Spring Career Fairs and Liberal Arts Majors

 It’s spring, that time of year here in the northern hemisphere when trees push out new leaves from dormant limbs, days get longer, and snows turn to showers (unless you’re in the northeastern part of the U.S., still waiting for the day you can put away the snow shovel!).  It’s also the time of year that universities and colleges around the country hold career fairs for about-to-be graduates hoping to enter the job market. 

I hear from humanities and social sciences graduates every year at this time who tell me they have no plans to attend any of these events.

“I’m a history major.  Employers aren’t looking for me.”

“I’m embarrassed to tell these people I majored in anthropology.  They look at me like ‘What were you thinking?’”

I also hear this:

“There are never any companies there in industries I’ve been told to pursue—publishing, the arts, schools, non-profits, museums.  They don’t go to career fairs, so I don’t either.”

I’m assuming the reason non-profits and the like don’t make the career fair scene is they’re not invited or, as in the case of publishing and the arts, the number of available job openings at any one time is miniscule.  No point in making the career day scene just to represent the one position that’s open at the moment for which thousands of applicants are already expected.

But let’s talk about that other problem, the no-one-is-looking-for-me problem.

You probably spent most of your years in higher education never realizing the powerful influence of one particular force helping to determine what’s important to your education.  One group, answering that one looming question:  How do you prepare yourself for post-collegiate independence, contribution, and success?  Now that you’re about to graduate, perhaps you’d like to know who’s determining the answers to those questions.  Are you ready?  Human Resources recruiting and staffing departments.  They’re the people who (1) write job descriptions, (2) set the parameters on online application systems and (3) screen incoming applicants.

 Human Resources recruiters have re-prioritized academic priorities in the minds of many students—not to mention their parents, advisors, some administrators and certainly the media (and by that I mean “pundits” analyzing college grads’  prospects for the future).  Now, if you asked HR folks if they meant to re-shape higher ed, I’m sure they’d say “no.”  But the scramble for secure,  high-paying jobs, combined with the narrow assumption that Business, Engineering and Computer Science are the only majors producing useful “skills,” has put HR in the awkward position of re-defining how universities should be educating students.

If that doesn’t seem right to you, you’re not alone. 

So back to the job fairs, the “Career Days,” on your campus.  Instead of letting HR staffing people tell you what they think they’re looking for, you tell them.  If you know you can write, think, reason and research, if you know you’re creative, focused, analytical and astute, tell them that!  Tell them that the workforce of the future needs to be resilient and broadly educated to be prepared to roll with change and to lead.  Tell them the workforce of the future must do more than optimize production and re-calculate financials to accommodate re-interpretations of accounting rules. 

Imagine walking up to a recruiter at a job fair and saying this:

“We’re in the midst of a changing, very difficult economy.  Not just the economy but you might even say the world order!  I know that’s a huge challenge for businesses.  It’s why I’d like to find a position where I can apply what I know about world culture, language, and team behavior, where I can use my analytical abilities to help your company manage qualitative information, where I can assist with research because I’m an expert at discerning fact from distortion.  Those are the skills I believe the workforce of the future really needs, and my education in <history, English, philosophy, sociology, anthropology, linguistics, etc.> has prepared me in all those ways.”

Try it.  What’s the worst that can happen?  A recruiter gets a new outlook on life.  You get the satisfaction of having a recruiter take a second look at you.  You nudge the universe slightly in a better direction.  You develop one amazing “elevator speech” which you will heretofore always have at the ready. 

Who knows?  You might even land a job.

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