‘What jobs can I do with my degree?’ – a practical exercise

‘What jobs can I do with a degree in X?’ is a question many graduates ask. If you hold a vocational degree like law or medicine, then there’s an obvious corresponding profession … but what about other subjects in the arts and humanities? There are no departments of English, French or History in a bank or a cancer research charity for instance. 

Work is not on the whole organised like school … the reality is that companies, charities and public services are organised into functional specialisms and teams. Take any medium to large organisation, and a core of professional practitioners (journalists, scientists, engineers, bankers) are supported by customer-facing functions (customer services, retail, sales) and behind-the-scenes functions (finance, IT services, property management). And guess what, many of the people in these support functions will be arts and humanities graduates, or social scientists, putting their skills, knowledge and experience to good use.

So if you’ve got a non-vocational degree, you need to ask yourself the question: ‘what support do organisations need to deliver their products and services, that I can provide, using my skills, knowledge and experience?’ That’s exactly what I did when I looked for my first job outside of academia, as an Bachelor of Arts in English Studies and a doctorate in Medieval Studies. I focused on the start-up world of e-learning and web-based training, having a hunch that they’d benefit from having an educational expert like me on the team, alongside the computer programmers. The rest, as they say, is history (not medieval history though).

In today’s competitive job market, a degree is a job enabler, not a guarantee of a job offer. While your degree shows you meet a certain standard of education, you also need to find a way to stand out from the crowd. That means identifying what unique skills you have, and what problems you can solve for an employer.

Let’s do a 3-part practical exercise to help you with this:

1. Skills Finding Exercise

Make yourself a drink, find somewhere quiet and write out all of the skills you’ve gained through your university studies. Then add all of the travelling, volunteering and work experience you’ve racked up. Use the following list of skills for inspiration:

Management skills:
Time management
Team working
Problem solving
Organising events
Managing a budget

Entrepreneurship:
Creating or doing something new
Earning money
Winning awards and grants
Networking
Experience beyond your home country

Communication skills:
Writing
Public speaking
Languages
Keeping stakeholders informed
Web, email, content creation and social media

Knowledge and information skills:
Learning
Research and analysis
Managing data and information
IT applications and programming languages
Subject matter expertise (gained via your university degree, travelling, volunteering, work experience and spare time activities)

2. Personal branding exercise

With your list of skills and experience in hand, you can now start to reinvent yourself. So you’re not just a History graduate looking for jobs where you can ‘use your History degree’ for instance. Flip it around and sell yourself as a content strategist who designs compelling social media campaigns to raise money for health charities, or as a market researcher who finds out what banking services customers really want, on behalf of challenger banks.

Go ahead and create your personal brand today, using your list of skills and experience as your inspiration.

3. Job finding exercise

Finally, move to action, and start identifying some organisations you really want to work for. Use job websites to find out what graduate roles are available in these organisations. Look carefully at the job descriptions and match your skills and experience to the role – not just your degree. Think about the following points:

  • What challenges and problems can you solve in this organisation?
  • How can you make things work more efficiently, or bring in more customers?
  • How can you support the professional practitioners in that company in their work?
  • What extra skills and experience can you bring, that this organisation doesn’t have at present, but needs?

Leave a comment below to let me know the personal brand you came up with, and what types of roles you’re going for. Or tweet your answer to @chrishumphrey on Twitter.

If you know someone who’s stuck on ‘what can I do with a degree in X?’, please share this post with them, using the sharing buttons on the right.

About Chris

I've made the transition from a PhD in Medieval Studies, into a career in business, consulting and project management. But I want to give something back to the researcher community, and help everyone who's facing the challenge of finding work outside academia. Jobs on Toast is a way for me to share my insights and experience, helping you to make a successful career change. Use my five-step plan to get started right away!

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