Hire the humanists

Seven alumni share tips for finding a job in a tough market.

By Elizabeth Station


Even before the economy tanked, humanities graduates had no predictable career path. At Alumni Weekend, the Master of Arts Program in the Humanities (MAPH) brought back seven alumni to prove the point.

Speakers at the Alumni in Unexpected Places panel included a winemaker and a filmmaker, a union organizer, design and financial services executives, and staffers from educational nonprofits. They shared their professional stories with current MAPH students and recent grads. When someone asked, “How the hell do you get a job right now?” they offered this advice:

Play up—and prove—your writing skills.
Humanities grads know how to write; that’s an advantage. But applicant pools are too crowded for the sloppy to survive. When Justine Nagan, AM’04, executive director of Kartemquin Films, sees typos in a job candidate’s cover letter, it goes to the bottom of the pile.
Volunteer or be an intern.
If there isn’t a paid position in your dream organization, work for free (sigh). You’ll have an inside track when a job opens up. Consider working overseas—after graduate school, Austin Gilkeson, AM’04, spent two years teaching English on a remote Japanese island. He’s now the education and exchange coordinator at the Consulate General of Japan in Chicago.
Tell everyone you’re looking for a job.
Share your story with anyone who will listen, says Starr Marcello, AM’04, director of operations for the Polsky Center for Entrepreneurship. Don’t be afraid to sell yourself. As you develop a 30-second elevator pitch, focus on what you can do for a potential employer today.
Highlight your quirks—those oddities that make you memorable.
Suzanne Gallo, AM’02, a project manager for Discover Financial Services, is also a competitive figure skater. She says the little picture of skates she put on her résumé got mentioned in almost every job interview.
Don’t apologize for a diverse skill set.
Humanities grads often have eclectic backgrounds. “Being a hybrid, being able to see things from multiple perspectives, is good,” says Adam Richardson, AM’97, assistant vice president for strategy and marketing at frog, a global design firm. “Companies are trying to break down silos.”
Be open to veering from your imagined path.
A humanities education trains people to be flexible. David McIntire, AM’04, studied philosophy and Hindu mythology; he’s now a winemaker in Napa Valley. Carlos Fernandez, AM’03, a former film student, works as a labor organizer with the American Federation of Teachers.

The event kicked off the program's 15th anniversary celebration on June 3. Later that day, six other MAPH graduates shared their original writing and tales from the job front at an alumni writers panel. More information is available on the afterMAPH website.

From left: Gallo, Gilkeson, Nagan, Marcello, McIntire, Fernandez, and Richardson.

Photo by Drew Reynolds.

June 10, 2011