If you have a liberal arts degree, there's a good chance you're applying for jobs that don't directly relate to your field of study. So, what can you do with a liberal arts degree? After all, there aren't many entry-level job titles that mention anthropology, sociology or psychology — but that certainly doesn't mean your degree hasn't prepared you for a successful career. Many hiring managers understand that liberal arts degrees are versatile and full of the soft skills that make for wonderful employees.
"I love hiring liberal arts grads," says Patricia Smith, director of communications for an Atlanta-based nonprofit. "They're passionate, and they possess character attributes that you can't teach. They tend to work well in collaborative environments, and they're great communicators."
If you've landed a job interview, then the skills acquired from your liberal arts degree and experience you included on your resume have already caught their attention (if you haven't landed an interview, our Resume Builder can help reflect your knowledge and experience to its full potential). Your task now is to seal the deal and prove that you are a perfect fit for the position. Here's your chance to explain what you learned in your program, how it prepared you for a career, and how you plan to apply it in your future.
You should prepare to answer a few questions related to your liberal arts degree. Here are five questions to help you get ready for the interview:
1. Can you tell me more about your major?
Face it: many people don't know what sociology is, what anthropologists do or what you study in a women's studies program. No matter what your liberal arts degree is in, you need a brief but strong explanation to convey your passion for your field of study.
Prepare for this question now by developing your elevator pitch. (If you're not familiar, an elevator pitch is a short description of who you are, what you do, and what you want to do that can be delivered in the time it would take to go up a few floors on an elevator.) Make eye contact and confidently explain what your major is all about and how it gave you the skills that landed you in this interview seat. The key is to be the authority on the subject. Chances are, the interviewer is genuinely interested, and this could be your chance to stand out in their mind as an intriguing person with a unique set of skills.
2. What made you want to apply for this job?
If you have a degree in biology but you're hoping to get a job as a recruiter, this is a reasonable question. But don't overthink it; employers may ask every applicant this same thing.
Be honest, but not desperate. If you've exhausted all your options in the field you first tried to pursue, but now you've changed directions to find a better fit, that's fine. Lead with the aspects of this job that spoke to you.
Alison Green, author of Ask a Manager: Clueless Colleagues, Lunch-Stealing Bosses and the Rest of Your Life at Work, recommends focusing on "the substance of the job itself — the work you'd be doing day-to-day and the outcomes you'd be working toward."
Whatever you do, don't give off the impression that you're out of options and looking for a paycheck from any company that will hire you.
3. Why did you choose liberal arts?
Think of an interview as a conversation that helps you and the employer get to know each other better — because that's exactly what it is. Liberal arts degrees are nothing if not interesting, so if you're someone with a passion for its subject matter, here's your chance to share. Open up about your study abroad experience, or a professor who inspired you to pursue an extracurricular activity. Liberal arts degrees are said to "teach you how to learn." If you changed your major three times, turn that into a storyline about how the period of exploration helped you to home in on a desired career path and the job you're applying for today.
4. How did your degree prepare you for this role?
A degree in Spanish or literature probably didn't directly prepare you for a role in, say, business operations. Obviously, you saw something about the role that made you think it was a good fit, so explain why. This question is also an opportunity for you to explain how your liberal arts degree taught you to think critically and communicate effectively, both of which are incredibly valuable in almost every industry.
Will the position require you to juggle competing priorities against multiple deadlines? Do they need someone resourceful? Will you be required to make presentations? A research or writing-intensive degree program will have prepared you for a job requiring these skills. Think now about the most challenging parts of your college education — the grueling research papers and the intimidating presentations — these are the experiences that have taught you to work hard and overcome difficulties.
5. Why should I hire you?
This question is a little bit of a test, but it's an easy one to ace. According to Liz Ryan, CEO and founder of Human Workplace and author of Reinvention Roadmap, you should avoid making a list of your own virtues. Use your interview as an opportunity to stand out. Avoid generic responses that could be duplicated by any other candidate. Demonstrate that you've done your research enough to know what the company needs and what the manager is looking for.
Interviewing well is less about getting the answers "right" and more about your confidence and the qualities you possess. Engineers and computer programmers depend on their degrees to speak for them, but a liberal arts graduate will depend on character traits and soft skills to set you apart from others.
Prepare for your interview by studying the company's mission and the job description, as well as remembering the skills and experience that brought you this far. There are many tools you can use to learn about a company, including LinkedIn. An additional benefit of using LinkedIn is that you may already know someone who worked there or has worked there. Not only can you get the inside scoop from someone you know, but it may help you get past the automated resume systems and straight to the hiring manager.
Our article on networking provides some advice on how to do that. Another place to look is Glassdoor, where you may learn about the interview process and even specific questions to expect.
Lastly, though preparation is important, you also don't want to sound too rehearsed or provide canned answers that are inauthentic to who you are. Be yourself and let your personality shine to be memorable to interviewers.
To have the best chance at getting an interview, you need a resume that will stand out, and a cover letter sure to pique a hiring manager's interest. LiveCareer offers tools to help you craft the perfect cover letter and resume via their free Cover Letter Builder and Resume Builder.