Over the last several years, I’ve been consistently surprised by the number of new college graduates I’ve interviewed with degrees in marketing, communications, and other seemingly job-specific majors. What blows me away when I talk to them is not that they chose the majors they chose; it’s that they knew so early on in their lives what they wanted to do.
That wasn’t the case for me. I started my college career as a marine biology major, of all things. After realizing it wasn’t meant to be, I fumbled through a year of different majors, took a year off to travel, and finally landed on Anthropology — but of course, having the attention span of a kitten, I found out a few credits from graduation that history and education were my true loves. So… eight months after my BA in Anthropology, I was back in school working on a BSEd in History, planning to teach high schoolers the finer points of the Twentieth Century.
Fifteen years later, I’m a marketing consultant for a SaaS company, after spending time on the Creative, Client Services, and Strategy teams for everyone from a 20-person digital agency to IBM. A cynic might think that I made it this far in spite of my education. The truth? My liberal arts background — while erratic, unusually long, and a little unusual in general — played a huge, positive role in my career.
How, exactly? In retrospect, my background gave me the perfect foundation for marketing strategy. Anthropology taught me why people and cultures act the way they act (and also became valuable when deciding when to start — or leave — a job). History taught me the value of objective research and gave me a healthy skepticism for what most people accept as fact. And Education? Well, let’s just say that presenting to a dozen executives is nothing compared to teaching 30 ninth-graders five times a day.
And these are just a few examples. There is so much you can take away from a liberal arts degree that can make your career more promising and rewarding. Political Science? If you want to play a leadership role in your organization, it’s a fantastic skill. Sociology? Very similar benefits to Anthropology. And English? Let’s be honest. There are some smart people in our industry, but there are only a precious few who can express themselves well with the written word — and besides, I’d argue that you can get more creative ideas from reading Nathaniel West or Haruki Murakami than any business lit book.
While I have tremendous respect for those candidates who had it all figured out from their freshman or sophomore year, it’s not their marketing and advertising classes I ask about when I interview them. I want to know what inspires them creatively. How well they understand why consumers act the way they do. How they consume (and use) research. How well they express themselves in writing. How effectively they present their ideas. Marketing skills can be taught; creative thinking and curious minds are far harder to cultivate once you’re in the professional world.
It’s important for those of us with liberal arts backgrounds to remember that our diverse experiences can be a tremendous asset in an industry where so many others were focused on marketing from the start. We live in an era where liberal arts degrees are often scorned as useless or irrelevant — and it’s absurd. If you’re a young liberal arts graduate and you’re looking for a new career, embrace your education. Accentuate it to stand out from other candidates. Tell people why it makes you different, and how you apply it to the work that you do. Interviewers go through so many candidates who are so similar in so many ways; use your degree and your choice to take a different route to your advantage.
Todd is an Associate Principal for Global Accounts at ExactTarget, a global SaaS company serving the world's top brands. He has 15 years of experience in interactive marketing, including roles in creative, client services, and strategy for IBM, digital agencies nurun (formerly Ant Farm Interactive) and LBi, and Yesmail, an email software and solutions provider. Todd graduated from The University of Georgia with a Bachelor of Arts in Anthropology and a BSEd in History, and earned his MBA in Global Business Management at The Georgia Institute of Technology.
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