Making Majors Work
There are many and varied benefits to a Liberal Arts education in today's world of work, not least the ability to do just about anything you choose. These stories - from current UT students, alums, employers, and recruiters - each celebrate the value of the Liberal Arts degree in a different way. What they collectively demonstrate, however, is how to capitalize on the knowledge, skills, and attitudes gained from a Liberal Arts education and internship experiences in order to carve out a successful, fulfilling, and sometimes life-changing career. We hope you find them both informative and inspirational. If you have a personal story you'd like to share please contact Robert Vega.
Every day events can sometimes have a huge impact on your choice of career. Johan van der Walt's "aha" moment came as he was driving through an impoverished community in South Africa. This fired up his desire to work in international development , with the longer-term career goal of becoming a diplomat.Read more...
Annie Painting had planned to get her Master’s in Social Work after graduating as a Psychology major in 2002, then go into mediation work after that. But after receiving regular promotions while working as a hotel bartender during school, Annie realized she could carve a satisfying future for herself in the hospitality industry. Until recently she was the Banquet Manager* at the Hyatt Regency Lost Pines Resort and Spa. Annie credits her liberal arts education and psychology major with providing many of the transferable skills needed to succeed in past, present, and future roles.Read more...
Alum Neha Mehta walked straight into a business analyst position with major consulting firm Deloitte & Touche after graduating in economics and government. Two years later she was promoted to consultant within their Strategy & Operations Group, work that she describes as fulfilling, challenging, and “a lot of fun.” Yet Neha might not have realized how accomplished she was at tackling client problems, had it not been for a “sneak peak” look at the world of business consulting.Read more...
You may not have realized it, but Liberal Arts Career Services offers for-credit career education courses. Economics major Adam Burkin has completed two of them – The Economics Major in the Workplace, and Nonprofit Consulting: An internship alternative – both of which have helped Adam discover much about himself, the value of his major, and the skills and talents he is able to offer a future employer.Read more...
The focus of Bill Bacon’s research concerns the way consumers spend their money differently in New-Urbanist retail developments compared with traditional “big box” developments. His studies are not in business, economics, or even architecture, however. Bill is an anthropology and history senior who regards his Liberal Arts education as having helped him develop a fresh perspective on urban planning.Read more...
As a senior economics student at UT, Mustansir Jeevanjee is currently applying to a number of top consulting companies. Find out how he has prepared for the intense case study interview process and how his economics courses have prepared him for a future in management consulting.Read more...
You'd expect the editor of the Daily Texan to be a journalism major, right? Or, at the very least, belong to the College of Communication. In which case you might be surprised to learn that the current incumbent, Leah Finnegan, is an American Studies major.Read more...
Three years after graduating UT as an English and Latin major, and having recently graduated from Stanford Law School and taking the Bar Exam, Sean Rodriguez is now clerking for a federal judge who deals only with antitrust, securities, and life science patent litigation. He emphasizes though that there is no prerequisite or a single path to go to law school, rather it's a degree open to any sort of academic background.Read more...
When economics major Katherine Moore heard about an opportunity with Media Plus Consulting in Brussels, she didn’t think she stood a chance of being interviewed as most of those jobs tended to go to established researchers with master’s degrees. But Katherine’s impressive performance not only led to a position working for them in Asia Pacific and Australia, but took her to Africa and Europe. And that’s just for starters!Read more...
In the search for a fulfilling career we too often focus on the “what” whilst neglecting to consider the “who” and the “where.” Not Psychology and History graduate, Kendra Crispin. Realizing that her career needs to fit who she is, she’s taking a strategic approach to her career goals.Read more...
While in high school, Lisa Beckner discovered a love of history, so deciding what to major in at UT seemed pretty straightforward. However, working after school for her father, a doctor, also sparked a strong interest in healthcare as a profession. Soon after starting college, Lisa realized that her passion for history and healthcare were compatible. By adding pre-med to her liberal arts degree plan, Lisa has found a way to prepare for medical school.Read more...
Things change, including career choices. When Jason Joiner discovered close to graduating that his original plan to become a meteorologist wasn’t truly the career path he wanted to follow, it struck him “like a ton of bricks.” But he soon turned that problem into a personally-fulfilling position at a leading networking firm in Austin, thanks to the skills gained from pursuing his English degreeRead more...
Economics major Patrick Foley thought he'd work in consulting or banking after graduating college. However, experience gained during a summer internship at the US embassy in Stockholm has since broadened his career aspirations.Read more...
Certainly, having a Liberal Arts degree prepares you perfectly for today’s world of work. But what Hisham Srour has also discovered is that his Liberal Arts education has helped him develop social and moral values and “find himself” as a person, qualities that he believes will help make him a better lawyer.Read more...
As a freshman, government major Stephen Myers didn't have a detailed career plan. Four years on he still doesn't know where his Liberal Arts education and eventual law degree will take him. But he has an unshakeable belief in the power of individuals to change things, a desire to serve, and a set of "soft" skills that differentiates him from other seniors with the same degree and GPA.Read more...
"Follow your passion" is advice that can sound scary when you're in college and everyone is pressuring you just to "get a job." But after realizing how important it was for her to work with young people, UT alum and sociology major Jenifer Michelson De Atley is now doing a job she loves -- as program coordinator for YouthLaunch's No Kidding program.Read more...
UT alum and CEO of Enspire Learning, Bjorn Billhardt, believes that being a Liberal Arts major is directly relevant to running a dynamic, highly successful company. That's why he is aggressively hiring Liberal Arts majors, particularly, to fuel his company's growth.Read more...
With three prestigious internships under his belt it’s not surprising that Geography and Mathematics senior Kevin Kalra has several, plum job offers to consider once he graduates. Find out how he acquired those internships and why Kevin believes it’s not just what you know but who you know that cements long-term career success.Read more...
There's a question that every Liberal Arts student hears, and probably dreads. The one that asks you to explain, “What are you going to do with that?” Find out how Kimberly Garza’s English and Spanish majors, combined with a prestigious magazine internship, helped her land a first job out of college that has taken her career – literally -- sky-high!Read more...
You don’t have to be a business major to work for global investment banking firm, Goldman Sachs. Gemma Thompson should know. She is not only a campus recruiter for this blue chip organization, but has parlayed her own Liberal Arts degree in Modern and Medieval Languages into a position within their Human Capital Management Division.Read more...
As a recent CNBC.com article affirmed, to succeed in a tough economy college graduates need to demonstrate to prospective employers that they bring something concrete to the table - such as organizational leadership, internships or other, tangible work experience. There's no shortage of that on sociology senior, Lisa Newhouse's resume, which makes her a competitive candidate for jobs offered at the Nonprofit & Public Sector Career Fair.Read more...
Academics are, of course important. But to land yourself a role you’ve long desired, don’t overlook the many other experiences that help you develop and refine the transferable skills that today’s employers are looking for. Find out how this advice, from Ali Puente Douglass, is moving her steadily towards her long-term goal of shaping public policy.Read more...
As the number of college graduates increases and you find yourself competing for jobs with students who have equally good if not better GPAs, it can seem challenging to differentiate yourself from the crowd. For English major Elizabeth Brogan this was a cinch. After reading her résumé, recruiters wanted to hear about her experiences as a Disney princess.Read more...
Ready to make big changes to public policy after graduation? Why not begin with classroom. Teaching positions are available with simultaneous certification programs through Teach for America, Texas Teaching Fellows and others across the nation. Learn about how Andrea Martin, English and Government major, got accepted for Teach for America and how she intends to impact education as a corps member in St. Louis starting this fall.Read more...
Like many Liberal Arts students, Tony Gaston was disappointed at not getting admitted to his first choice, business school. He quickly realized, however, that he could not only accomplish the same career goals with a psychology degree, but the Liberal Arts experience could make him even more marketable.Read more...
An exercise she learned in one of LACS' career education courses inspired English major, Liz Aiello, to change the way she viewed herself and, ultimately, led to a new way of attracting attention from employers. After registering for Dr. Kate Brooks' English Major in the Workplace course, Liz learned to think of her career in relation to "chaos theory" and the butterfly effect - with very positive results.Read more...
Johan van der Walt
“Doing the right thing” wasn’t always a focus for Johan van der Walt. Growing up in South Africa where he attended a prestigious all-boys boarding school, Johan was an accomplished cricketer and golfer and intended to get his undergraduate degree in accounting before going on to law school. A series of unexpected events conspired to change all that, however. Having come to America to play collegiate golf, Johan transferred to UT Austin and after interning at a law firm during his sophomore year realized that was not a career direction he wanted to pursue. Being exposed to social and economic issues through his majors in History and Government, together with his involvement in numerous community enhancement projects, sparked an interest in working in international development – a career benefitting from the skills inherent in a Liberal Arts education.
“As a Liberal Arts major I have a very unique skill set that enables me to see cultural, political, social, and economic relationships from a broad perspective. That’s something you don’t get from an engineering, communication, or business degree and is probably why most of the current CEOs of companies that are excelling in today’s global marketplace were Liberal Arts majors,” says Johan. “The past three and a half years have shaped the way I am, both in terms of specific courses that have been instrumental in developing my critical thinking and problem-solving skills, but also the informal education I got from traveling internationally, studying abroad, making use of all the facilities on campus and getting involved in a range of off-campus organizations.”
Johan believes that having been educated on three continents, lived in five countries, and his ability to speak several languages will enhance his application to one day work for the African Development Bank. But it’s not simply his educational attainment that Johan considers to be important to ensuring he meets his career goals.
“When you’re directly involved in projects such as helping impoverished communities make vegetable gardens or lay water pipes you get to see how simple things can make such a fundamental difference to a person’s happiness,” explains Johan, who has accrued such experiences in various countries throughout Africa and Latin America. “Examining books and reading case studies teaches you about enhancing efficiency in markets, but being on the ground is the only way to gain a true understanding of real-world problems. I think it’s an appreciation of the significance of what I’m doing that allows me to really excel both inside and outside of the classroom and makes me marketable. So does being passionate about tackling problems that are so much bigger than one person can handle. I may never end world hunger, or poverty, or cure AIDs or cancer but that doesn’t stop me wanting to try.”
Annie Painting was obviously doing something right. Needing to finance her undergraduate education, she started working as a hotel bartender, reasoning that she would meet a lot of people, earn reasonable money through tips to help pay for tuition and books, and have a lot of fun into the bargain. Eighteen months later Annie was promoted to supervisor, and her advancement in the hotel business continues apace. She worked for six years in downtown Austin in various positions before moving to New York where she worked at the Grand Hyatt for a year, then the Waldorf -Astoria for two. Returning to the Austin area, Annie was recently promoted once more to Assistant Food and Beverage Director, which means she oversees all the food and beverage operations in the resort on an executive level.
What Annie found throughout these experiences was that the skills she’d accrued from her liberal arts education generally, and psychology major in particular, were more valuable for the day-to-day running of a hotel than some of the specialized degrees (like hotel management, or going to culinary school) earned by her peers.
Explains Annie: “There’s a huge people element in this job that involves interacting with guests, clients, other employees, their supervisors, and senior management. My psychology degree prepared me well for the constant, interpersonal part of hotel work. I’ve found myself coaching my peers on how to handle certain situations, or giving them direction, because I had this deep understanding of the human psyche. I was also better at multi-tasking because of my experience as a liberal arts student where we had to juggle and achieve balance because of our involvement in a wide range of interests and activities.”
This understanding of what makes other people tick has resulted in a number of positive outcomes, not just for Annie but also the individuals who now work with and for her in her current role as Assistant Food & Beverage Director at the Hyatt Regency Lost Pines Resort and Spa. For example, while working in her previous role as Banquet Manager (see description, below), Annie realized that an employee who was about to be fired was failing at their job simply because no-one had fully explained to them what they had been brought in to do. As a result of Annie drawing on her interpersonal understanding and communication skills, that employee not only kept their job but went on to be nominated for an award.
“In this business you have to be able to relate well to others and see things from their perspective in order to motivate them to excel,” says Annie. “I’ve found that having a liberal arts education prepares you better for taking a realistic view on life, as well as enhancing your ability to communicate clearly and effectively. After all, if employees don’t have the information they need they’re going to waste time trying to find it, or they won’t be able to do what is asked of them. That’s not good for the individual or the business.”
So what is it that keeps Annie in the hotel industry, given that she had never planned her career that way, and certainly never thought that bartending would lead her to where she is today?
“I can’t begin to tell you how much I’ve learned and appreciated about this business. For someone like me who likes to be up and running around rather than sitting behind a desk all day, I couldn’t have found a better fit,” says Annie. “This is never a dead end job. If you want to exceed at something or like plenty of flexibility and change, this business enables that because there are so many opportunities for hard-working, task-oriented, professional individuals who are eager to learn and try something new.”
Add to those qualities the thinking and communication skills, abundance of common sense, and genuine concern for people that Annie has demonstrated throughout her career, and it’s not surprising that she has enjoyed – and continues to do so – yearly promotions, and the prospect of a bright future in the hotel industry.
Broaden your view of where hotel experience can lead you (because it's further than you might think!)
Want to open your own bar, restaurant, or club? Take every opportunity to gain experience through jobs or internships within the hotel business. A prominent Austin bar owner, who used to work at the same hotel as Annie, gained invaluable insight into food, beverages, events, staffing, and even design and layout by cutting his teeth within a major hotel organization before setting out on his own. You’ll soon find out if that’s truly your passion once you’ve been given insight into the hours of hard work, money, and staffing issues involved.
Not sure what’s the best career path for you? Again, get a job or intern with a hotel group where you can be exposed to different departments (ranging from front-of-house and reception work, to behind-the-scenes marketing or human resources), in order to gain an appreciation of the kind of work that suits you best. As Annie points out, “You learn so many different aspects of this business it opens you up to a wealth of career options you might not have thought of.”
Network Don’t forget the networking opportunities (with everyone from guests to vendors) that can provide an asset for your long-term career prospects. Annie has seen catering managers and sales managers go on to work for pharmaceutical companies, educational organizations, and other businesses through the relationships they’ve established while working in the hotel industry.
So...what does a Banquet Manager actually do?
Says Annie: “In general, a Banquet Manager oversees various events in our private meeting space. These range from small meetings to large conferences, as well as food and beverage events such providing breakfast, lunch, dinner and coffee breaks for those meetings. We also handle things like weddings, charity events, concerts – indeed, a huge spectrum of events that we handle. My main focus is to provide staff for these events, make sure the service standards are followed by my staff, to ensure the quality is there including involvement by other departments such as the kitchen. Pretty much anything involved in an event, I oversee. That can range from the lighting in the room, the tables and chairs being set up in the correct places, the decorations, the food and its presentation, that we have received all the correct information from the sales or catering manager that booked the event, the execution of service, and mostly making sure the client is extremely happy with everything.”
Explore Your Hospitality Career Options:
- Hospitality Careers
- Resort Jobs
- Hyatt Lost Pines
- Holland America Lines
- Disney College Program (regular LACS recruiter)
- International Hotel & Restaurant Association
- Hospitality Sales & Marketing Association International
If there was one question Neha Mehta heard time and again during her interviews with some of the Big Five consulting firms it was, “Why are you interested in consulting?”
Many undergraduates leave school with the notion of stepping into a well-paid position within this “hot” profession, but what interviewers want to hear from a potential employee is a clear understanding of their business needs, and the transferable skills that the graduate brings to the table.
None of this was an issue for Neha, an economics and government major who on the suggestion of her adviser in the Bridging Disciplines Program, registered for a marketing course offered through the McCombs School of Business. This was the first time that Neha had been exposed to the world of consulting, but from the understanding that she gained in that course, she not only discovered the career route she wanted to pursue but appreciated how much her liberal arts education had prepared her for it.
“The course involved working in a team with other students on projects that delivered business solutions to local non-profit organizations*,” explained Neha. “This was my first ‘sneak peak’ into the consulting process, from the initial meetings with the client in order to scope out the project and agree on the deliverables, to developing a project timeline and detailed work plan. We were to keep the client informed at every stage of our progress, with regular status meetings, obtain client buy-in on our recommendations, and work as a team to deliver on the client’s expectations. Through that experience I realized just how much I enjoyed this kind of work.”
Neha also recognized that consulting was one of the best careers to take up when a student is not sure what exactly they want to focus on.
“Deloitte Consulting has a rotational program where in the first two years you are given different roles in the organization, involving different industries and clients. That enables you to experience different facets of the business before you decide upon your subject matter expertise,” says Neha, who has discovered that her personal interest lies within healthcare, working with hospitals, healthcare benefits companies, and government health agencies. Undergraduates need to realize that consulting firms give you ample training to develop the technical skills and subject matter expertise that enable you to be successful in this career. To get your foot in the door, you simply need to demonstrate that you can communicate effectively, think analytically and outside the box, present yourself confidently, and are able to work well with others.”
Neha was “grateful for having had a liberal arts education,” because of all the academic papers she was encouraged to write. “Writing papers teaches you a variety of directly transferable skills that include developing a logical approach to thinking and writing, which can then be directly applied to any kind of problem-solving,” says Neha. “Liberal Arts Students also develop the ability to absorb large amounts of written data and be able to quickly draw out the key inferences, as well as to synthesize the most salient points into a one or two page summary.” Indeed, some of the responsibilities Neha had as an analyst included reviewing and analyzing multiple interview responses from her clients, summarizing them, and highlighting the key themes.
Not that Neha was always so confident about what she planned to do as a career. Like many liberal arts students who were about to graduate, she didn’t have a long-term plan and was worried whether she would have a job directly after graduating. Her advice? “Don’t leave thinking about your career until the spring of your senior year. In particular, don’t think that just because you don’t know what you want to specialize in, your only option is to go on to graduate school. It’s best to first go out and work for some time to discover your specific interests. And consulting is an excellent way to do just that."
How to secure a consulting position – Neha says:
- Seek out more classes that have group-based projects and team work, since these are issues in which recruiters are always interested. The consulting course I took enabled me to speak about one real-world issue and I was able to draw parallels between that course-based experience and the real consulting world. I was also able to provide examples of working with different or conflicting personalities and how I dealt with people I didn’t necessarily get along with.
- Look for ways to enhance your communication skills. Take a lot of writing component classes that develop your ability to organize and communicate your thoughts in a logical and structured manner. It helps to have specific examples that demonstrate you have learned to rapidly and accurately synthesize a large amount of written material and capture the key points in a well-crafted, clear, and succinct summary.
- Check out classes that give you the chance to present in front of the class. That experience of sharing your ideas in front of an audience will boost your confidence in public speaking, something that is essential in consulting.
University Involvement Motivates Career Choices
Like many of his peers, Adam Burkin had a rough idea of the kind of career he wanted to pursue after graduating, but he wasn't sure how to make his future plans a reality. He enrolled in a unique one-credit career education course entitled The Economics Major in the Workplace, developed by Dr. Kate Brooks, the director of Liberal Arts Career Services. Designed to help juniors and seniors become more aware of the connection between their education and experiences to their future career, the course includes creating a personal "map" of significant but otherwise separate life experiences.
Explains Adam: "When I looked at my map it really hit home how much of this information could be connected. For example, I recognized that managing people or helping them manage their money more effectively would suit me better than my original plan of becoming a financial analyst."
Aside from helping Adam view his career options more strategically, The Economics Major in the Workplace course introduced him to the notion of storytelling.
"Rather than just offer recruiters a laundry list of accomplishments, I learned how to talk about what I'd done in a more compelling way that helped them see how I could add value to their organization," says Adam. "No matter what we do in life, whether it's being interviewed, giving a presentation, or networking, it's important to engage people. Using the storytelling approach, I'm now able to get my point across better than simply spelling out the facts."
Adam then went on to register for LACS' Nonprofit Consulting: An Internship Alternative. This three-credit course was conceived by Dr. Elizabeth Alexander as a way of giving liberal arts students the same advantage as their business school peers in terms of learning to solve real-world business problems in a guided environment.
"The project I chose involved working with YouthLaunch, a nonprofit specializing in youth empowerment, to develop a training guide that highlighted the cross-training opportunities between the organization's three programs. Developing something tangible, other than a grade, was probably the most intriguing part of this course. There are so few opportunities in liberal arts to work outside of the classroom and contribute something meaningful to the community-- and also show prospective employers what we are capable of achieving."
Adam has not only learned how to work effectively in a team, develop creative solutions to a client's real-world need, and communicate a plan in a compelling way, but he now has a greater appreciation for the persuasive part of consulting work.
"At first I thought that consulting only involved researching and solving the client's problems. But the experiences gained from Dr. Alexander's course have taught me how to engender confidence in our recommendations," explains Adam. "After all, the solution is never guaranteed, since it depends on whether or not the client decides to act on our recommendations. I believe the ability to create the kind of confidence that encourages a client to move forward with our proposals will serve me well in my future career."
Overall, Adam recommends students of any major to explore the career education options offered through LACS.
"Most course work in liberal arts is very abstract and it's easy to feel that what we learn has little or no bearing on the world of work," concludes Adam. "Dr. Alexander's class has resulted in a concrete outcome that I can talk about with prospective employers, while Dr. Brooks' course has helped me understand how to best showcase all of my experiences."
- Major in the Workplace course (LA 101L)
- Internship courses (LA 320wb & 110wb)
It was perhaps inevitable that Bill Bacon would end up doing something around urban planning. As a small child he remembers helping his family find their way home from trips around town as if this were second nature. Later, in school, Bill became fascinated by courses that focused on the design and rise of cities from medieval to modern times. So much so that upon reaching college -- and concerned about the unsustainable, anti-community, and often environmentally disastrous large-scale urban planning that has typified many major American cities -- Bill made a point of researching what was being done to rectify the situation. Hence he began writing his honors thesis on New Urbanism and the implications for consumer spending.
But his career path wasn’t always so cut-and-dried. During his freshman and sophomore years Bill toyed with going into advertising, an area of business that respects the skills that anthropologists bring to bear on understanding today’s consumers. That was when testing the waters with an internship really paid off – in more ways than one.
“It was only after interning at Austin’s leading advertising agency that I realized my passions lay more in the urban planning sphere,” admits Bill. However, that experience led to new understanding of what it would take to succeed in a big corporate environment – something he can draw on when making his way in future business settings. Indeed, Bill believes he would not have understood the subtle nuances involved in working in business without that internship experience.
“I was exposed to an environment where teams of people were encouraged to work together on a project but where a sense of individual responsibility was also emphasized,” explains Bill. “Each of the interns hired with me brought different areas of focus and insight to the table. I could see how, in my future career, someone with a degree in urban planning and another person coming from a social community background could be brought in to complement my skills as an anthropologist, and that the merging of these different perspectives could help create a better kind of urban planning policy.”
Indeed, it was during his internship experience that Bill learned a variety of transferable skills that he considers to have a bearing on his future career success.
“For example, I noticed there was a tendency in that company for staff to email each other even though they were sitting just feet apart. Email is great in many ways but problematic for getting a handle on ambiguous requests,” explains Bill. “I discovered the value of direct, personal communication and how to interpret body language in order to better understand what someone really expects from you. In the future if I find myself in an environment where co-workers seem to be walled off from each other like that, I’ll know to break down those virtual barriers first in order to get the job done more efficiently.”
Next up for Bill Bacon?
“This past year I spent a month in China where I witnessed first-hand the kind of non-stop pace that results in ten-storey buildings being erected almost overnight. I learned more about the implications for US urban development from those few weeks in China than I could have ever done from taking a course or reading books in the US. There are a lot of things that these two countries can learn from each other so I have applied for a Fulbright scholarship so I can teach and research in Hong Kong the year after I graduate,” says Bill. “If I can discover how the Chinese intend to improve the quality of life of their citizens in such a confined space perhaps then I can apply that learning and understanding to similar problems that are likely to emerge throughout the US.”
Check out our Case Study Interview info
Mustansir Jeevanjee knew that any future career of his would have to be dynamic, team based and goal-oriented. Management consulting seemed the perfect choice particularly since, as an economics major, his studies have helped prepare him for the application and interview process with major consulting companies.
"I really like the kinds of courses that I'm taking and the fact that economics is very broad, not narrow like a business major," Mustansir says. "Economics is really cool because in many of my upper division courses we focus mainly on company case studies. We discuss all sorts of problems and talk about strategies to solve them. It's very interesting and similar to the kind of work I expect to do in a consulting position."
The good news is that today's consulting companies recognize the value that liberal arts students bring to their business.
"These companies have conducted a lot of studies and come to the realization that just having a business degree doesn't mean you're going to be very good at doing a business-type job," explains Mustansir. "Having a broad range of degrees within a company really helps the organization evolve because of the different mindsets the offer. Liberal arts is really good for developing multiple perspectives because there are so many different majors which open you up to new ideas. It's like a multi-lane highway. As liberal arts students we have so many different options and hence ways to think about things, compared to students in business."
Consulting is a field that embraces a wide range of issues within the business world, which offers a lot of variety in that career.
"Consulting generally is very dynamic; you're always doing something different," adds Mustansir. "I knew I didn't want a career where I'd be doing the same thing everyday. The cool thing about consulting is that every three to four months you get a new problem to solve."
Mustansir is specifically interested in management consulting as opposed to information technology or human resources, the other areas that make up the three main sectors within consulting.
"Management consulting is much more general and it's business related. That's what I want to do," says Mustansir. "You get to learn about all kinds of problems that businesses are having, and how to tackle them by developing strategies for companies to implement over the long term."
Consulting is extremely team-oriented work where a group will be focused on a single problem with a client for an average of three to four months at a time. To gauge a potential employee's ability to work in this environment, most consulting firms use a specialized style of interviewing called "case studies."
"The recruiter will give you a problem and ask you to solve it in the room with them," Mustansir explains. "The cases are very broad. They want to see how you think, rather than whether or not you arrive at the "right" answer. By talking through the problem it helps the recruiter to understand how you came to a particular conclusion or result."
Mustansir has found that by using the tools he has learned from his economics courses and attending case study workshops on campus he is well prepared for this unique type of interview. He has also had the chance to practice his interview skills by going through a mock "case study" interview with a career coach from Liberal Arts Career Services. Mustansir now feels more confident about interviewing with some of the top consulting firms in the country - and having the chance to play an important role in future outcomes.
"I really like the concept of consulting because your results are driven by the success of others. When you're working with a client, helping them solve their problems, and in the end they're happy and congratulate you on a job well done - that's really what success means to me. Knowing that my clients are satisfied is what it's all about."
One of the big myths about liberal arts is that there’s a direct relationship between your major and your career. As the (erroneous) thinking goes, government majors become involved in politics, economics majors work for investment banks, and if you’re a philosophy, languages, or area studies major then pretty much your only option is teaching. Leah Finnegan is just one example of a student who is showing how wrong that thinking is in today’s world of work.
Leah is the current editor-in-chief of the Daily Texan, UT’s very own daily newspaper bringing news and comment to our campus. Being an American Studies rather than a Communication Studies major didn’t stop Leah thinking that she was just as qualified to apply for this “once in a lifetime chance” to lead a college newspaper. And while she may have run unopposed in the school-wide election, Leah certainly demonstrated that that this self-confidence was well-placed.
“I had transferred to UT from a small school in upstate New York in August 2006 and shortly after that became a columnist for the Daily Texan. About a month later I found myself promoted to associate editor and held that position for three semesters before running for the editorship, meaning I’d worked for the newspaper for a year and a half before becoming editor,” explains Leah. “The process for becoming a columnist is fairly simple. There’s a trial period during the first three weeks of each long semester where you submit two sample columns, fill out an application form, and come in for a short interview. The columns are evaluated by the editor and the editorial board and we hire ten columnists per semester from a pool of about 20-30 applicants.”
With Leah now at the other end of the hiring process she says what makes the ten columnists, who are selected to contribute to the Daily Texan, stand out is simply “great writing.” This is certainly a skill found in abundance among liberal arts students.
“I tell potential columnists that you can write a column about lint and if you write it well it can be an amazing column,” adds Leah. “Columnists are often really overwhelmed by having no limits on what they can write about and many of them think they have to pull together heavy political pieces or stuff around the theme of “Keep Austin Weird.” I see these topics over and over again but, for me, the best columns are those that go off the beaten path and are really well thought out. I like storytelling and I’m trying to encourage more diversity of thought on the page. Indeed, some of the best stuff we get is from liberal arts majors.”
According to Leah that’s because – as clichéd as it is – liberal arts majors are especially talented at “thinking outside the box.”
“Liberal arts majors tend not to have these reactionary urges to write or respond to what they see on Fox or MSNBC. They’re reading different books and thinking about different topics which they then relate to current events. That approach is really valuable because it takes those discussions to an entirely different level,” says Leah. “I’m all about metaphors this year, and using stories to inform people of what is going on in the world.”
But given that the current managing editor of the Daily Texan is a journalism major, and most everyone else who works there has some kind of journalism background -- despite their diverse majors – doesn’t Leah feel somewhat at a disadvantage, particularly with respect to a future writing career?
“Even though I don’t have the formal journalism training that everyone around me has, I believe that I can learn best from working in the field,” responds Leah. “I may have had to take a journalism course in order to be eligible to run for editor, which was incredibly informative and useful. But having worked at the Daily Texan for eighteen months, as well as completing an internship at the Texas Observer last year, I would say I’ve learned more from those experiences than you ever could from taking a course.”
Adds Leah, “Learning how to talk to people, including authority figures, comes from having a reporting assignment and doing those interviews, not from studying a book. Until relatively recently the only interview I’d ever done involved talking to a bike cop on campus. Then early in 2007, my editor was, like, ‘Well, Bill Gates is coming to town and I can’t interview him so I think you should do it.’ So my first-ever interview as a student journalist was with Bill Gates and I’d say that was probably one of the best editorials I’ve ever written. You just can’t be intimidated ever, because deep down your interviewees are just normal people like you.”
So what does Leah see herself doing in the future?
“I’d like to write long personality profiles of interesting people for magazines,” she replies. “That would be amazing. But, you know, you’ve got to work your way up.”
And that’s the editor of the Daily Texan talking!
Explore Your Journalism Career Options
- Society of Professional Journalists Job Bank
- About.com: Freelance Writing Opportunities
- Media Job Market
- Editor & Publisher
Law Clerk Reflects on Liberal Arts Foundation
Three years after graduating UT as an English and Latin major, and having recently graduated from Stanford Law School and taking the Bar Exam, Sean Rodriguez is now clerking for a federal judge who deals only with antitrust, securities, and life science patent litigation. He emphasizes though that there is no prerequisite or a single path to go to law school, rather it's a degree open to any sort of academic background.
"You can come from Liberal arts, you can come from business, you can come from fine arts for that matter but there is actually a method to this madness," is how Sean describes the path from undergraduate degree to the law. "Law touches everything. A lawyer has to be able to pick up a variety of subject areas."
Sean emphasizes that having a strong GPA and excellent LSAT (Law School Admissions Test) results is an important foundation. But so is the ability to demonstrate strengths in other areas.
"There are so many people applying to law school and there are so many different areas of the law that touch different parts of society," says Sean. "Law schools are looking to see that you are different somehow; that you were a leader and the very best person you could be throughout your undergraduate experience." Sean followed this philosophy during his own time as an undergraduate at UT. Although he knew he was interested in law school, it took him a while to declare his majors because his primary focus was on taking courses he had a passion for.
"As I found an area of interest I'd just go for it and keep building at that," Sean explains. "Looking at my resume, you'll see that I have two majors and three minors which all sound pretty scattershot, but it makes sense because I was just following my interests. At the same time, I was building a more compelling resume because I would work even harder in subjects that interested me. And the same goes for references - when professors know you're performing well in their classes because you're genuinely interested in the subject matter, they will both be better mentors for you and be more enthusiastic recommenders. Plus, that's a whole lot more fun than just trying to look impressive."
Sean strongly believes that the best degree is one that comes from a broad-based education. He points out that since the law touches just about everything it is important to have understanding of a wide range of topics in order to be successful at law school.
"I was surprised at how broad our law school discussions were," adds Sean. "Although it's common to think of the law as some sort of self-contained entity, it is not. It's important to enter it with an open mind, which comes from recognizing the connections between your studies, your professional experience, and your personal interests." Now that he's clerking for a Senior Federal District Judge in Los Angeles, Sean is involved in researching cases, taking part in discussions, and drafting opinions for whatever cases the judge is presiding over.
"It's a fantastic experience to see how decisions get made and what sort of advocacy works," Sean said. "My judge has the luxury of getting to choose her own cases. She only takes complicated cases, so we get to tackle interesting problems with lots of interesting details. We also have a lot of 'big picture' discussions to help us understand the law and parties. I'm very fortunate that I am working with a judge who is prepared to help me understand the law and also discuss the broader issues that are not necessarily directly related to the case."
What are Sean's current plans now that he has graduated from law school?
At the moment, Sean is getting the chance to review and work on the Countrywide securities case as a judge's law clerk. After clerking with the federal judiciary, Sean hopes to return to a firm with which he interned as a law student. Even with these concrete goals in mind, Sean is still open to where his degree might lead him saying, "I am very interested in complicated litigation between very sophisticated parties. Right now, securities and antitrust are the practice areas that provide that sort of experience. The law in both those areas is changing quickly and the facts can be quite complex."
Law School Preparation Action Steps:
- Attend the Law Fair
- Take advantage of the opportunities available to you by following your interests, whether that be by volunteering for a cause you're passionate about, becoming a leader in a student organization, working in a law firm or interning in the political arena
- Meet with the LACS Pre-Law Advisor
Katherine Moore thought she had her career all figured out. After graduating in May 2005 with a major in economics and a minor in business administration, she expected to end up in investment banking. She’d even gone to New York to interview with the likes of Goldman Sachs, Morgan Stanley, and Lehman Brothers. But that was before her academic advisor suggested Katherine apply to work for Media Plus, a consulting firm that produces economics intelligence reports on behalf of the international press and advertising agencies. Not only did Katherine love what she heard at her interview, but she found that as a liberal arts major she could make a contribution that equaled if not exceeded her business school peers.
“I had often wondered why Media Plus had hired an economics major when most of the other folks on the week-long training session had backgrounds in marketing, management, or media. That thought overwhelmed me at first,” admits Katherine. “But when we actually got down to the work itself, I realized I was way ahead of the rest of my colleagues because I really got this stuff. For example, my first assignment was to give a presentation on their business model – how international funding works, how the media plays a role in that, and so on. As an economics major this made complete sense to me, and I could immediately draw on my understanding of statistics and the macro variables of the global economy. For some of the others – even those who had gone to business school – it took them several days to grasp the same principles. I may have been the only economics major, but my degree set me apart by demonstrating how much I could do that the others couldn’t as easily.”
After graduating the top of her training class, Katherine was stationed in Asia Pacific and Australia for her first year. By year two, Katherine had been promoted to Head of Government Relations for Media Plus in sub-Saharan Africa. Based in Pretoria, South Africa, she was put in charge of a wide variety of projects that involved communicating with ambassadors, meetings with head of state, and keeping TV titles such as Fox 5 News and Channel News Asia appraised of what was happening with respect to the developing sectors and international aid.
Having worked for Media Plus for two years, Katherine began looking for further career growth and joined World Investment News, a leading international media house specializing in producing economic intelligence reports, as a junior project director. One of her first responsibilities involved flying to Nigeria to assist with a project for US News and World Report. Based out of Madrid, Spain, Katherine finds herself at the age of 25 having lived and worked on five continents.
“I know first hand the pressures that liberal arts students face when entering the job market,” says Katherine. “Especially with the business schools taking a large portion of the prestigious jobs. It soon became clear while working in this industry, however, that people come from a diverse background of majors.”
And there are certainly things that liberal arts students can do to increase their competitiveness, not least listening to and acting on the advice from their academic advisors and others.
“I started out as a pre-med major and once I decided that wasn’t for me I was at a loss as to what to do next,” recalls Katherine. “My advisor at the time suggested I look at the course schedule and take classes that counted toward my degree but were personally interesting…that really appealed to me. I took economics, philosophy, and fine arts and not only had such fun that semester, but I also realized that the right place for me to be was in the economics department.”
This passion for her major increased as Katherine took upper division courses where the number of students was smaller and there were more opportunities to really get to know her professors and discuss areas of mutual interest with them.
Now that she’s out in the real world tackling tough assignments on a daily basis, Katherine recognizes the value of pushing herself intellectually.
“Don’t just go for the easy options,” she advises. “Some courses appeared so hard at first that at time I didn’t know why I was doing that to myself. But it was an amazing experience in the end that helped me develop relationships and hone skills that allow me to take my place on the international stage, showcasing just how great a UT liberal arts education can be.”
Tips from Katherine on relationship-building in college:
Meet your professors during their office hours to discuss areas of mutual interest. Keep in touch with them when you leave. They often have great contacts and you never know where that might lead, or who they might know who could help you, including giving you the heads-up on interesting opportunities.
Take the initiative and really get to know your academic advisors. I might never have heard of, or been confident enough to apply for, the Media Plus opening had it not been for my economics advisor.
Visit the careers office early – don’t just leave all of that until your senior year. Develop a professional relationship with the career coaches and ask for their help in figuring out your next steps.
Kendra Crispin has wanted to be a writer since she was a teenager, not just because she’s good at it but also because of the kind of lifestyle it can offer. Having been home schooled and coming from an informal home environment, Kendra found that her experience of college additionally alerted her to the sort of flexible structure best suited to her needs. Now earning an online Master’s degree in Military History, the 24-year old is moving towards a longer-term goal of writing full-time. Most recently Kendra has interned with the Oak Hill Gazette and had three articles published by them, as well as two articles for That Other Paper.
“Part of wanting to be a writer is being able to work from home so that I can home-school my own children in the future. I’ve contemplated a lot of career choices but have always felt there was no point going through something—like law school, for example—when I didn’t see how it could contribute to that overall goal,” says Kendra. “Indeed, I came to the realization that there are two, complementary approaches to developing a career trajectory. The first is to think about what kind of structures I can live with, especially for a first job, while I’m building up financial reserves and work experiences. The second is to fully understand the type of working environment I ideally want and incrementally work towards that.”
With that in mind, Kendra sees her Military History degree providing another option for a day job that could provide the flexibility she seeks in a career – teaching online courses. Kendra also plans to integrate that subject-matter expertise into her writing, perhaps by penning the sort of military history novel popularized by Bernard Cornwell’s Sharpe series, or contributing to the increasingly popular military science fiction market.
“An important stage in the career development process is ‘Know yourself,’ and while I may have to do some squeezing of myself as a round peg into a square hole, or vice versa, I’m looking to minimize that as much as possible,” adds Kendra. “Luckily the majors I studied in college – Psychology and History –represent approaches that exist in pretty much any field you can think of. But I believe it’s up to each student to decide what to make of their Liberal Arts education, particularly by taking into account areas that are personally interesting to them. Continually reflecting on what I ideally want to do, and how I might practically achieve that prevents me from boxing myself into to a 9-to-5 or something that would make me unhappy.”
Lisa Beckner found that in preparing for medical school her blend of history and pre-med courses was, in many ways, more valuable to getting ready for medical school than focusing solely on a science degree.
"With a natural science degree I feel like you get a good foundation in many areas of science, but healthcare is a social science involving interactions with people," explains Lisa. "The important thing to remember is that you must first understand the patient's unique needs in order to provide the best care for them. With a history major, or a liberal arts education generally, you get a better sense of how people need to be cared for."
Taking both upper-level science and liberal arts courses simultaneously was initially challenging for Lisa, but one that she welcomed.
"I found that the courses I took in both disciplines really meshed well together. This opened me up to how history often influences science and how this inspires new technologies, leading to amazing advances in the field. I liked this way of thinking because it gave me more than just a theoretical foundation for my science education," Lisa adds.
When applying to medical schools this year, many of Lisa's interviewers were intrigued by the fact that she was studying history in addition to the requisite natural science courses. Lisa felt that it set her apart from many of her peers, which is always an advantage in such a competitive environment.
"I found that most of the admissions officers I met responded positively to my being a history major," says Lisa. "While a strong science background is important in any application, the interviewers appreciated the fact that I was a student who was studying a subject I'm truly passionate about, rather than only selecting courses based on whether they'd help me get into medical school." Indeed, she is convinced that her liberal arts education will be of great value to her when faced with the rigors of that environment.
Lisa's history honors thesis investigates the ways in which the fields of medicine and history so frequently overlap. She is researching the medical history of the 1918 influenza pandemic in the state of Texas and has found that both scientific causes and sociological effects contributed equally to this catastrophic outbreak.
"A lot of my research explores the ways that scientists of the time tried to stem the spread of the disease. I'm also looking at what researchers have found since then in studying why this pandemic was so much more deadly than any other strain of the 'flu," explains Lisa. "Half a million Americans died within 24-48 hours of getting this particular 'flu, all in the course of a few months. My research also explores how people collectively and individually deal with tragedies like this, that have no known cause."
By studying both history and medicine for her honors thesis, Lisa has been able to explore the physical, mental and sociological effects of disease from an historical perspective, giving her a unique insight into the broader effects that disease can have on a given population. Through this one specific case, Lisa has discovered the extent to which taking the broader perspective, typical of a liberal arts education, can contribute to medical understanding. Not only that, but Lisa has found a way to combine two of her passions that will undoubtedly contribute to her success in medical school and beyond.
To students who are considering pre-health fields but also hold a passion for liberal arts, Lisa offers this advice:
"Don't give up a liberal arts major in favor of something more science-related just because you believe it will strengthen your medical school application. In all honesty, everyone has to take the same prerequisite classes to apply, so you might as well study something you enjoy."
Jason Joiner has long been fascinated by the weather. Originally interested in becoming a meteorologist throughout college, he had taken courses in differential equations and calculus as well as an internship that involved him in the installation of radar and severe weather detection software used for UT’s emergency siren system. But over time Jason realized that his passion was more a hobby than the career path he wanted to pursue. Which left the English major with a problem; he was close to graduating and had no idea how he was going to make something out of the degree he had.
Desperate to find something that was a good fit for his skills, Jason began looking at jobs posted on BTT Gateway, Liberal Arts Career Services’ online tool. He was intrigued by a position at the Gerson Lehrman Group (GLG), a company that finds top-level subject-matter experts to consult and collaborate with their clients in the financial investment community. As Jason explains it, the job “is a bit like being an investigator for hedge fund analysts. As a council recruiter I go out into the field to find experts who could consult with GLG’s clients based on their specialized knowledge.”
So how did Jason convince the interviewers that he had the right skills for that job?
“I strongly emphasized my communication skills and the versatile education that I’d received at UT, which has resulted in my ability to understand different perspectives on issues and fearlessly engage with others. English majors are required to be vocal in their courses…you have to be able to voice an opinion in the classroom without ticking off the other students because you’re unclear and long-winded,” explains Jason. “My job involves dealing with people at every level, from potato farmers in Idaho to senior executives in major corporations around the world. My Liberal Arts education prepared me for explaining clearly what it is I’m doing, why I’m speaking to them, and what they have to gain. One professor, early on, wrote ‘get to the point’ on one of my papers. I now see how being able to communicate quickly and succinctly is invaluable in the workplace.”
Jason’s career tips:
Do your homework!
- Many of the questions I was asked were tailored towards my understanding of their company and the requirements of the job I was applying for.
- Make an appointment with a Liberal Arts Career Services advisor who will conduct a mock interview with you. You may think you know your stuff, but there’s no substitute for saying it out loud to someone who can give you constructive criticism and advice. Call 471-7900 to make an appointment.
- Use your classes to hone an ability to think on your feet. For example, one of my interview questions was: “Imagine that I’m at the counter of American Airlines, about to purchase a ticket. You have one minute to give me three reasons why I should purchase a middle seat versus an aisle or window seat. Go.”
Ask great questions.
I got a much more positive response from the interviewers when I asked about the long term goals and vision of the company than details about the position itself. Preparing lots of questions also gives you a way to re-direct the conversation if your mind starts to fail.
Deciding between interning at a bank and going to work at the US embassy in Stockholm was a difficult choice for Patrick Foley, but he chose to work in Sweden since that would offer him a different experience to the banking or consulting he was already planning to go into as a career.
He had no desire at that stage to work for the State Department but thought that the summer experience would be fun, interesting, and provide some useful networking opportunities, given his interest in moving into politics some day. As one of six interns he certainly didn’t expect the level of responsibility and trust he was given.
“Sweden probably offers the highest number of vacation days in the industrialized world and during the summer the US embassy in Stockholm is hit pretty hard as around three quarters of the staff are locals and go away on vacation,” explains Patrick. “This offered me a unique opportunity to take on meaningful work including handling a delegation visit by a group of Congressmen, their staff, the House minority leader, and military escorts.”
Patrick’s duties varied from arranging transportation and hotel accommodation to setting up meetings between the US visitors and Swedish members of parliament, including the Prime Minister, Minister of Defense, and leader of the Social Democratic party. This embassy-wide team effort was shortly followed by the need to take care of a delegation from the US Department of Transportation and members of the Senate Appropriations Committee, whose visit was coordinated by Patrick and one other intern with minimal supervision. These experiences taught Patrick a lot about team-working, taking initiative, clarity of communication, and how not to be overawed in the presence of very important and highly influential people.
“Interning is such a valuable experience,” adds Patrick, who intends to apply for an internship in consulting or banking next summer so he can make comparisons. “Students should think of it not so much as losing a summer but trading it for something else. Having worked at this level I’ll no longer feel intimidated by talking to CEOs or other high level executives if I go into the business world. But it’s also opened my eyes to the wide variety of things that the State Department does, and the way they serve US interests in other countries. Doing an internship offers you a behind-the-scenes look at what organizational life is really like so that when it comes to choosing between several career options you’re making an informed choice.”
Patrick earned academic credit for both of his internships to date by taking LA 310, a course offered by Liberal Arts Career Services.
“One of the most valuable things I got out of this course, aside from being able to compare and contrast experiences with other students, were the weekly journals we had to write. It was a great opportunity to reflect on how I was interacting with my co-workers and supervisor, or how I had tackled problems. This made me appreciate the internship experience even more. Left to myself I wouldn’t have spent the time thinking about what worked and what I would do better next time around.”
Hisham Srour intends to go to law school, which is perhaps not at all unusual for someone with a Government major. He knows that his minor in Philosophy will also be put to good use as a lawyer. Plus, whether or not he remains in Texas or practices in a major city like DC, Hisham realizes the value of his second major, Spanish. Not just because of the increasing numbers of Spanish-speaking citizens in the United States, but also given that so many misunderstandings among individuals from different cultures are compounded by the misinterpretation of language. Hisham’s Liberal Arts education is helping him carve out a personally-fulfilling career path, one in which he wants to “make a good difference” and do “what’s right.” This laudable goal has also been underpinned by Hisham’s strategic use of study abroad and internship experiences.
For example, taking part in a 6-month exchange program in Córdoba, Argentina, the credits from which contributed towards his Spanish major, additionally exposed Hisham to a different perspective about world issues.
“Every day I think about human rights atrocities and violations that are being perpetrated around the globe, which is why I worked for the National Domestic Violence Hotline as an advocate, answering calls from all kinds of victims and becoming aware of the differential resources made available to them, depending on whether they were male or female, gay or straight,” explains Hisham. “While living in Argentina I was comforted to find support for many of the political views that I hold, such as realizing that not all Palestinians are terrorists or have links to Al Qaeda. In Argentina I was exposed to a deeper level of political thought and more global perspective than I’ve seen so far in the US.”
For Hisham, it is not enough to understand something on an intellectual level -- he has to feel it on an emotional level. That way he is able to determine what it is he considers to be “right,” and therefore worth fighting for. But how does having a Liberal Arts education potentially make us better people?
“The thinking behind that, for me, is self-discovery,” says Hisham. “Go to other colleges, like business and engineering, or take the Pre-Med route and you have your entire program laid out for you, pretty much set in stone. With the Liberal Arts degree plan you have to figure out what you want to do to fill the requirements. The freedom to make personal choices supports the sort of self-discovery that, I believe, will make me a better lawyer. After all, there’s probably no other time in our lives in which we’re able to take courses or explore career paths, stumble or fail at them, and it not be a major set-back. As such, my Liberal Arts education keeps me grounded, because I learn from the humility of falling down sometimes.”
Hisham’s next internship experience will be at the American Bar Association’s Section of Individual Rights and Responsibilities (IRR), where he will have the opportunity to attend Supreme Court oral arguments and Congressional hearings, plus write reports and maybe even pen an article for their magazine. After he has completed his education, Hisham wants to clerk for a judge, with the ultimate aim of becoming a federal judge himself.
“That’s where the real change takes place, since federal judges can force an entire Congress to vote a certain way,” adds Hisham. “And we need people in those roles who are morally sound and have a Liberal Arts background, from which they have developed a broader perspective on the world. But to truly see what is going on beyond their own national boundaries I think it’s vital for students to take advantage of study abroad opportunities, and international internships. Certainly these experiences have helped me take off my “US shades” and understand that living in a privileged country, as we do, doesn’t give us exclusive rights to determine what’s good and just.”
Explore Your International Options
Stephen Myers will never forget the day he was standing in the academic adviser’s office during freshman orientation, looking at a picture of the White House in winter and listening to a description of the UT in DC/Archer program. With his long-standing fascination for the American political process, Stephen remembers thinking, “I’ve got to go there and get involved.” From that moment on, experiencing government in action became Stephen’s driving goal, with the Archer Fellowship the means by which Stephen ended up interning for the White House speechwriting team at the start of his junior year.
“As an intern I was able to participate in research and fact-checking. I didn’t get to write anything but I found the experience to be very rewarding. It was such a detailed, diligent process that I came away with a renewed respect for producing work that is factually correct,” explains Stephen. Being genuinely interested, energetic, and having a “no task too small” mentality soon meant Stephen got ‘adopted’ by a mentor who had a personal investment in the intern’s success, thereby giving him an advantage “that’s really substantial.”
So how did Stephen’s Liberal Arts education prepare him for working in the “real world?”
“Being a UT Government major is not about regurgitating facts but developing critical thinking, independent thinking, and research skills. That, and having technical know-how about the different roles of the executive, judicial, and legislative branches of government, certainly helped me better understand our purpose in the speechwriting office,” says Stephen. “But the beauty of a Liberal Arts education is having an appreciation for multiple perspectives and for asking the important questions: ‘How does this work?’ “How might this affect someone?’ ‘Why is this like this?’” Which may be why, working in the White House, Stephen found himself surrounded by young, Liberal Arts graduates—including his supervisor. “In an environment in which so many things are happening at once you not only need a mindset that prepares you for understanding all those different issues, but to know how they all connect with one another, in order to draw a conclusion and propose a plan of action,” adds Stephen. “I think this ability to appreciate the relationships inherent in complex issues will carry me to many places, I really do.”
Stephen’s tips for success:
Practice your skills until they become second-nature:
“Being able to speak and write well are two very important skills in today’s world of work and so every opportunity I get – whether it’s a class assignment or interacting with a co-worker--I’ll throw myself into whatever’s required. It’s meant accepting that I’m going to feel nervous or apprehensive…but I’ve found that the more I put myself in situations like that, over time these communication skills become second nature.”
Get yourself noticed:
“I think you can apply any major to any field if you have essential soft skills…such as understanding your role in the workplace, showing up on time, being a team player, adopting a professional demeanor, and performing your duties to the best of your ability. When people see your energy and enthusiasm early on, even if it’s making coffee, that suggests a promise that you can apply to any task. After all, if you can do that for coffee, just think what you could bring to a fact-checking assignment!”
Explore Your Political Interests
- The Bill Archer Fellowship Program (UT site: UT in DC)
- The Archer Center
- The Department of Government Internship Course – UT
- Texas Office of the Governor Internship & Fellowship Program
- Annette Strauss Institute for Civic Participation
- The Center for European Studies
Jenifer Michelson De Atley
Like many liberal arts students, Jenifer Michelson De Atley changed majors several times before finding her niche. Having transferred to UT from community college where she had studied psychology, Jenifer considered getting a degree in business because an early career goal of hers was to become a jewelry designer. It wasn’t until she had taken some sociology classes as electives, however, that Jenifer found an area of study that was consistent with what she describes as “meeting my destiny.” Explains Jenifer:
“I loved the subject matter of sociology and was very interested in the bigger community picture, which is why that major won out over psychology. My mother was a nurse and I’d always had that nurturing instinct and the motivation to work with young people around community issues. I didn’t understand the wide range of nonprofit opportunities that are available while I was in college, though, and so I ended up working in mental health after I graduated. Nevertheless, it was thanks to that experience that I decided to go back to college and earn my Master’s degree.”
Indeed, Jenifer had discovered that as a nonprofit professional, going back to college for her Master’s in Social Work (LMSW) would open up other career opportunities.
"I’d realized that working in mental health was not for me and thought about becoming a school social worker because I really love working with youth,” says Jenifer. “Having graduated in Chicago where I was certified as a school social worker I had seen that this was a great fit. But after moving back to Austin where things are structured differently, school social work was no longer an option. Still, I had all these other experiences working in pregnancy prevention, and with youth in a variety of social, emotional, and academic concerns, that when I saw the No Kidding position I realized it was the perfect fit.”
As the program coordinator for the No Kidding Program, Jenifer trains teen parents to become peer educators who go into middle and high schools to talk about their experiences and “make visible the legal issues and other realities surrounding young parenting.” What made the job even more appealing for Jenifer was the program’s focus on instilling a sense of personal responsibility for community service among young people who typically only experience direct services, at the same time empowering them to make a difference in their own lives and the lives of others. As such, the No Kidding peer educators become the deliverers of messages about paternity, child support awareness, and the financial and emotional costs of teen parenting, beyond being recipients of such services and resources themselves.
Given that Jenifer has had considerable experience recruiting, promoting, and mentoring the young people in her program, what advice would she offer students interested in pursuing a career in the nonprofit world?
- Get involved with direct service through internships, summer jobs, part-time or volunteer positions. If you want to become an effective nonprofit coordinator or planner you need to know what it’s like to directly serve the clients. Grasp whatever opportunities you can to “get your hands dirty.”
- Explore lots of different avenues to discover what suits you best. Your first experience may not be a great fit, as I found while working in mental health. And the longer you stay in a single field of interest the greater the likelihood that you’ll get pigeonholed, which just makes it harder to break out and try something new. To find your true calling it’s a good idea to try out different internships and volunteer positions so that you can test the waters without committing yourself to a single field of interest.
- Develop key skills while in college. The essential qualities of someone who is successful in the nonprofit world include being passionate about taking on a new project and running with it. Are you an independent thinker? Are you detail-oriented? Can you take the initiative and not be afraid to turn a project into something bigger and better? Look for ways of developing these skills inside and outside of the classroom.
*If you are a young parent between the ages of 16 and 24 years old, you are eligible to become a peer educator with the No Kidding program with YouthLaunch. We are hiring both fathers and mothers. You’ll receive on the job paid training, excellent pay for delivering presentations to your peers in Austin middle and high schools, and the opportunity to contribute positively to the lives of other young people by sharing your experiences of young parenthood. To learn more about the program, or to apply, contact Jenifer De Atley firstname.lastname@example.org.
Explore Your Nonprofit Career Options:
- Center for Community-Based and Nonprofit Organizations at ACC
- Texas Association of Nonprofit Organizations
- United Way of Texas Nonprofit Jobs
- Craigslist: Nonprofit Jobs in Austin
- Social Work Job Bank
Bjorn Billhardt had two career ambitions in college.The first was to become a movie director or producer, the second was to join the Foreign Service and work his way to becoming Secretary of State. This Plan II Honorsmajor certainly didn’t think he’d go into business. Indeed, coming across as uncertain about whether he had any of the skills valued by the business world was a key reason why he was turned down for the job he wanted straight out of school. Today, however, Bjorn leads a team of sixty creative writers, designers, and technologists who provide “meaningful educational experiences and simulations” for companies as diverse as Dell, Johnson & Johnson, the US Air Force, the World Bank, and Whole Foods Market. And he has no doubts that his Liberal Arts education and Philosophy concentration provided the perfect platform upon which to build his e-learning empire, Enspire Learning, recently named by Inc. Magazine as #16 of the Top companies in Education.
“Taking any of the vocational majors, like accountancy for example, will give you more of a head start on the terminology of business, but a lot of that can be picked up on the job. For real business success what has to be honed is the ability to think in ways that are atypical and allow you to see further over the horizon. I don’t think there’s a concentration that’s better suited to doing that than philosophy,” explains Bjorn. “Enspire is in a highly innovative industry where things change rapidly and new technologies could soon make our business model obsolete. Studying different philosophers trained me to expand my viewpoint so that I’m able to think about where our industry is heading, and position the company accordingly. In short, philosophy has prepared me for successfully navigating a dynamic, changing industry more than any vocational degree could have done.”
Describing Liberal Arts students as “some of the smartest, most dedicated, and potentially successful” individuals he’s come across is a key reason why Bjorn has populated so much of his company with them-- and continues to do so. Enspire has plans to hire interns on an ongoing basis and has a number of full-time and contract positions available for the right candidates coming straight out of the University.
So what does Bjorn look for?
“Academic achievement is obviously important, particularly where it shows that the student can succeed in classes where there’s a lot of writing and team work involved,” replies Bjorn. “But candidates who really want to distinguish themselves need to show they have leadership capabilities, have taken initiative, and made an impact, all of which relate to their extra-curricular activities. It doesn’t really matter what it is as long as there’s clear passion involved, because passion leads to achievement in my view.”
And when it comes to finding a job you love, the broad perspective of a Liberal Arts education is unsurpassed in allowing you to explore different areas of life that you can feel passionate about, according to Bjorn, who adds: “Even though it may be a little harder to find a job right out of school I think Liberal Arts graduates have more job satisfaction and more career success over the long term because they’ve had greater exposure to different areas they could get passionate about.”
Kevin Kalra is a man in demand, with expertise in the “geographic advantage” that is increasingly attracting the attention of governments, industries, and non-profits worldwide, and will secure his employment for decades to come. Kevin’s concentration is Geographic Information Systems (GIS), which means he works with a computer-based, problem-solving tool that helps make sense of spatial relationships and patterns.
While interning at the Max Locke Center in London, England, for example, Kevin applied GIS to international development issues. “We used GIS to analyze the proximity of rural areas to urban areas for the Nigerian government. The final results were used to determine which rural areas received priority funding for infrastructure development, and this later enabled the Nigerian Government to make strategic grant allocations.”
Most recently, Kevin has worked at ESRI in California, the company that designs and develops “the world’s leading geographic information system technology,” where he designed and published maps to support training in the use of this technology. This, along with his other internships, was achieved by taking what Kevin calls an “aggressive” approach to job-hunting.
“I attended business fairs and engineering fairs, not just the career fairs targeting Liberal Arts majors, all the time looking for these opportunities,” explains Kevin. “None of the companies I approached were looking for someone with a Liberal Arts degree, or even a GIS person. But many of them had heard about the technology and were open to finding out how it could be applied to their industry. The recruiters were not always aware of how to recruit someone with that expertise, or that Liberal Arts had these special programs.”
Kevin’s knowledge of how to sell himself and demonstrate the value of a Liberal Arts education has been honed and refined since his freshman year, when he would attend career fairs just to practice becoming less intimidated by the advisors and recruiters he would meet there. “I’d just go up to a company I was not interested in to practice my speech and gain more confidence. That way, when I approached companies I wanted to work for, I’d already ironed out a lot of my earlier mistakes.”
One thing that Kevin learned from his parents, both small business owners, is the power of networking. Whereas he was once the one who aggressively pursued employment opportunities, he’s now finding that companies including a major oil company and National Geographic are approaching him with job offers. So how can other Liberal Arts students enjoy that kind of success? Says Kevin, “Be more friendly to recruiters. Catch them by surprise. So many people just go up to find out more about a job or their company. Don’t do that. Show interest in the person, not just the position. That helps build stronger relationships with recruiters that will help you later on.”
Kevin’s top tips:
- Discover your strengths. Kevin has a list of his strengths that have been identified by his mentors, peers, and advisors. He reviews this list before he goes to career fairs and interviews and makes sure he introduces them into the conversation at every opportunity. You can learn more about your strengths by meeting with a LACS advisor, or participating in UT leadership programs.
- Make connections between different subjects. Kevin considers Liberal Arts students to have a huge competitive advantage given their exposure to classes in so many different areas. During a government course, for example, Kevin asked himself, “How can I add value to this class by being a geographer?” He suggests you do likewise, developing connections that not only show the link between your Liberal Arts major and other fields of inquiry, but enhancing your ability to articulate those connections to prospective employers.
- Tell stories. Kevin regularly looks over his resumé, recalls specific experiences with employers, and weaves compelling stories that effectively demonstrate his experience and accomplishments. He practices telling these stories over and over until they become second nature.
- Participate in student organizations to develop leadership skills. Many employers look for self-starters and evidence of passionate involvement with an organization or issue.UT has a vast array of leadership development programs, such as the Student Events Center or Leadershape. Also check out the Student Organization Database, and the organization that Kevin is involved in, Act Local – Think Global.
Kimberly Garza has wanted to be a writer since she was 8 years old, so it seemed natural to major in English when she enrolled at UT Austin. Aware of the tendency for others to think of English majors as having a hard time amounting to anything, Kimberly decided to gain some journalism experience in college so that she’d find it easier to get a job after graduation. Working at the Daily Texan taught her that hard newspaper reporting wasn’t her thing; she wanted something that could give her freedom to write creatively. When the aspiring journalist took a class offered by a former editor of Texas Monthly, Kimberly acquired a taste for magazine writing. She worked as an intern at the magazine for a semester and became enthralled with this longer, more narrative style of journalistic writing.
“Working at Texas Monthly in my junior year was definitely a turning point for me,” admits Kimberly. “Up to that point I felt as if I was straddling this untilled ground between the fictional writing I was doing in my classes, and the more factual reporting required by the Daily Texan. There didn’t seem to be that many opportunities for writing the sort of creative, feature-based pieces that I was really interested in writing until I was exposed to niche magazine journalism at Texas Monthly.”
Kimberly used her time at that prestigious publication to get as much experience as possible, helping their writers and editors with researching, fact checking, and pulling together the materials they needed to produce a compelling article. But Kimberly was concerned that having a single internship under her belt wasn’t enough to be able to compete in the hotly competitive feature writing market.
“When I came across the job as an assistant editor on Spirit, Southwest Airlines' in-flight magazine, I didn’t think I’d get it. I was fresh out of college, with very little experience but found that my internship at Texas Monthly was a big plus. It’s a well respected and nationally known magazine and was good to have on my resume,” says Kimberly. Part of the hiring process required Kimberly to write sample articles similar to ones typically found in Spirit. Adds Kimberly, “My liberal arts education perfectly prepared me for this since I was so used to going back and forth between a variety of topics such as switching from writing about politics to crafting a piece on popular culture. In fact, writing well, thinking critically, working to deadlines, and having a broad perspective on a wide range of topics are all Liberal Arts characteristics that are valued in my field. ”
Kimberly’s Top Tip:
When you’re seeking information or advice about a possible career track and get passed from one person to another, just think about all the contacts you’re making. “I made a point of talking to as many professionals as possible, each of whom passed on some career wisdom but also the names of other people I could speak with. I also made a great many friends and contacts at Texas Monthly, which meant that I could name drop where necessary and come across as really well connected."
As Gemma Thompson tells it, she “fell into” human resources. Yet, ironically, this career has enabled her to realize a long-imagined role as an international businesswoman. As a young teenager growing up in the UK, Gemma had no idea what banking, consulting, or working for a blue chip company was. She was simply attracted to the idea of meeting people from different parts of the world and using her language skills. During her third year at Cambridge University in the UK, where she was studying Modern and Medieval Languages with an emphasis on French and Spanish, Gemma interned in the Human Capital Management Division of Goldman Sachs in Paris. Not only did this allow her to improve her French but it broadened her exposure to clients both inside and outside the firm.
“The internship experience prepared me for working full-time for Goldman Sachs when I left university, first in London and then back in Paris,” says Gemma. “Currently I am based in our New York office and manage campus recruiting for undergraduates and MBAs from a number of US schools. Before moving to the US in April 2007, I worked for the firm in Europe for four and a half years, overseeing campus recruiting at schools in the UK, Southern and Eastern Europe. Goldman Sachs encourages its people to explore different businesses and regions. During the summer of 2006 I got a taste for working in the US through a 3 month ‘job swap’ with a US campus recruiter. This gave me a flavor for living and working in the US and I was fortunate to land a full-time job here the next year.”
Why would a finance company like Goldman Sachs be interested in a languages graduate?
“Many of the senior managers who are spearheading different divisions of Goldman Sachs have Liberal Arts degrees, in Art History for example, and other subjects,” replies Gemma. “The company values diversity of thought and looks principally at whether a new recruit has the potential to learn what we have to teach them. Team fit is also an important factor, so we’re interested in finding people with a well-rounded knowledge base that facilitates building relationships with others. I have met managers who have been fascinated to hear about the medieval side of my degree. The skills I acquired through my studies have been valuable to me in many ways, including relationship building and the ability to see questions from multiple viewpoints. These are skills we look for in candidates across the board, in addition to the ability to learn essential financial concepts.”
Gemma backed up those transferable “soft skills” with a very strategic, business-minded approach to acing her interviews, and offers the following advice to potential recruits:
“Even if you don’t have a financial or business background you need to show you’re aware of what’s impacting the financial services industry and have a view. For example, before interviewing with Goldman Sachs I spoke to a lot of people about what it takes to become a good Human Resources professional and what were some of the trends. I discovered when I was interviewing that outsourcing was a big question impacting the industry so I came armed with thoughts and questions about that,” says Gemma. “The interview is not the time to find out about the role. You should have done this research already and know what it is you’re interviewing for. This will allow you to demonstrate to the interviewer how the skills you developed in college and outside map onto that particular job.”
In addition to conducting this “due diligence,” Gemma says two other things are key to standing out in an otherwise highly competitive job market: demonstrating interest, and passion. “Show you’re up-to-date by being able to converse about what’s being written in the financial press, how it’s impacting the company, and the implications within the competitive marketplace. But above all be passionate about what you’re studying, even if it doesn’t seem directly relevant.”
Liberal Arts Skills in the Workplace
Gemma recognizes that skills acquired from her Liberal Arts education have prepared her to be successful in business in the following ways:
- Interpreting written texts from multiple points of view. Before I send out any written business communication I think about how it is likely to be received, given that different constituents – internal clients, external clients, career services contacts etc. – are likely to see it in different ways. Thinking critically and broadly about the messages I’m sending out helps me ensure I’m relevant to the individuals I’m communicating with.
- Finding accurate, relevant information. During my studies I had to write three essays a week, drawn from potentially thousands of resources. This taught me to be highly targeted in my approach.
- Getting to the point quickly. My professors rewarded brevity and so does the business world. No-one has the time to trawl through pages and pages of text, so you need to be able to highlight the salient points as quickly as possible and pay attention to detail.
Lisa Newhouse's passion for volunteering originally developed in high school where she worked with Aids Foundation Houston and the Special Olympics, gaining experience that she then drew upon when launching the FACEAIDS Austin chapter. In her first semester running that organization, Lisa helped raise $3,000 by exchanging Aids pins made by patients in Rwanda and Zambia for $5 donations. Getting involved in other fund-raising efforts for FACEAIDS now means Lisa can boast development skills that are in high demand within nonprofits - particularly in today's tight economy.
But it was through participating in one of Liberal Arts Career Services' (LACS) career education courses that Lisa has both an attention-grabbing story to tell nonprofit recruiters, as well as evidence of how much this sociology senior has grown through "getting involved."
Lisa registered for a nonprofit consulting course, where she was introduced to Westcave Preserve, one of the four nonprofit "clients" who provided the students with real-world consulting projects to work on.
"I was drawn to Westcave because they wanted us to help develop a reading library within their award-winning Environmental Learning Center that would help interest children in environmental issues and experience how important nature is to their cognitive and emotional development," explains Lisa.
"Taking on a leadership role among our group, I was able to increase my confidence around suggesting ideas that - while seeming a little "out there" at first - turned out to be very beneficial to our project."
One of Lisa's ideas was to involve graduate students engaged in a Wood Design course within UT's School of Architecture who would produce the chairs and shelving made of sustainable wood that Westcave wanted for their library. Lisa's team found that most furniture stores don't specialize in those kinds of woods and that it was going to be extremely costly - and eat up a large portion of the funding for the library project - to have these items custom made. Lisa met with architecture professor Mark Macek who immediately saw the value of offering his graduate students the unique opportunity to design and build these items, and have their submissions judged by a distinguished panel including Robert Jackson, the architect who designed Westcave's Environmental Learning Center.
"Lisa's team behaved in a very professional way at every step in the project. They took care to clearly understand the assignment, delegated pieces to each team member, managed the overall project and timetable, and delivered a very usable product," Molly Stevens, Westcave Preserve's Executive Director and one of the design competition judges, later wrote. "I look forward to hosting the team here on site to see the finished fruits of their labor later this year."
As for Lisa, who will be attending the Nonprofit and Public Sector career fair for opportunities following her graduation in May, having a range of experiences and transferable skills to offer has not only made her more marketable, but also helped her realize her value to the world of work.
"Being well-rounded is so important to prospective employers," says Lisa. "Taking part in a research study one semester, then an internship, as well as holding leadership positions with student organizations is a great way to discover who you are and what's important to you."
Lisa's advice? "Grasp every opportunity that comes along when you're a student. Don't second guess yourself. Even if you end up realizing that it's something you don't want to do for the rest of your life, the experience will help you discover what that is."
And, like Lisa, such experiences will undoubtedly provide some compelling and revealing stories to tell recruiters.
Nonprofit Career Resources:
- Read the Nonprofit Times, available in the LACS Resource Library.
- Explore the lists of nonprofit organizations in cities across the country in the Book of Lists, available in the LACS Resource Library
- Research employers and download the Vault Guide to the Top Government & Nonprofit Employers from the Vault Online Career Library.
- Explore news and updates on the Texas Association of Nonprofit Organizations
- Review nonprofit job and internship listings online, including Idealist.org, USA.gov for Nonprofits, BTT Gateway, accessUT and Greenlights.
Ali Puente Douglass doesn’t know exactly how she’ll end up shaping public policy, a passion she’s had since high school where she was a member of the debate team for four years. But ever since she was a freshman and attended a lecture about Teach for America, Ali planned to ensure that her college record was stellar so she would be accepted into that program. That meant not just focusing on academics, but demonstrating leadership and organizational abilities through experiences outside the classroom. Indeed, this is one key piece of advice Ali says is crucial to preparing yourself for the world of work.
“Prospective employers want to see that what you’ve learned in college is relevant to their needs. It’s up to you to make that connection for them and that’s easier to do if you think more broadly about your education than simply what goes on in the classroom,” says Ali, who previously worked for Planned Parenthood of the Texas Capital Region where she was a reproductive health specialist, gaining experience in everything from client care and managing files to counseling, education, and running lab tests.
Nevertheless, Ali’s major in Government with a minor in History – indeed, her Liberal Arts education generally –has, she feels, enhanced her ability to make a difference in the classroom, teaching 3rd graders for Newark Public Schools in New Jersey as a Teach for America Corps member.
“A Liberal Arts education has given me a more well-rounded perspective, enabling me to communicate with, influence, and affect different groups of people,” she explains. “For example, my current job brings me into contact with a wide range of people -- from parents who may or may not have a high school education and students that are just learning to read, to colleagues and school administrators. Understanding that these are very different constituents with different needs, has alerted me to modifying the way I communicate with each of these groups. This is the kind of transferable skill I was able to develop through everything I did in Liberal Arts. I understand why that type of communication is important having learned about different policies from historical perspectives.”
But are those skills rewarded with a reasonable pay check? Says Ali: “The joke is always that Liberal Arts students are never going to make a salary equivalent to their business school peers, which is probably true. But I wouldn’t change what I’m doing for the world. Your employment should be fulfilling and I want to focus on that, not just external rewards like money. There’s so much more you can gain from your education and your job when what you’re doing is personally interesting. Taking pride in the different experiences you gain, to me, is so much more valuable.”
Get resume help from LACS
Learning how to turn a so-so résumé into an attention grabber is something Elizabeth Brogan is now able to do for others. She discovered that skill while taking The English Major in the Workplace course offered through Liberal Arts Career Services in the fall semester of 2007. By spring of 2008 Elizabeth had received numerous calls from recruiters after finding her résumé in BTT Gateway.
“I’d made the usual mistake with my original résumé of simply listing all of my college activities, which communicated very little other than I’m super-involved,” admits Elizabeth. “The new version is much clearer because it makes connections for potential employers between my transferable skills and the value I can bring to the workplace. It highlights the difference I can make to that organization. The English Major course I took with Dr. Brooks was hugely influential in helping me shift my thinking. She said something in class that I wrote down and review every day: English majors don’t make the product, we make the product better. It was therefore up to me to be able to explain to recruiters how my skills and experiences could do just that.”
Some of the recurring comments Elizabeth heard from recruiters were not only that her résumé looked good, but it mirrored the résumés of people who had worked for their company previously, or matched with the activities of their most successful employees. It was Elizabeth’s role as a Disney birthday princess that was the biggest talking point, however.
“I’d been working for Alley Cat’s Imagination which involved attending children’s birthday parties dressed as Snow White, Cinderella, Sleeping Beauty, Belle from Beauty and the Beast, and Ariel the Little Mermaid,” explains Elizabeth. “Aside from acting out that particular role, I’d make balloon animals, play games with the children, and do face painting. I decided to highlight my experience after hearing Dr. Brooks’ story about how a former student had made a greater impact with recruiters by talking about the time she had worked as the Krackle bar at Hershey’s.
“It was definitely a great selling point,” adds Elizabeth. “During one interview, I had an offer within the first 20 minutes. The recruiter and I made a connection because I had the right kind of personality with proven people skills that they needed. After all, when it comes to the technical aspects of a job the organization is going to be able to train anyone with reasonable intelligence. But when it comes to having the right personality and attitude—particularly for any job where I would be representing the company, it is crucial that I am comfortable meeting and connecting with lots of different people—you have to hire for that.”
Elizabeth’s top tips for crafting a compelling résumé:
- Formatting is a large part of making sure your résumé stands out. Not only does it need to look attractive, but key words linked to what the prospective employer wants have to almost jump off the page. I worked with one of the LACS career coaches to hugely improve my résumé, and highly recommend any student to do the same.
- Think about how you can turn your general résumé into one that is targeted to the specific needs of the employer. For a recruiting position, for example, I was able to demonstrate that I have strong people skills, an outgoing personality, and lots of self-confidence by highlighting my role as a Disney birthday princess.
- Don't be afraid to put something unusual on your résumé, including something you might have done during a summer job, as a volunteer, or for extra money. Recruiters are curious human beings and it must make their jobs more interesting to find something on a résumé that is out of the ordinary. If nothing else, it can be a great conversation starter, helping you to relax and feel more comfortable in an interview.
I have always had an interest in education, but I never expected that interest to lead me directly into the classroom. Like many students at UT, I had heard about Teach for America since I was a freshman, but it wasn't until my senior year that I realized how great a fit this program was for me. I always planned on doing public service for a couple years after graduation and after exploring various options, I decided I wanted to teach.
The goals and mission of Teach for America aligned with what I was interested in doing as a teacher for my students -- to help close the achievement gap created by inequity within and between our nation's schools. As an English major I understand how inspiring literature can be to a young student, not least how it is possible to stretch the imagination and explore unknown cultures, times and places. I wanted to be a part of introducing that gift to students, in addition to teaching them the basics of reading and writing, which are so fundamental to achievement in every classroom subject.
What Teach For America Wants
With all this in mind, I began navigating Teach for America's rigorous application process which involved completing an online application form, submitting an essay, and taking part in both a phone interview and an all-day in-person interview. Throughout this process, I became aware that the recruiters were looking for students who bring leadership as well as idealism to the classroom. A core principle of Teach for America is "Teaching as Leadership," meaning teaching to inspire students through effective leadership and creative management of a classroom. Their main criterion is to find students who have the capability to excel in a classroom setting, particularily those who can inspire their students through devotion to principles of leadership. During their strenuous five week institute, the Teach for America Corps successfully turns a class of new corps members -- representing a wide range of ages, educational attainment, and people from different geographical locations -- into confident teachers who can walk into a classroom and raise each student's expectations for achievement and performance way beyond what they might have originally thought possible.
Teach for America gives college graduates the opportunity to positively affect the future of American education from the ground up. One of the most amazing things about Teach for America is that after its corps members leave the classroom they always retain the Teach for America ethos and are indefinitely dedicated to closing the achievment gap in America's schools. That's why I decided apply for the Teach for America Corps; even if I don't continue teaching after my two year stint with them, this learning will help inform my future work for educational equality.
Teach for America isn't the only organization which promotes these ideals in the classroom -- Texas Teaching Fellows offers a similar program. Positions with the Texas Teaching Fellows are available in Austin, Dallas, El Paso, and San Antonio. This is a one year commitment compared to the two years with Teach for America. Also, Texas isn't the only state with a teaching fellows program; similar programs can be found throughout the United States including the New York City Teaching Fellows, and the DC Teaching Fellows. All of these programs have the same goals -- to bridge the achievement gap within American classrooms by developing teachers who are dedicated to this ideal in the classroom. Whichever program you decide to apply for, this is the perfect opportunity for the idealistic college student (like me) who is eager to change the world from the ground up -- in our schools.
Tony Gaston, Jr.
Tony Gaston, Jr. knows what he wants to achieve and how to realize his career goals. The fact that he didn’t get admitted into the business school just required some extra planning on his part. Tony is currently getting his degree in psychology and is using that platform to take as many courses as possible that move him towards his goal of becoming a business psychologist. This includes classes offered through the Texas Interdisciplinary Program (TIP), and the Bridging Discipline Program’s concentration in Ethics and Leadership, that he included as a minor. As Tony sees it, “If you have a plan and know what you want to achieve, with guidance and the right advice you can make your psychology degree fit whatever direction or career you want to take.”
By taking that approach, Tony is being both smart and strategic. He noted, for example, how his friends in the business school were channeled not only into doing internships in their freshman year, but also resumé workshops, and long-term career goal setting. Although there are no mandated requirements in Liberal Arts, Tony could see the advantage of accruing the same kind of experiences early on. He is therefore a frequent visitor to the Liberal Arts Career Center library where Tony has a quiet, private place in which to work on his resume, search for internship opportunities, and develop his interviewing skills. Having completed one summer internship in Washington, DC, during which he worked with high school students interested in pursing medical careers, Tony is gearing up to secure other internships before graduating in May 2009.
Tony’s long-term aim, however, is not to work with young people directly, but to accrue the business acumen and psychological knowledge that will enable him to advise and support businesses that do.
“The United Nations, the CIA’s Community Relations initiatives, and the African Methodist Episcopal Church – all of which I’m interested in working for—are all invested in some way in the academic and social enrichment of children. Whereas such programs are always well-intentioned, and have a lot of passion driving them, unfortunately they are not always developed in the most efficient or effective way, which is why so many of them fail,” explains Tony. “With the blend of psychological and business know-how that I am building as a Liberal Arts major, I intend to use my expertise to design and implement programs that are successful and sustainable.”
For Tony, being a Liberal Arts major instead of a business major is contributing to his long-term career goals.
“When I was doing work study in the Center for African & African American Studies, I met a number of Afro-Brazilian professors and graduate students that not only increased my appreciation for the Portuguese language, but also made me realize how having this second language could be valuable to my career goals,” says Tony. “Many countries in Africa and South America, areas where I would like to assist communities in developing programs for children, speak Portuguese.”
It should come as no surprise, therefore, that with his grounding in psychology, business acumen, and language skills, Tony is confident in his competitive appeal to prospective employers.
Tips from Tony:
- If you are a freshman, I encourage you to start applying for internships during the spring using resources and advice available through Liberal Arts Career Services. You’ll find there are a great many opportunities with big-name companies that may not be available to you beyond your first year.
- Network with your colleagues from all disciplines to discuss and discover how your major relates to, and fits in with, career opportunities you might otherwise not have thought of.
- Broaden your range of experiences to include working for organizations, being part of research groups, or volunteering in areas that are not directly related to your major. Remember, your college years are one of the few times in your life when you can explore and experiment with what you want to do with your life, without major cost. In fact, it’s probably more helpful to try something and then decide it’s not what you want to do while you’re in college, than come to that conclusion only after you’ve invested 5, 10, or 15 years in that career.
It seemed like the perfect opportunity. There she was at the Roller Derby, having fun with some friends, when English senior Liz Aiello noticed that Whole Woman's Health were tabling there. Liz might never have paid attention to that as a career opportunity, let alone go up and introduce herself, had it not been for what she learned during Dr. Kate Brook's English Major in the Workplace course.
Explains Liz, "One of the things we did in that class was an exercise called 'possible lives' in which we map out all the different things we've experienced in our lives and then look for threads or patterns among them. When I saw my map I realized how much I love my work for the University Health Services. I'm a healthy sexuality peer educator and get to teach my peers, through workshops and classes, about contraception methods, STDs, body art safety, and other sexual health-related topics. I decided to look at ways to do this kind of work after I graduate, rather than just think of it as something I did while I was in college."
Liz set an intention to find opportunities in this field, something Dr. Brooks encourages her students to do in order to capitalize on the butterfly effect that can yield unexpected benefits. In her book You Majored in What? Mapping Your Path from Chaos to Career (Viking, 2009), Dr. Brooks explains what this means:
"The butterfly effect states that a small incident at the beginning of a process (such as a butterfly flapping its wings or a graduate speaking at a career event) can produce a large variation in the long-term outcome (ultimately causing a tornado or a new career). A chaos-based career system allows for change and the unexpected. It takes into account your diverse interests and broad scope of knowledge, and takes advantage of how the job search really works today. You might be surprised to learn that in one study of university graduates almost 70 percent reported that their careers were significantly influenced by unplanned events -- in other words, the butterfly effect..."
The "small incident" that helped Liz set in motion a possible career path was to go up and introduce herself to members of Whole Woman's Health who were tabling at the Roller Derby -- which included their director. According to their website, the organization employs "physicians, nurses, medical assistants, counselors, social workers, administrative assistants, and patient advocates," as well as offering volunteer and internship opportunities.
"After a brief conversation with the director, who was excited by my passion for this work, she gave me her card and invited me to submit my resume and cover letter with more information about myself," adds Liz. "Luckily I had a much more professional one prepared because of the work we had done on resumes in Dr. Brooks' class, and I sent it to her the next day."
The day after that, Liz received an email saying that the office manager would be in touch to set up an interview.
"The interview itself was a very good experience for me. I felt so relaxed because in the English Major in the Workplace course we are taught how to answer difficult interview questions, and the importance of preparing stories and examples to demonstrate that you have the skills, experience, and knowledge that the employer is looking for," says Liz.
Liz impressed the interviewer to the extent that she's been invited to come for a second interview, during which she will meet the staff of Whole Woman's Health, which (at time of writing this article) has yet to take place.
But whether or not she walks into a job after graduating in May, Liz recognizes how much more confident she feels about securing the right career for her.
"Thanks to this course I have a great resume and know how, in my cover letters, to clearly express how amazing I am, what I can do, and how this fits with what the organizations needs," concludes Liz. "I've also got a new-found confidence in my ability to make things happen -- to create my own butterfly effect -- that will benefit me throughout the rest of my career."
Major in the Workplace (LA310IL) is a one-credit course that will be offered again in the fall and is open to any major