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Employer Advice for Liberal Arts Majors
September 7, 2001
Many of the companies that actively recruit at Cal are looking for more than just business, econ, and engineering students. What do you have to do as a liberal arts major to capture their attention?

Liberal Arts Majors

Representatives of three firms - Enterprise, Goldman Sachs and Towers Perrin - stress that they do not prefer business majors to liberal arts majors. More important than your particular major is to demonstrate to them that you have a serious interest in a business career, a set of skills relevant to their needs, and that you have the ability to acquire additional skills while on the job or in an employer's training program.

In the words of one recruiter, "I think you [Letters and Science students] have better skills than anyone out there…you can bring something different to the table." Even if you do not have a lot of work experience, your academic experiences can provide you with valuable skills. The recruiter emphasized her perception that liberal arts majors' "communication skills are refined" - which is an asset to many positions, particularly those in sales with her company.

Quantitative Skills

"We want you to have quantitative and analytical skills." Quantitative skills are especially important for those interested in working in finance or consulting. Liberal arts majors are often perceived - absent evidence to the contrary - to be number adverse and to have weak quantitative skills. If you're a sociology or comp lit student who is not number phobic, the burden is on you to demonstrate that fact.

If you did well on the math section of the SAT, put it on your resume. If you have completed coursework that helped you develop and refine these skills, be sure to highlight that on your resume and cover letters aimed at employers who value quantitative skills. For example, include on your resume a list of courses in quantitative areas, even if you have not majored or minored in those subjects. Also look for ways to demonstrate your ability to work in Access, Excel, and other analytically-oriented software packages.

Internships are a Liberal Arts Major's Best Friend

A key reason why companies like econ and business majors is that the choice seems to indicate a strong, longstanding interest in a business career. One way you can communicate a similar level of interest while studying English, psych, or anthro is to pursue and highlight internship experiences.

All three employers recommended obtaining an internship at any time in your school career to help you prepare for a job after graduation. "Do your best to have as many really good internship experiences as you can."

What should you get out of an internship? "Know what impact you've made." Employers look for a sense of ownership of your work, how much you were involved, how interested you were in your internship project, and to what degree you seem to feel proud of your work.

Tips on Resumes and Cover Letters Direct from Employers

"Any job you've had is a real job." Do your best to describe how any position you've held has given you new skills, especially those which you might use again with the companies you are targeting. For example, retail or working in a restaurant translates into "customer service experience." Shift manager in a fast food outlet can help you demonstrate training and organizational skills as well as strong attention to detail.

"The resume gets you the interview." Make sure your resume is a professional looking document that highlights your relevant skills and experiences in a clear way.

The cover letter "gives you the ability to sell what you couldn't sell in the resume." It provides an opportunity for you to write more descriptively about the particular skills and experiences you want the employer to focus on in your resume.

When writing a cover letter, find out the hiring person's full name; avoid using "Mr." or "Miss" unless you know for certain whom you are addressing in your letter.

"Read, reread, and read it again." Typos, grammatical errors and errors in listing dates are a sure-fire way to have your resume removed from the stack of considered candidates. Typos make it appear as if you are indifferent, sloppy, or not prepared.

Interviewing

The employers were emphatic that students be prepared for interviews. In particular, have some understanding of the company and industry that you are targeting. It is important to demonstrate that "you did the research and you care." Showing you have a specific interest in the company will help you make a connection with the interviewer. Research your potential employer through the web, the Career Fields section of this website, on-campus Employer Events & Info Sessions, or through informational interviewing with someone who is already in the field.

Goldman Sachs offers the following "6 Steps to Interviewing Successfully"

While behavioral interviewing is still the norm, one employer called it "passe." She said that when she interviews, 30% of her questions are pre-formulated, but the rest are interactive and based on candidates' responses. While behavioral interviews focus on your past accomplishments with the idea that "past performance predicts future behavior," one recruiter stated that during an interview she looks for the candidate's "personality" - how enthusiastic they are and how they might present themselves to clients. This recruiter strongly emphasized making a connection with the person in the interview.

A Final Tip

The employers made a strong recommendation that Letters and Science students register ASAP for On-Campus Recruiting (OCR), "Be as aggressive as you can, early on."

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This page last updated 6/17/2005 (ag)