How does a philosophy major make himself attractive to employers?
May 7, 2016 4:17 PM   Subscribe

I am liberal arts (philosophy) major preparing to graduate in one year (spring of 2017). Originally I had planned on going to graduate school, but I have now decided against it in favor of entering the workforce. Help me understand what I should be doing from now until graduation to make sure I am as attractive of an employee prospect as possible, considering my circumstances. More details inside.

Philosophy majors tend to do well in business and tech careers. These are the fields I'm planning on pursuing, but I'm also open to other options, such as careers involving technical writing.

In no way do I regret getting a degree in philosophy. My education (which has been at a major public university) has been a profoundly rewarding and enriching experience. Furthermore, I truly believe that the skills I have learned as a philosophy major (such as analytic, communicational, writing, and problem-solving skills) are indeed assets that would be invaluable and applicable within a broad swath of career types. There's plenty of data to back me up on this (e.g., this), so please note I am not seeking any snarky comments to the effect that I should go back to school and get a different degree.

Here are the kinds of advice I am looking for:

-What kinds of additional skills should I be honing before I graduate? Are there any useful classes you'd recommend I take while still in school during this next year?
-Should I polish up an electronic ePortfolio/resume? I have a small one that I use now for my on-campus work as a writing center consultant
-Should I focus on building up a LinkedIn account? How should I go about doing this?
-How can I prepare for interviews?
-Et cetera.

I am already in conversation with my university's career services. I'm simply trying to get as much advice as possible. Anything constructive that you can contribute would be appreciated.
posted by fignewton to Work & Money (14 answers total) 9 users marked this as a favorite
Spin is huge. Try to focus on articulating your goals clearly while also incorporating relevant experiences into your explanation of why x industry. As one of my friends has put it, "you want to convince [the employer] that this is the most logical next step for you."

Any type of programming will generally make you more attractive to employers. python and Java are good to know, and can be learned in 1-2 semesters.

In terms of preparing for interviews, you should be aware that certain industries have different general interview structures. has some guides for this. In general, however, I'd just show up on time, look neat, be able to talk at some length about everything you've done, as well as one or two hobbies to round things out, and try to talk without sounding too scripted or stiff.
posted by gemutlichkeit at 4:30 PM on May 7, 2016 [2 favorites]

Don't worry about "skills". Try to figure out what you want to do and why. Once you do that network like crazy.
posted by JPD at 4:57 PM on May 7, 2016 [1 favorite]

My personal experience is from hiring managers that were Philosophy majors themselves and they were interested in my resume and experience because of the major. As long as you can demonstrate that your coursework honed your abilities to think critically and you have skills that are applicable to the job, you'll be fine.
posted by lunastellasol at 4:59 PM on May 7, 2016 [1 favorite]

My BA was in Philosophy. I work in tech. I used to think that people would look down on my philosophy degree but I've never had that experience. I'm 7 years out of school at this point. I wouldn't even bother to "explain" it.

If you can complete the intro course for majors in Computer Science, and learn some practical programming skills, you shouldn't have much trouble finding a tech job, especially for web technologies. I never actually took any CS classes but it would have opened up the range of jobs I could get in tech earlier. The ability to read closely, follow a logical chain of argument and identify the gaps in said logic is about 90% of the "hard" parts of my job. Philosophy degrees are pretty flexible. There are many more kinds of jobs to be had (that are fun, and interesting) than there are pre-professional majors.
posted by ProtoStar at 5:01 PM on May 7, 2016 [3 favorites]

I've placed a ton of smart new grads into roles in companies and law firms that want intelligent, polished young people who'll work hard and learn fast.

*Get great grades, so you can put your honors on your resume.
*The more software you know how to use, the better.
*If you can get any sort of work experience, even at the tutoring center or whatever, that's useful because then you'll have a professional reference to use who can speak to your reliability and energy and good nature. The nature of the work doesn't matter all that much.

I've never placed a fresh grad who had to convince anyone that the substance of their bachelor's degree was in itself valuable. It's more of a signal that you're smart and can work hard. The rest is good manners and clean, pleasant presentation.

(This is assuming you're not going into tech. If you can teach yourself programming now, that skill set will put you in a different, much more in-demand class of candidates, and you'll be selling the skills, not a generic "fresh grad.")
posted by fingersandtoes at 5:03 PM on May 7, 2016 [4 favorites]

"Furthermore, I truly believe that the skills I have learned as a philosophy major (such as analytic, communicational, writing, and problem-solving skills) are indeed assets that would be invaluable and applicable within a broad swath of career types."

Totally agree, and one of the best ways to demonstrate this is through volunteer or work commitments that make use of these skills in settings that may be of interest to employers you'd like to target. Like maybe working on the board of a big student festival, or volunteering with a group that works with local small businesses, or something similar. Instead of, "Yeah, I can learn to write a memo if I sit down and work hard at it," you'll be like, "Yeah, I've written like two dozen memos and done the financials for this battle of the bands and managed all the external communications for out-of-town groups and arranged transit, it's pretty routine for me, let me tell you about all these problems I solved with my awesome skills."

Internships are also great, but don't discount the benefits of taking on roles in campus groups you're already involved with that involve some routine businessy tasks relating to finances or internal or external communications. (Your department may even have tasks for a student volunteer who's willing to organize transportation and restaurants and things like that for visiting speakers.)
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 5:51 PM on May 7, 2016 [2 favorites]

Learn Excel up one side and down the other. If you can swing it, get a part-time job in customer service or admin. These jobs lead to good opportunities if you're willing to upgrade your skills as needed.

Work experience and usable skills gets you hired.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 6:01 PM on May 7, 2016 [1 favorite]

Internship. Internship. Internship. Ideally a paying one. Figure out what you might want to go into, then apply to a few dozen internships.

Coming from a fellow liberal arts major who absolutely, 100% would not be employed today had I not had internship experience 7 years ago. Companies then only cared about my internship experience on my resume and not my major. This is compared to a friend who did not have internship experience and job searched for about 2 years after college.
posted by windbox at 6:01 PM on May 7, 2016 [3 favorites]

Definitely get internships on your resume. It really helps to have something on your resume.

I've interviewed a lot of recent grads, and I often ask why they chose their major. I am not judging them, I just want to know more about it and why they thought it was interesting and/or useful for their career. Definitely be prepared to have a coherent answer.
posted by radioamy at 7:03 PM on May 7, 2016

Ask your large public university's career services about which companies do active outreach and hiring at your university, and ask about what that process is like, especially for big companies with formal processes. Many employers do not do anything like that, but if there's say, a reasonable sized consulting recruitment season happening on your campus that's a thing worth knowing about and exploring as a career option.

If you're going business, tech, or business/tech with a liberal arts degree there's a lot to be said for a couple years in a large established company if you can swing it, and you can usually tap the university alumni network to get a feel for what type of entry level jobs placement stuff is out there. Maybe you know this, but companies also often have specific programs for hiring new grads, which can be very helpful for not being compared with candidates with years more work experience.
posted by deludingmyself at 10:34 PM on May 7, 2016 [1 favorite]

As a technical writer, these are some things I'd be looking for when considering hiring someone with a philosophy degree.

Writing skills: I'm sure you write well, but I'd want to see samples that show you can explain concepts concisely and that you can write step-by-step instructions. Technical writers rarely write big blocks of text like you would in a paper or essay; it's much more about lists, steps, tables, etc.

Technical skills: Solid knowledge of HTML and CSS are pluses; I don't think you necessarily need a class on them, but I'd want to see something like a personal or portfolio site that you've coded yourself. It could even be done using something like Wordpress or, even better, Jekyll. Javascript can also come in handy, although it will take longer to learn. Some general concepts that are important to understand are XML, JSON, APIs, and version control (Git vs. SVN).

Tech writing skills: Being familiar with some tech writing concepts is a big advantage. For example: topic-based authoring, minimalism, DITA, content reuse, single-sourcing, and multi-channel publishing.

Tech writing tools: Experience with a specific tool isn't all that important, but it's good to be familiar with the big ones on the market, like Author-It, Flare, FrameMaker/RoboHelp, etc. You should also be very good with Word.

Some good resources are:

* TechWhirl
* Scriptorium
* The Society for Technical Communication
* Write The Docs conference videos
* Developing Quality Technical Information
* The Microsoft Manual of Style
posted by neushoorn at 12:37 AM on May 8, 2016 [5 favorites]

Even though you're not currently planning on graduate school in philosophy, I think you should still take the GRE.

Philosophy majors typically get the highest scores!

Your future is uncertain. There are lots of MBA and other related programs that can be done in evening classes.

Even if it's ten years from now, that GRE score will still be good.
posted by yesster at 7:05 AM on May 8, 2016

Even if it's ten years from now, that GRE score will still be good.

Alas not true; they expire after 5 (ask me how I know; grumble grumble was done with standardized tests forever but nooooo).
posted by deludingmyself at 9:10 AM on May 8, 2016 [1 favorite]

I would consider looking into an "intro to project management" course. This is a skill/career that basically involves reconciling and mediating the different world views of different groups within an organization, in order to support achieving project and organizational goals. Realizing that there are world views to start with is a help here. If you are looking for particular PM areas, information systems is a good place to look at (management information systems, content management systems, etc.).
posted by carter at 12:21 PM on May 8, 2016

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