Education, Embracing Creativity, employment, Job search, Writing Tips

How to market your liberal arts resume

Whether you are about to graduate from college or have been in the work trenches for years, finding a good job is never easy. And if you have a liberal arts degree, such as English, philosophy, psychology, history …. it can feel even harder. (You know what I’m talking about.)

But if you read my earlier post about job hunting as a liberal arts major, you know that humanities majors DO have great job skills that they can apply to just about any field. Now, let’s look at ways to tailor your current resume to highlight your unique humanities skills!

Rule of thumb – target your resume to the type of job you want.

Okay, so this is a no-brainer, but it doesn’t hurt to write this on a sticky note and put it on the screen while you’re working on your resume. If the job you’re considering talks a lot about your needing a degree, put your education near the top of your resume (or in a very visible spot). If the job description mentions computer skills near the top of the list of skills, create a separate section for that and put it on the first page!

Create sections that highlight your unique liberal arts skills.

If you look at examples of new resumes, you’ll see that many have sections that list particular talents. For example, “Technical Skills” or “Leadership Skills.” As a liberal arts major, you can create one or more sections illustrating your key skills. Then, in your cover letter, you’ll explain how you obtained them.

For example, you are likely to have:

  • strong critical thinking (from all those books you’ve read and essays you’ve had to write!)
  • creative problem solving and perhaps conflict resolution (group work, tutoring, juggling academic projects…)
  • interpersonal communication (relating to diverse groups of people, being exposed to lots of cultures through literature, etc…)
  • excellent written communication
  • research and active listening
  • teamwork and working individually
  • disciplined (especially if you got good grades!)
  • organization and planning (juggling classes, projects, work, personal life…)
  • passion for learning (this is self evident — you’re a liberal arts major!)

You could label this section “Skills,” if you needed to keep it general. Or you can tailor it to a job description. For example, if the job requires lots of interaction with the public, label your section “People Skills” or “Communication Skills” or similar. Then focus on listing your skills (such as active listener, teamwork) that apply.

If the job is particularly technical, you could go with “Analytical skills” or “Technical skills,” and list your problem solving, research, organizational, and any computer experience you have (such as MS Office, social media, design programs, whatever…). Here’s a great article that goes into more detail about marketing your skills as a liberal arts major.

Don’t be too wordy

When I first graduated from college, I spent hours painstakingly and lovingly crafting my resume and cover letter. Then my friend, who was an engineering major at the time, took one look at them and basically chopped them in half (not literally). They were too long, she said, too wordy. I needed to get to the point.

I was crushed! But she was right. We humanities majors, in general, love language and words and communicating. Our passion is our strength, but we can get carried away expressing ourselves. Ask someone in a completely different field from you to read your resume and cover letter. Prepare yourself for hurt. But keep going. And don’t hate them.

Format your resume so it looks professional.

Another no-brainer, but LOTS of people miss this one, especially if we are so focused on expressing ourselves (maybe it’s just me!). Look at examples of LOTS of resumes, especially ones in the field you’re applying for.

A few guidelines:

  • put your name and contact information at the top of the page!!
  • short blocks of text are easier to read (groups of less than 10 lines if possible)
  • use bullets, rather than paragraphs (unless you include a short personal statement/objective at the beginning of your resume)
  • if you capitalize one bullet, capitalize them all (and vice versa)
  • don’t worry about putting periods at the end of bullets
  • use fonts/typefaces consistently — all headings should be the same style; all body text should be the same
  • print out your resume so you can see how it looks on paper — many times, text will look fine on the screen but on paper looks huge, as though for kindergarten reading level!
  • margins should not be more than 1-inch and typically are less than that, otherwise it looks like you’re trying to fill up space
  • break sections up with white space, but don’t overdo it — again, you don’t want it to look like you don’t have enough skills to fill the page!

If you need help formatting, there are lots of people online who are skilled at creating great resumes (check out my fiverr page … shameless plug!) And, of course, there are templates you can use on MS Word and “resume builder” sites online to help.

But the best format in the world won’t help you get a job if your skills aren’t in plain view. Good luck, and please leave a comment with your suggestions  and experience tailoring your resume!

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Education, Job search

So, you majored in English… Now what?

If  you have an English degree like me (or pretty much any liberal arts degree), you have likely heard the same comments from people with “useful” degrees in computers or accounting about how hard it will be for you to find a “real” job…blah blah blah…

Maybe you don’t want to teach freshman composition or write a book. But you would like a solid paycheck and some respect. So, what do you do? All is not lost! The good news is that we English majors have lots of excellent and useful skills that can transfer into many different fields. We’re sort of like the chameleons of the professional world.

Here’s a five-step process to help you find a great job that pays actual money!

1. Find your focus. You’re jumping in the deep end. To avoid feeling overwhelmed, start with an idea of what field you’re interested in and work backwards from there. Are you interested in healthcare? Publishing? Law? Government? Would you like to work at a college or university setting?

2. Consider if you want a private sector, nonprofit, or government job. All three categories have advantages and disadvantages. Typically, jobs at private companies pay higher than nonprofit and government fields, while state and federal jobs tend to have better benefits packages and can be more stable. Nonprofit jobs can allow you to work in a field you feel passionate about — say, the environment or helping children.

3. Start a targeted search. If you know specific companies or organizations you’d like to work for (perhaps a nearby hospital is known for great benefits), start with their career pages. Otherwise, go to a job site (like monster or indeed) and do an advanced search — use keywords that represent your English major skills, like “research,” “communications,” “editing,” and “critical thinking. Add the industry you chose. For example: “healthcare writer” or “university editor.”

4. Once you get an idea of the jobs in your area, take note of job titles. Maybe you’ve been targeting universities and see that there are lots of “communications specialist” positions that match your skill set. Or you’re interested in a private sector job and “public relations” positions keep popping up at local insurance companies. Now, you can really hone in and do specific searches by job title and industry.

5. Update and “reboot” your resume to match that job title and industry. Are you applying for a creative job? One in the financial sector? Research the culture of the field and make sure your resume reflects that same style — in word choices and layout. Look at examples of others’ resumes in the same industry to make sure yours isn’t way off base. Most importantly, highlight your special ENGLISH MAJOR skills that apply directly to the job description.

If you need help, there are lots of professionals out there who can tailor your resume to help you land that job! Please check out my page on fiverr. I can “reboot” your resume to match the job you want!