If this is a question you have asked yourself during your degree, the good news is that history produces individuals who are well equipped with a multitude of skills and are able to enter a diverse number of careers. Post-history professional achievement is about a combination of factors, from degree classification and making informed career choices, to a professional curriculum vitae detailing work experience, volunteering and participation in extra-curricular activities.
Most students start history degrees knowing they have a passion for the subject, but with little or no definite career ambitions. This is not a cause for concern as the duration of the course allows for the formation of career decisions. It is critical to think about what your interests are, consider what you are good at, what you enjoy doing and find out what different careers actually involve. Careers consultants on campus are well placed to provide support and guidance. In addition, aim to carry research on specific roles and talk to the many employers who visit universities about the job roles they offer to graduates.
Undertaking work experience and volunteering during your degree can provide useful insights into jobs and opportunities to build networks in specific occupational sectors. In addition, work experience can form a vital component in CVs and in securing employment post study. According to the graduate website Target Jobs:
“Whatever your academic record, it’s essential that you demonstrate to recruiters that you’ve got the competencies or qualities the firm is looking for. Relate any skills you’ve developed during work experience or from your time at university to the role that’s on offer.”
High Fliers, the annual graduate labour market survey also consistently reports on the value of work experience which for many employers, is as important a requirement as academic achievement.
Networking is another critical factor for history graduates considering entry into more ‘hidden’ sectors and roles, such as those within culture and heritage. Openings in smaller organisations can be more limited and vacancies not always openly advertised. A diligent approach to networking provides valuable opportunities for building and maintaining that network. Explore forums such as Linkedln for example and be proactive during work experience, voluntary work and employers’ events on campus.
History graduates develop a range of transferable skills, making them highly employable. These typically include the following:
- Excellent written and communication skills and an ability to assimilate and analyse large amounts of data
- Intellectual rigour and independence in presenting findings and ability to construct arguments and communicate findings
- Competent research skills
- Capability to work independently and as part of a team
- Proficiency to deliver work to agreed deadlines
- Capacity to solve problems, think creatively and approach issues with an open mind
- Knowledge and understanding of different factors that impact on individuals and groups in society
A 2014 article published on the Top University website reported that history graduates have the ability to apply an analytical mind-set to all kinds of situations and challenges. These problem-solving and analytical skills are relevant in just about any industry which has a focus on current societies and future developments, particularly in the fields of business, politics and academia. Employers value the research, analytical teamwork and communication skills that are developed by history students throughout their degree.
David Nicolls’s 2011 study , ‘The employment of history graduates’ concludes that ‘a truly remarkable number of history graduates have gone on to become the movers-and-shakers of modern Britain’. High-profile graduates such as Gordon Brown and George Osborne (politics), Anne Fine (author) and Michael Mansfield (barrister) illustrate this point.
Careers directly applicable to history graduates include teaching, research, archiving and heritage. As noted above, history graduates are also considered to be suitable for a variety of different careers given the transferable skill sets they possess – over 70% of graduate employers in the UK do not specify degree disciplines which means that history graduates can also consider less obvious careers, ranging from publishing and retail to accountancy and management consultancy.
A sizeable number of history graduates choose to go on to further study. Some decide to delve further into history and develop their expertise in themes they have found stimulating at degree level. Others find that history has provided them with a sound base for entry to postgraduate courses in teaching, law, journalism or accountancy to name but a few.
There is no definitive guide to careers for history graduates. The career prospects are as wide and varied as one can imagine, from the more conventional such as research, teaching, culture and heritage to careers in areas such as law, finance, business and politics. Whatever your job aspirations or political persuasion, remember that a degree in history won’t hold you back.