Hiring undergraduate humanities majors — what I sometimes miss

I have interviewed and hired many job candidates who majored in one of the humanities as an undergraduate.  I have liked most of what I have seen, above all educated, curious minds and a wish to turn from learning in school or college to doing on the job.  But sometimes I miss things I need in my employees, and I tend not to hire people who lack them.  Here are those skills and traits that I need and sometimes don’t find: some particularly apply to humanities majors, but many are applicable to any entry-level employee with any background and training.

Everybody needs to know how to work with a basic workplace productivity suite: e-mail, spreadsheet, presentation.  It can be Microsoft, Google, Apple, or something else.  And all new employees need to be able to switch from the one they know and like to the one widely used at their new job, without undue grousing (there is always some grousing).

A high-level understanding of statistics and data is helpful.  You don’t have to be a statistician, or even take a course in it: you have to be comfortable around data and the questions it raises and able to engage in discussions of it.  For an excellent introduction to how these questions play out in many fields, I recommend Nate Silver’s The Signal and the Noise.

An understanding of how software code works is also helpful.  I do not mean you need to learn to code!  But to understand how software will be relevant to your new job and your organization’s purposes, you need to understand what code does and how.  If this subject is new to you, chat with some of your friends who know or work in this area and ask them to help you understand at a high level what they do.

When you join an organization, you will have a manager.  Especially in your first jobs, working well with your manager is essential in acclimating yourself to your new workplace and getting your career off to a good start.  Here’s the first in a series of three posts on how to have a good 1×1 with your manager.  Make sure you can tell an employer how you worked in situations when you had someone supervising you.

In most cases, you will be working in teams more than you did as a student.  Sometimes students believe they won’t enjoy working in teams, fearing a loss of independence, but in my experience, if they are open to trying teamwork, they tend to enjoy it much more than they expected they would, as they learn that teams can accomplish more together than individuals separately.  Not working well in teams is a principal cause of failure in workplaces for employees of every background.  Be able tell an employer about occasions when you worked in teams to accomplish a goal.

I need my employees to communicate briefly and clearly in writing.  You will be communicating more frequently in writing than you may be used to, and you need to be able to write 250-750 words that describe problems, analyze data, contextualize problems, and persuade audiences to adopt particular courses of action.  This is one of the main reasons I ask for a writing sample for many entry-level jobs.  Any kind of sample is fine — people often use writing they did not do for a class — as long as it shows clear prose and clear reasoning.  Ask yourself this question: how does your employer want you representing him or her to a customer?

Finally, it’s important to think about what kind of workplace colleague you will be, where you will be working with many people who are not necessarily your friends or in your own age group. You won’t always get along with everyone at your workplace, but you have to treat everyone well, work together toward common goals, and work with people of different races, religions, backgrounds, tastes, interests, ages, and outlooks.  The best book I have ever read on good colleagues is a book about bad ones: I recommend The No Asshole Rule: Building a Civilized Workplace and Surviving One That Isn’t.

Good luck on the job!