Job market / Self awareness

In praise of the employability of Arts graduates

Arts students can be subject to derisory comments about their employability from housemates who are studying science or vocational courses. Unless the skills you are gaining from your degree discipline are made explicit it can be hard to justify how your skills make you equally appealing to graduate recruiters. These criticisms can be frustrating and undermine confidence.

Arts degrees often get bad press; I recall the ribbing of fellow Engineering students when I was studying for a Humanities degree and sadly this attitude hasn’t changed much over the years.

Contact time as an Arts students is much less than those of your fellow science students so the perception is understandable; for those who often have a 9-5 taught curriculum (and sometimes more) it can be hard to appreciate the equivalent learning experience of someone with less than 10 hours per week academic input. It can appear that less effort is needed by Arts students in order to acquire their degree.

The reality of course is that Arts students must organise, manage and structure their own study time which requires self-discipline and involves extensive reading, research, synthesising of vast amounts of information and essay writing. These skills in themselves develop a high degree of autonomy, self-management and focus – all skills valued by recruiters.

There is therefore much to celebrate in the transferable skills developed through Arts degrees. Each discipline has its own unique DNA. A Philosopher will take a very different approach to problem solving to that of a Chemist and an Historian for example, will construct arguments and present findings very differently to a Computer Scientist.

The good news is that the majority of graduate recruiters don’t mind what your degree discipline is in. 82% of recruiters in a recent ISE survey expressed no preference for a specific subject.* They recognise the skills and approaches graduates of different disciplines bring to their organisations.

While it’s the responsibility of your academic departments to make these transferable skills explicit, it’s up to you to provide supporting evidence of these in your applications and at interview.

So here is some of the ammunition courtesy of the HEA’s ‘Student Employability Profiles’ that you can use to ‘fight back’ when being told your degree is a ‘waste of time’ and you’ll struggle to find a graduate job by your fellow Science students.

History graduates offer

  • Excellent written and communication skills – write essays clearly presenting arguments, coherently ordered and effectively supported by applicable evidence
  • The ability to construct arguments and communicate findings– demonstrated in oral and written work
  • The capability to work independently and as part of a team – self-directed study and team – through group seminar discussions/presentations

Philosophy graduates will develop:

  • A flexible mind adaptable to managing change
  • The ability to analyse problems in a multi-dimensional way
  • The ability to think creatively, self critically and independently

English graduates can showcase:

  • Apply sustained written and oral arguments coherently and persuasively
  • Analyse and critically examine diverse forms of verbal and textual communication
  • Organise their time and workload as developed through the planning and delivery of written assignments, presentations and project work
  • Gather, sift, interpret and organise substantial quantities of diverse information in structured ways

History of Art graduates can:

  • Produce logical and structured narratives and arguments supported by relevant evidence
  • Discriminate between alternative arguments and approaches
  • Apply knowledge and experience so as to make appropriate decisions in complex and incompletely charted contexts
  • Work to briefs and deadlines, including managing concurrent projects

Language Graduates are able to:

  • Read, write, listen to and speak in a foreign language
  • Apply analytical, critical and specialist skills drawn from other areas of study
  • Appreciate the internal diversity and cross-cultural connectedness of cultures and show curiosity and openness towards other cultures
  • Be self-reliant, adaptable and flexible
  • communicate and work creatively and flexibly with others

My previous post on the gap between what students think recruiters want and what recruiters actually want revealed that many students think recruiters want technical skills over and above people skills and that people skills get in the way of doing the job.

Conversely recruiters stated that graduates with strong people skills deliver a better commercial impact with 91% of recruiters believing that graduates with refined people skills will advance faster within their organisation. (Hay Group 2018). This is further reason to celebrate as Arts graduates frequently excel in people skills.

In summary, as an Arts graduate you will have many skills from your degree to offer graduate recruiters, so make sure you know what your degree is equipping you with. Ask your department to share these transferable skills with you so you can provide supporting evidence in applications and at interview.

Knowing how your degree is contributing to your employability will reassure you that your subject discipline- no matter what it is – will be contributing the skills you need to secure a graduate job.

N.B. If you are studying more than one subject you will benefit from the combination of skills provided by each subject.

Anne Wilson

*ISE (Institute of Student Employers) Annual Recruitment survey 2018)


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