In my previous post, we considered the overall value of a Classics major. Now it's time to take the Classics major to work.
Some of you may be shuddering at the combination of the words "branding", "marketing" and "Classics" in the same sentence. Talk about your culture clash. But bear with me for a moment because from my perspective as a career counselor who helps Classics majors find jobs, branding is where Plato meets "What Color Is Your Parachute." Even classicists must exist in the 21st century-- and part of the 21st century job search involves "branding" oneself to use present-day parlance. If you prefer, you can simply refer to it as presenting yourself in the best possible light and identifying what makes you unique and valuable to an employer. (For a basic introduction see my post on branding.)
If you're reading job announcements, you probably haven't stumbled on any job openings for "classicists" outside of the education field. Don't let that deter you. You know your degree has prepared you to take on the career you want, particularly when combined with all your other life experiences-- the additional education, skills, and knowledge you've acquired through internships, summer jobs, and other classes. Your major is one piece of the total picture you have to offer an employer.
A recent Boston Globe article pointed out that when Harvard was founded all students read and spoke Latin. Lectures were even delivered in the language. Now, however, less than 1% of Harvard undergraduates major in Classics.
So you are different-- unique-- in the job and professional school market and you need to make the most of it. A Classics majors can give you the edge in admissions to law school and medical school, for example. (See my post on the value of atypical majors applying to professional schools. )
One aspect of the Classics major that might impress employers is its difficulty-- the hard work involved in translating, for example.How would you apply that same commitment and attention to details to your job? How much patience and perseverance did you develop to complete your assignments?
To prepare yourself for interview questions, start by learning everything you can about the position you're applying for, the organization to which you're applying, and the general field you plan to work in. Your well-honed research skills should help you with that part of the job search.
When an employer asks you what your greatest strengths are, don't give a short, unsupported answer like, "I'm a hard worker." (After all, who's going to say they're lazy?) You want to back up whatever traits you describe with examples that illustrate your use of the traits. And your Classics major can be mined for all sorts of examples. Take some time to think through how your Classics major has shaped your thinking, how it could apply to your field of interest, and why this employer should be interested in you:
- What are the strengths you've acquired through your Classics major?
- What writings have inspired you?
- What have you learned about leadership and the traits of a good leader?
- What personal traits or characteristics have you developed through the examples set in ancient times?
- What types of thinking or reasoning skills did you need to succeed in the Classics major? How could you apply those mindsets to a job?
- How has your knowledge shaped your ability to make ethical decisions?
- What are the stereotypes of a Classics major and/or why might an employer object to hiring a Classics major?
- How can you overcome or address those objections? For instance, it's likely that your interviewer has no background in the Classics-- and maybe even considers it a strange major. How will you explain the relevance and value of it?
- What stories could you create to connect the dots between your education and your work?
- If you buy the argument (and I hope you do!) that the study of the Classics makes you a better, more informed, more thoughtful person, then how does that apply to the work you want to do?
- What examples can you give that demonstrate your abilities?
RESOURCES FOR CAREERS OUTSIDE ACADEMIA
It should be clear by now that your Classics degree is just a starting point for whatever career you want to pursue. If it would be helpful to see a list of careers often pursued by Classics majors, check out this pdf from the University of North Carolina at Asheville. Just don't fall into the trap of thinking that you can do "anything"-- focus on what is most appealing.
So how do you learn more about applying your major outside of academia? In addition to Forbes and Prevas' book mentioned in a previous post, here are some resources that might help you develop your own ideas about the value of your Classics major in whatever field of employment you choose:
Are you interested in a career in banking or business? In their book, The Classic Touch, Clemens and Mayer draw from the classical world (Homer, Plutarch, Plato, Pericles, and Sophocles) for lessons relating to everything from corporate mergers and acquisitions to the failure to adapt in the fast-food industry. A recent Chronicle of Higher Education article on "Business Curricula Need a Strong Dose of the Liberal Arts" explores the value of classical training for those seeking business careers.
Thinking of a career in the mental health field? In Plato Not Prozac, author Lou Marinoff proposes a form of philosophical counseling that draws on history's wisest minds for insight and guidance.
Looking for a way to apply Aristotle? Beginning with the premise that Aristotle "stressed reason in everyday life as an antidote to unhappiness," What would Aristotle Do? Self-Control Through the Power of Reason brings the writings and teachings of Aristotle potentially to the workplace. And Socrates Way: Seven Keys to Using Your Mind to the Utmost focuses on Socrates' seven keys to intelligence including "Know thyself" and "Speak the truth."
Classical scholars may look askance at these books, and certainly if you plan to become a Classics professor you may have little use for them, but if you're looking for a career outside academia they provide valuable examples of how to present what you've learned to people who haven't studied Classics. I hope that they inspire you to come up with even better examples of the application of your knowledge and education in your chosen field.
Want to stay in the education field? Check out this post.
My book, You Majored in What? Mapping Your Path From Chaos to Career, will be released in paperback soon and is a comprehensive resource for connecting your liberal arts degree to the workplace.
So.. former Classics majors working outside of academia-- it's your turn. Please share the careers you've pursued with your Classics degree and help current students understand its lifelong value.