major; they just have the added job of making sure a potential employer sees their potential and qualifications. Unlike marketing or advertising jobs, there were many careers that I had never even heard of before I took this class; but apparently an English or communications is very well suited for positions like public relations writer, a copyeditor, or a literary agent. Lest we forget the technology that envelopes almost every aspect of our lives, it is thanks to the digital era that even more “alt-ac jobs” are available for humanities majors. Positions like technical editor, social media manager, or eCopywriter are all potential career options for students who walk out of college with a liberal arts background. (Camenson)
Despite the inherent challenges that accompany a graduate student who is applying for real-world jobs with a Masters in Medieval literature, this course has illuminated all the career options that are at my disposal and trained me to effectively go after them. I have no regrets for choosing to study English literature in college; it has taught me invaluable skills and given me unique experiences that few other people can put on their resume. The one thing that either I would have done differently, or would encourage my fellow liberal arts scholars to do is this: start professionalizing earlier. Take a professionalization workshop, do volunteer work on the weekends, spend your summer breaks interning for a great company rather than laying by the pool every day. Accumulating small experiences here and there not only lets you add a line to your resume, it gives you more to work with when you’re marketing yourself for a future job.
Even if you know for sure you want to pursue more postgraduate degrees or want to begin teaching right away, you shortchange yourself if you opt out of direct instruction such as this. As more and more people acquire degrees in the humanities, I think it’s imperative that departments make room for this type of job training in their curricula; because without it, liberal arts graduates are going to have a long road to landing an “alt-ac” job that is equal parts sustainable and fulfilling.
Reference: Camenson, Blythe. Great Jobs for Liberal Arts Majors, McGraw-Hill Companies, 2008.