Tech companies are some of the top places to work for millennials and recent graduates. With autonomous work environments, quick opportunities for growth, and the chance to solve novel and relevant problems, many undergrads are already on the hunt for jobs at the best start-ups and scale-ups with the most innovative company cultures they can find. Unfortunately, most of us are not gifted with understaning the secret code of software engineers. Don’t fret Liberal Arts majors! (We’re looking at you Psych, English, Art, Theater, and History.) There are many opportunities within the technology space for your liberal arts degrees.
My undergrad degree is in psychology. How did I manage to break into such an exciting industry? The answer lies in knowing your strengths and weaknesses, and understanding the concept of framing (which I’ll explain later). In the words of Liam Neeson, you have a very particular set of skills -- skills you've acquired over a very long college career. Skills you can utilize to break into the tech industry. You just need to know how to leverage them.
Know Your Strengths
A liberal arts degree provides you with a few strengths that you can leverage on your resume and in an interview.
You Ask “Why”:You already have critical thinking skills. This sounds cliché, I know, but it is an invaluable asset. While it’s important to be able to take direction, blind followers don't help our business to grow at the astounding rate that it does. Those who question the status quo are the ones who propel us forward. Your college courses have taught you to think about the world abstractly and to ask the right questions, such as: “Why are we doing it this way? Is this the most efficient way to achieve our goals?” In an industry seeking constant improvement, this is a desirable strength.
Working Autonomously & Globally: Both tech companies and universities provide opportunities to optimize autonomy and collaboration. In order to obtain your degree, you’ve had to learn how to prioritize your time and manage solo projects. Conversely, you've also been required to work in pairs or groups. This prepares you to think globally by allowing you to collaborate with diverse individuals. It also flexes your communication and rhetoric muscles. In tech, you will be challenged to communicate with offices and remote workers across the globe. We want to see that you can excel as an individual contributor and be a team player.
Understand your Weaknesses
There are also a few important things we look for that may not have been provided to you by your liberal arts degree.
Technical Skills: One misconception about the tech industry, is that everyone working in it is technologically savvy. You don’t need to know how to build an app or understand the difference between backend and frontend coding to work in tech. What you do need to have is a genuine interest in the industry. This interest is demonstrated by the initiative you take to fill gaps in your technological knowledge. At HubSpot, we prefer “Learn it Alls” to “Know it Alls”. Different perspectives are not only welcome, but valued. We believe in this so much so that we offer an annual $5,000 tuition stipend so that you can continue to build skills even after you’ve started your career. What recruiters look for is either formal or extracurricular interest or experience. When I say formal experience, I’m referring to something like the completion of a college coding course, or an internship focused on collecting and analyzing data. However, formal experience isn’t the only way to validate your willingness to explore the unknown. An online codecademy course or the creation of a blog or website is equally relevant experience you could leverage to show that while you may have majored in philosophy, you have a genuine desire to start a career in the world of tech.
“Work Experience”: This is a big one. Work experience is the application of the strengths listed above, and therefore is critical for a recruiter to believe you have all the skills that you claim. If you don’t have any such experience in the traditional sense, there is the obvious answer of trying to obtain some before applying. Easier said than done. Alternatively, there are some nontraditional ways we can think about experience. The first is extracurricular experience. Maybe you were an active member of a college organization or club. Another is volunteer experience; a commitment to philanthropy can provide a wealth of understanding and life experience. Finally, any sort of leadership role can really help to propel an application forward. This could be in the form of a team captain, taking ownership of a group project, or public speaking. If you don’t have any such experience, take initiative. Sign up to volunteer at your local shelter, or join a new club. Taking responsibility for your own learning can help to make up for a lack of experience.
The Art of Framing
How you deliver a message is just as important as what you’re saying. The presentation of these strengths and weaknesses is paramount to getting a recruiter’s attention. To clarify, I’ll provide an example of how you can talk about each strength or weakness listed above.
Asking Why: “In my nutrition course, the professor asked us to keep a food diary in our notebook. I suggested instead that we utilize a food tracking app. Students are more likely to have their phones on them at all times to increase accuracy. We can also link our accounts and anonymously view class data as a whole. We ended up changing the assignment, producing more accurate results, and a bigger picture of classroom health.”
Working Globally: “A non-native English speaker joined my entrepreneurship club. Communicating complex ideas was difficult. We decided to utilize Google Translate and illustrations to make sure we were all on the same page for meetings.”
Technical Skills: “As an art major, I became interested in digital design. After exploring digital design courses, I realized I was fascinated by website creation. I’d had no previous technical experience, but I decided to take some online courses and learned how to create my own website for a project I’d been working on.”
Work Experience: “I’ve always had a passion for ventriloquism. When I went to college, I realized there were several other students who shared my interest, however no formal group was in place. I decided to start a formal club where we could meet, discuss, and practice our craft.”
Be honest with yourself regarding what you know and what you don’t. Frame what you know to best leverage your strengths. And take initiative about what you don’t to help fill the gaps. The exciting world of tech is always changing and it requires fresh perspective for survival. Your liberal arts degree is an asset. Now that you know how to leverage it, go out there and change the world.
Originally published Apr 9, 2018 10:00:00 AM, updated January 19 2023