Finding a job is hard — especially since many employers expect more years of work experience in positions that students are interviewing for than they actually might have. This has never made sense to me: students are trying to land jobs in order to gain experience within their chosen fields. Among other questions and concerns that I have about the working world, one specific inquiry comes to mind: Why is it, in the minds of employers, that students with humanities or fine arts-related majors are not particularly hirable?
I’m a second-semester senior linguistics and Chinese major and part of the College of Humanities and Fine Arts (HFA) at UMass. I’ve never been very good at science or math and business never interested me. Languages and words have always caught my interest and I’ve always known that I wanted a career where I would be able to help others communicate with one another in order to bridge the gap of linguistic differences. My dream jobs are to either become a translator or work with ESL students. With less than a month left before not only the end of the semester, but also the end of my time here at UMass, I know that having a post-grad plan is important and I’ve definitely done all that I could to at least try to have something to tell my family when I do finish college. I’ve perused job websites like LinkedIn, Glassdoor, Indeed, and WayUp more times than I can count on both of my hands. I’ve searched the job database on UMass’ career site. I even went to one of the career fairs to try to meet some employers and learn more about their companies.
The day before the career fair I attended a workshop on how to navigate through each room of companies as an HFA major. I remember seeing an announcement for this workshop in an email and thought that it would be very helpful since I had never been to a career fair before. At the workshop, we were all advised to not “lead” with our majors when introducing ourselves to employers the next day because they might not take us serious, knowing that we had “less technically applicable” concentrations, and that we should instead start out with our relevant strengths in relation to where we would fit in the company. That night after the workshop, I stayed up for hours researching the companies that were coming to UMass, picking the ones that I was most interested in speaking with, making last minute edits to my resume, and choosing the perfect business-casual outfit to wear. I was both nervous and excited to see what this experience would hold for me.
The next morning, I woke up early, so that I would have enough time to prepare and walk over to the career fair. I walked into the first room that was set up and immediately came face-to-face with an associate. Although I wasn’t particularly interested in that company, I did remember reading about it on their website and decided it was a good practice for later on. I remembered the advice I had been given at the workshop the day before and started talking about my strengths, only to be abruptly asked by the associate what my major was. Since my major was right at the very top of my resume, I couldn’t lie.
I proudly said, “I study linguistics and Chinese,” as the associate’s face fell, immediately losing interest in what I had to say. “Oh. That’s nice, but I don’t think that there are any positions relating to that major at our company,” she said.
As the first employer that I had spoken to at the career fair, this was extremely discouraging and I can’t lie that it did shake my confidence a little. However, I decided to put on a brave face and continue on towards the next table in the room. While I did have some success throughout the fair, I found myself constantly having to defend my major to employers and how practical a linguistics degree really would be in each company that I spoke to. Someone even said, “What even is linguistics anyway?” in a very condescending tone.
I tried my hardest to advocate for the importance of language and communication in our very diverse country and how because of this, translation is important no matter what the concentration of the company or organization is. For instance, at the hospital both my parents work at, they are constantly in need of translators and interpreters for their many non-English speaking patients. Additionally, in business, translation is needed to communicate with other international companies. In the education system, there’s also a great need for translation between teachers and non-English speaking parents of students as well as for ESL programs.
Out of 140 companies that came to the fair and about 15 that I spoke to on my chosen list, only one employer really made me feel comfortable and told me that they would forward my resume along to their hiring manager. While some people might think that having just one successful conversation should matter more out of this experience, I disagree. This truly opened my eyes to how biased many employers are towards students with liberal arts majors as opposed to those with majors that they find more practical.
Although pursuing a liberal arts major like linguistics or foreign languages might seem ineffective, they actually help to increase communication skills (verbal and written), critical thinking, and problem solving skills for case by case situations, greater awareness of different perspectives, and analytical skills.
When you take away the major from someone’s resume, you may find that regardless of the type of degree they pursued, they have valuable skills that can be applicable in any position, and are on an equal level as any other major. While having this type of experience might deter some people from pursuing their major or their career, I personally believe that it made more determined than ever to find a job and prove employers wrong.