10 Ways to Not Get Screwed as a Liberal Arts Major

Ah, spring. Out on the quad, Frisbees are flying again. Awkward small talk about classes can happen outside, instead of in the dining hall. And, all across campus, tens of thousands of panicked seniors will be hunched over computers, scouring Craigslist for job openings.

Unpaid internships may seem more appealing by the day. Likewise, living at home can be rationalized very quickly, if your parents are anything like the majority of baby boomers.

This is a post for any college grad who can get a job, but is telling themselves that they can’t. Because, above all, you don’t want to become one of the millennials who self-pities themselves into immobility, the ones who have memorized the pie charts from New York Times articles like this one, and simply resign themselves to hopelessness.

Yes, it’s bad out there for college grads, but we’re far from the ones who are most screwed by this economy. After all, we have college degrees… We just have to find out how to use them.

Here are 10 things that can help you find a job, or at least keep you on some semblance of a path, so you can come out of the recession in one piece:

When I was applying to jobs in 2010, I probably sent out about 5-10 applications every day, for around five months. From a few hundred resumes, I received two responses.

I have a lot of friends who were literally offended by the fact that no one had responded to their inquiries.

Listen, you’re not special. Not by a long shot. Especially if you’re a mewling English major like myself, vying for positions in industries that are crumbling all around you. (If you are an English major, I suggest you look for blog-writing and content marketing positions, rather than newspapers).

On paper, you’re not special. That part-time, unpaid internship at Joe’s Newspaper isn’t going to distinguish you. One of the things I learned from one employer after I bombed an interview was that it is every company’s first instinct to Google a prospective employee.

So don’t let Google represent you through a tattered mural of Tweets and Facebook photos you forgot to set to private. Start a blog about something. It’s easy. Sure, barely anyone may read it, but it will be there, waiting, when an employer comes looking. It’s a great way to showcase your critical thinking and writing skills, too.

 Your LinkedIn Profile should be one of the first pages that shows up when an employer searches for your name. If you don’t have one and purport to be a savvy millennial, they’ll think you’re full of it.

It doesn’t matter that LinkedIn really isn’t that useful for our generation, because we don’t exactly have a vast array of marketable skills. You just have to make one.

What you can learn from LinkedIn is how to best represent the experiences and skills that you do have, just by looking at other people’s resumes. It’s also a great way to make sure that you keep polishing your resume.

Speaking of which, look online for resources and examples of resumes and cover letters. Sure, the lady at career services may have said it looked fine, maybe your mom said the thing, but the truth is that you need to always keep honing both the resume and cover letter. Find a way to stand out in a professional and confident way.

When I was applying to jobs, I swore that I wouldn’t go into any sales positions. I didn’t limit the criteria to that, either – I said I wouldn’t even take a position where I would be on the phone.

Trust me, sales jobs are not that bad. I know you may envision telemarketers, but those days are gone. If the company is selling an actual, useful product or service, then some people will want to hear from you.

The ultimatum rule should apply to geography, too. If it’s around any city in the United States, apply to it. You can decide if you’re actually ready for that transition later.

I know this is a popular mantra among parents. You know what’s popular among their parents? “Go ahead and knock on some doors in a suit.”

Don’t bother. A follow-up email can sometimes get a terse little response, but otherwise… I’ve never been impressed by the results of a follow-up call, not in this day and age. You’re better off using the time to send your resume to a whole other place.

You may notice a phenomenon when applying to jobs on Monster or Craigslist. Every “entry-level” position seems to require 1-3 years of experience. Yet there seem to be absolutely no jobs that say “1 year or less.”

Welcome to a recession prolonged for our generation by internships and underpaid workers who are more experienced than you.

How do you overcome this barrier?

Constant Contact, Camtasia, Photoshop, and Dreamweaver offer free trials. Download them and use them. Watch webinars on YouTube and on company websites. Buy a book. Wow, now you have experience in email marketing, social media marketing, and image & video editing!

Don’t be intimidated by the professional-sounding words for the software. The products are very, very intuitive, particularly if you’re under the age of 30 and have more or less been using computers your whole life.

Screw unpaid internships by companies that are literally exploiting the never-enforced law about internships. Find a local business and ask them if they need help with their marketing, their graphic design, their copywriting, their anything. With most of these products, you don’t even have to leave the comfort of your own (or your parent’s) home.

Three months later, you have a recommendation in your hand. You get to create your own title, to boot. I did this the year before my senior year, with this little ditty. Do you not know how to create a website? Try Weebly. It’s incredibly easy, and pretty fun.

If you’re trying to go into research or journalism, then you need to get something out there. The internet has essentially slaughtered the old business model for short pieces, but you can still get a loudspeaker through a million little e-zines. And why not try applying to magazines, too?

Still in school? I recommend The Student Pulse. They published me, why wouldn’t they publish you? The best part? They want those academic papers decaying on your hard drive.

Some people are determined to strap the woe-is-me anvil to their backs. “But I’m already working a job, or two jobs, how am I supposed to find time to do all of that?”

If you want to find time for it, you will. Where do you work? Do you think a coffee shop, a grocery store, a convenience store, a restaurant, a retail store, an after-school program wouldn’t be interested in a little more pizzazz, some creative designs, or a creative email marketing newsletter that goes out to customers? What about fun and engaging Facebook campaigns that boost fan count?

Literally, almost any business you can think of could benefit from someone who knows about social media, email marketing, graphic design, bogus web design (via Weebly), or blog writing. As the millennial generation, we happen to be gifted in those categories, at the very least.

You didn’t go into liberal arts to get a job in the first place. You went to think critically about life.

So, whenever you do happen to get an interview, think critically. Uproot every piece of information from that company website. Write down some suggestions that show you’re passionate about the position. Write down anything at all to show that you’re engaged.

Prove that you can think critically about how you could possibly help the business or person or organization you work for – even if they don’t appreciate the effort, you’ll get the experience you need to go somewhere that will.

And don’t forget…

This should go without saying, but, unfortunately, a lot of us Gen Yers are under the impression that our parents tumbled out of college into a vast and colorful landscape of Open & Fulfilling Positions.

That makes us bitter and resentful, especially if parents try to relate to the plight of our employment prospects by offering advice.

Did you know that, during the 1980s recession, the unemployment rate was over 10%?

In the end, we’re not owed anything for graduating college. Those days, if they ever existed, are gone. You have to push very, very hard to get a job, but you can do it.

And it’s your humanities major that will help you think of how to turn that job into a career.

7 thoughts on “10 Ways to Not Get Screwed as a Liberal Arts Major

  1. This is one of the best how-to/get-to graduation articles I’ve read, both smart and real. Nice job!

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