When I started college, I chose to be an English major because I liked Anne of Green Gables and those ‘free writing’ exercises in fourth grade.
That was literally the amount of thought I put into the decision.And I thought even less about what I’d do with my degree – until my first visit home and the 8 million “So, are you going to be a teacher?” conversations. So, when I returned to school I did a variety of things that resulted in me landing a ‘real’ job – like, with benefits and a (fairly) livable wage and business cards! So I must have done something right. Later, I actually came to hate said job but that’s not what we’re talking about right now. This is the story of what I did to get a ‘real’ job, straight out of college, with a liberal arts degree.
I graduated with my BA in 2002, when the economy was very, very different. I know that there are many smart, hard working, qualified people who have done All The Right Things and still can’t find a job. And that makes me want to weep and stuff my face with cheese. I don’t want anyone to view this post as an affront to your job hunting efforts, I can only tell you what worked for me.
Liberal arts programs teach you how to make and support arguments/read and write well/be an informed, well-rounded citizen of the world. But they don’t necessarily teach you about the software used in your field, how to navigate office politics, how to write grant proposals or any of the super specific skills that you’ll probably need. Is it heartbreaking that many of us pay $40,000+ for an education that doesn’t help us get a job? Yes. Sadly, the only person who’s responsible for your employability is you.
Take classes (or learn skills) that will make you employable and set you apart from other job seekers.
You don’t have to switch your major to Marketing or Accounting, but no one will ever regret taking a class in social media, basic computer programming or bookkeeping. And these skills will make you approximately a million times more appealing as a job candidate. Work for an arts non-profit? Help manage their Twitter account. Using your Women’s Studies degree at a shelter? Manage their mailing list and newsletter. History Majoring it up a museum? Help them balance their monthly budget.Do internships. Even if they’re low-paying. Even if you’re broke.
By the time I graduated, I’d completed four internships and every.single.summer I questioned this decision. I was earning minimum wage while my friends made real money waitressing and working in factories. When I graduated, I had a pretty impressive skill set and equally impressive debt. My friends had less debt but fewer skills. I got a job almost immediately and was able to start paying down my debt and working my way towards a career. Suckily, a lot of my friends floundered because they’d never really developed a professional skill set. The financial sacrifices you’ll make for those internships will pay off later. Tenfold.
If you want to work in a creative field, start a blog. Like, today.
If you want a job that involves writing/design/art/decor/music, get thee to WordPress. Having a blog will help you develop your voice/aesthetic, connect with people in your field and it’ll show potential employers that you’re a reliable initiative-taker. Assuming you don’t post three times a week for a month and then forget about it.
Make peace with networking.
Puuuuuke. I know. But ‘networking’ is really just another name for ‘making new friends’ and ‘staying in touch.’ If you’ve done an internship, make sure you stay in touch with the people you met there. Reach out to alumni who work in your field. Ask neighbors or your parents’ friends who work in your field if you can buy them dinner and pick their brains.
There’s way, way more to job hunting than Monster.com and Craigslist.
Here’s how I got my fresh-out-of-school job: I went to Switchboard.com, typed in the word ‘creative’ and cold-called every.single.business listed and asked if they had an internship program. You could do the same. Check out non-profit specific job sites, Google “museums [city name],” talk to the Careers office at you college. And under the heading of ‘I know you already know this,’ edit your cover letter and resume to better fit every job you apply to.
Know that you might need two jobs for a while – one that gets your foot in the door and one that pays the bills.
When I was working as an event planner, I got a roommate to help cover all my bills. When I was teaching ESL, I had two other side gigs to help me stay afloat. It’s entirely possible that the really awesome job you find coordinating an after school dance program is part-time and low-paying. And you’ll have to wait tables/bartend/barista to make ends meet. And it might be tempting to completely fore go the low-paying, part-time job that’s actually in your field. Because you could make more money and have more time if you just bartended.
But here’s the thing: the only thing that full-time waitressing is going to prepare you for is a career as a waitress. Which is totally okay if that’s what you want! But if you really want to work in the field you studied, try to view that part time job as your golden ticket and the waitressing job as a necessary evil. If you’re patient and hard working and take initiative, something good will happen. Eventually.
Do any of you have job-finding advice? How many of you are currently looking for work?