So, what are you going to do with that? This question will be lurking in many conversations for humanities and social science graduates as soon as they have left the world of academia. The economic benefit of poststructuralism and metaphysics is indeed hard to transmit. I suspect that this is one reason why humanities and social science graduates tend to feel more comfortable with the thought of landing a job in the cultural or educational sector – or to simply stay in academia – rather than apply for industry jobs or do something altogether different.
True, there are vast numbers of jobs in these fields. Project management, marketing, fundraising, journalism, science management, editing, consulting and event management in government and NGO jobs are only a few examples. Not later than a year after obtaining their degree, most graduates in the humanities and social sciences have entered the job market – more or less content with their jobs. Some of them will be happy to go to work every morning. Others will be content to have found anything at all.
So, is that not already the answer to what you can do with a humanities or social science degree? Actually: no. Because with a humanities or social science degree there is so much more you can do.
What follows is an eclectic selection of rather unusual professions:
You can work as a dispatcher and vehicle fleet manager in a start-up for e-bike logistics. Like Bernd (historian) who sees an electronically run freight bicycle from Velogista one day, starts talking to the driver, and shortly after coordinates freight transports for businesses in the city, manages repairs, commissions and warehousing, plans tours and contributes to team meetings. Does this have anything to do with history? On the content level, no. But a historian’s training to think multidimensionally or to identify the causes of problems, such as bottlenecks in the delivery chain, is a huge asset for Bernd’s day-to-day work. What else does he like about his job? He can fully live his passion for bicycles. On top of that, he identifies with the company’s values and goals: Bernd believes in relocating the inner-city delivery to electronic freight bicycles from both an economic and ecological point of view. He has a lot of responsibility in his job, and he is able to use his creativity and desire to learn new things.
You can open a tango studio and build an existence as a dancer and dance teacher. Like Rafael (German, Literature and Social Science major), who burned out in his management position in a call center, a subsidiary of E-Plus. It was then that he rediscovered a long-lost source of joy, tango, and overcame his view that tango dancing is not a profession. In reality, tango dancing and tango teaching are doubtlessly a profession – and, for Rafael, a particularly fulfilling one at that. Because tango is all about a kind of communication that connects dancers deeply, but without words. It is about empathetic awareness, about the seamless interaction of leading and following, about the expression of beautiful music. It is about personal growth. In his tango studio, Rafael daily experiences the exhilaration of sharing his emotional and dancing skills with his students. Was studying German necessary to do that? Maybe not. But Rafael says that his studies helped him develop the inner freedom to follow his passions – even if those rarely offer a ready-made path.
You can become a consultant and trainer for search engine optimization and online marketing. Like Karin (PhD in literature), who taught computer skills to women during her time at university, and later worked as a project manager in an IT company. Karin realised that it was not the content of her work that made her unhappy, but the working culture. And so she decided to become self-employed with her own agency Webgewandt and unite the best of two worlds: She works as her own boss both at her desk, where she is optimizing the ranking of her clients’ internet projects, and in seminar rooms, where she is explaining to freelancers and employees how they can integrate social media tools into corporate communications. Her academic understanding of culture and society influences her approach to business processes and html codes: they are all complex texts with properties and interconnections to be penetrated.
You can start a company that develops and sells radar modulators for the mining industry. Like Christian (PhD in German, M.A. in Philosophy and History), who founded indurad with a friend and travels through Brasil, Chile, Canada, Australia, India and China as Head of Sales & Business Development. Christian himself talks about his friend’s “crazy idea”… Crazy? As of 2017, the company has around 70 employees. Christian likes his job. His history studies enable him to evaluate and analyse his clients’ descriptions of problems like historical sources, to look for missing information, and to find further sources. This approach often reveals a much more encompassing picture of the problem as a whole, which makes finding a fitting solution much more likely. And in terms of meaningfulness? Beside the fact that we all fundamentally depend on minerals (gravel, sand and limestone to build houses and streets; iron, copper, cobalt to produce mobile phones and notebooks), indurad’s facilities save the emissions of approximately one coal power-station.
You can join a community in the country as a bee-keeping free spirit and “proud non-owner of a business card”, with your wife and children, working towards self-subsistence, and focusing on humans – with their need for authentic contact, belonging, quiet, creativity and freedom. Like Johannes (Politics, Philosophy, Economics), who realised during his experience at Teach First Deutschland that the system “(state) school” collided more and more painfully with his values and ideals: non-hierarchical and self-directed learning, honest appreciation of differences, active democracy. Because living costs in the country in a community like this are much lower than in the city, 10-20 hours of gainful employment per week are enough for Johannes and his family. He fills these hours with different jobs he likes and that are meaningful to him: as Frédéric Laloux’ (author of Reinventing Organisations) office manager, he manages the writer’s correspondence and appointments, as translator of a textbook on self-directed learning he contributes to the dissimulation of this topic that matters to him, as beekeeper he undertakes first attempts at harvesting and selling honey, and as facilitator he works in the big cities once in a while to facilitate large group events of NGOs and foundations.
You can work as an application consultant for top universities. Like Katharina (Politics, Philosophy, Economics), who first worked in a management consultancy, then in a start-up in the food industry for a few years. Before she gathered her courage to realise an idea that has been on her mind since her studies at Oxford: to facilitate entrance to Cambridge, Oxford and Co. for international students with no British public school socialisation through extensive coaching and advising. Katharina considers her decision to go to Oxford as “the best of her life” and so she loves helping others have a similarly intensive experience, and one that opens so many doors. And the second best decision of her life? – Easy: to found Oxbridge Bewerbung. [Author’s note: After nearly four successful years as the founder of Oxbridge Bewerbung, Katharina decided to join a venture capital firm as an investment associate.]
You can work as a Business Intelligence Consultant for a big automotive company. Like Max (PhD in Philosophy), who discovered the field of IT data analysis by chance, after many fruitless applications. What exactly does Max do? Big companies have huge quantities of data – about products, customers, finance. These data are managed in databases. They are analysed by business intelligence consultants according to different questions and criteria so that interesting information can be retrieved to support executives in making fact-based decisions. Studying philosophy has taught Max to think logically. He knows more about logical operators than some of his natural science colleagues. Solving puzzles and difficult problems remains a source of great enjoyment for him – just like during his time at university. The only thing he is not yet satisfied with is the meaningfulness of his work. But his knowledge of how to analyse large quantities of data is of course also relevant in the growing field of socially and ecologically driven organisations. In fact, Max has countless possibilities to steer his career in the direction he wants.
Which brings us back to job seekers’ possibilities. It is certainly true that humanities graduates can’t do everything. For some professions you need a specialist accreditation or qualification. But for the vast majority of jobs this is not the case, which is why there is virtually an indefinite number of possibilities – including for humanities and social science graduates. How do you get there? Think outside the box. Venture into worlds outside your subject area. Meet brave people and be inspired by them. There are so many of those people! And that’s the truth. (By the way, I just found out through a LinkedIn search that two of the three founders of tbd* also studied humanities subjects.)
For more inspiration and experiments around your job search – and more examples for possible jobs – visit my website.
Ulrike Schneeberg (PhD in American Studies) works as a career coach, business trainer and author. With her work she wants to contribute to the bridging of gaps between professional worlds, and to the cultivation of empathy, courage and play in the working world.