Connecting Your Humanities Graduates with Careers

illustration of an article

Published in May 2011.

Recent studies confirm that some of the graduates having the most difficulty finding fulfilling employment are those with majors in the humanities and social sciences. This week, we interviewed Andrew Ceperley, director of the University of California, San Diego’s highly effective career services center. Ceperley suggests that to help graduates in the humanities connect with desirable careers, college career centers need to invest in programming and services that:

  • Provide self-assessment tools to help humanities majors define their career path
  • Connect students with industry experts who also studied in the humanities, and who can serve as mentors and role models
  • Educate students on the power of professional networking

Defining the Pipeline

“It’s too easy to just focus on strengthening services to majors who have an easy and direct pipeline to careers (chemical engineering, accounting). Students in the humanities have marketable skills, but they have to define their own pipeline.”
Andrew Ceperley, UCSD

Ceperley suggests identifying high-yield opportunities for exposing students to self-assessment tools that can help them better understand their skills, values, and personality traits, and to educational programming that can help them translate those skills and traits into a variety of career options.

For example:

  • Offer facilitated career workshops to assist students in thinking about who they are, what their values and skills are, and how they can leverage their characteristics and their major in the world of work (UCSD offers small, 90-minute, round-table workshops staffed with career counselors)
  • Partner with an academic unit to offer an elective course that walks students through all the decision points in the career search process, and consider dedicating one section of the course to humanities majors
  • Investigate your options for expanding your online services, such as online resources and self-assessment tools, online chat with a career counselor, as well as webcasts and online tutorials

If your institution is a smaller, liberal arts school, you may have access to less resources than a career services office at a large public university is likely to, but Ceperley notes that you have other advantages. He advises: “At a small liberal arts school, where the humanities are a high priority for the institution, career services professionals need to focus on forging meaningful partnerships with faculty and deans.” Because of the smaller, more intimate setting, you may have more success at the following initiatives than some of your colleagues at large, Research I institutions:

  • Leverage relationships with faculty to find opportunities for an industry expert or a career services professional to visit classes and talk with students
  • Integrate self-assessment tools into the first-year student experience and into capstone classes (and, if possible, require a self-assessment during the first year)

Connect Students with Role Models

Next, increase your students’ exposure to industry experts and potential role models who have leveraged a humanities major to move forward into exciting careers. Ceperley advises, “Have your experts speak with students about what it takes to tell the story about your background and skills, how to tell stories that help you translate your major into an exciting job in green business or a fulfilling career at a nonprofit.”

Beyond events with guest speakers, Ceperley suggests introducing students to LinkedIn earlier rather than later. “Introduce them to your alumni affinity groups on that platform,” he adds. “They need to see what alumni are out there in their affinity group.” Harness the volunteering spirit of your alumni and their excitement at opportunities to mentor students, and find creative ways to bring together students and alumni who share a major.

Educate Students About Networking

Ceperley stresses that career services offices need to prioritize education around the power of professional networking — “and not just in the traditional sense of working the cocktail reception but also via new platforms: Facebook, LinkedIn, blogging, tweeting. Help students learn how to establish a visible presence and a robust network of professional connections with alumni in their majors and with employers in the area looking for their skills.”

Here are some practical ways to help students develop strong networking skills:

  • Informal, small-group activities that encourage experiential learning. UCSD offers the “Coffee Break-in,” assembling 10-15 students and one industry expert, often an alum, who speaks about a particular career area (becoming a food scientist; becoming an occupational therapist; becoming an advertising executive) and then facilitates small group exercises that are meant to simulate “breaking in” during a coffee break with an industry professional during a coffee.
  • The “mixer.” For example, suppose you have an evening workshop dedicated to careers for communications majors. Ceperley explains: “Bring in several experts who had communications majors, station them about the room, prep the students on how to network, then have your students work the room, talking, shaking hands, and collecting cards.”