Humanities graduates changing careers – can you succeed?

A Humanities graduate *and* an aspiring entrepreneur? Cue laughter (and some useful resources for the doubting Humanities graduate)

A few months ago, I wrote a bit about some lessons that I’ve learned so far on my entrepreneurial journey. What I have only recently started learning though, is that being a Humanities graduate in the business arena is…somewhat…challenging. The tough thing about being a Humanities graduate is that, in most cases, you don’t have any clear career path carved out for yourself.

It’s all up to you to navigate the murky waters of the working world, in whatever direction seems fitting. As a Humanities graduate, you know that your degree was stimulating, tested your skills, and provided you with a depth of experience in a particular discipline. The problem is figuring out how to communicate the relevance of those skills to the working world. How do you convince the big guns in the corporate world that the skills you’ve developed are an asset?

Here’s the thing though. When you tell somebody that you have a Master’s degree in [insert Philosophy, Research Psychology, English, Anthropology, Sociology, African Languages etc.], people either stare at you blankly or smile politely and try to figure out how to ask you what it is that you actually do. This is perhaps comical in a social setting, but when you’re trying to get a job, and the interviewer wants to know what experience you have…that’s not so funny. Take it one step further – how do you convince potential investors or clients that your business idea is worth investing in, or that they should give your services a chance?

These are the challenges that I have been grappling with in the past few months. What is my worth as a Humanities graduate? Did I waste 7 years of my life pouring my heart and soul into a useless discipline? Why didn’t I just go and study a Commerce degree? What can I do with my life besides becoming an academic? And do I have what it takes to start my own business? Do I even know anything about business?

In an attempt to try to fill my knowledge gaps, I recently attempted to join a business mentorship programme. As part of the application process, I was required to write a full business plan and complete a 12-month cash flow projection. This is enough for any Humanities graduate to assume foetal position and start rocking back and forth. Suffice to say that I made a pretty poor attempt at the whole application (despite spending full days working on it), and have since abandoned the idea of being part of the mentorship programme (a different story for a different day).

In the face of all the challenges I’ve been facing, I’ve been pretty down. I was told many times that starting your own business is tough. That you need to keep picking yourself up and moving forward. But it’s not always easy. Sometimes we need a pep talk. And sometimes we could do with some practical tools to drive productivity. So I’ve gathered some resources to help you to get up, lick your wounds, and keep moving:

1. A pep talk

In 2013, Australian Comedian, Tim Minchin, was awarded an honorary doctorate by the University of Western Australia, and was invited to deliver the graduation speech. The speech went viral, and for good reason. This is the ultimate pep talk for any Humanities graduate.

2. A career blog with a plan

I stumbled upon a great blog yesterday:, a “a career guide for lost Humanities majors”. The author, James, documents his journey from academia to the ‘real’ world and gives excellent, practical pointers for making that transition. In my favourite post so far, he gives practical advice to Humanities graduates for writing a cover letter that will get you hired. Even better, he offers a free 14-day email Career Planning course. I’ve signed up for it, and will review it at the end. If, after using his free resources, you want some more direction, you can buy his e-book, How to Find a Career With Your Humanities Degree in 126 Days, an 18 week guide. I haven’t gotten that far in the journey yet, but if his blog is anything to go by, I’m pretty sure I’ll be buying that book in the next few weeks.

3. A free course for developing a great start-up idea

I’m a great believer in open access online courses (or MOOCs – massive open online courses) – high quality online courses available from top universities and learning institutes in practically every discipline. I’ve just signed up for a self-paced course on Udacity, called How to Build a Start-up. This course covers all the essentials of creating a good business model, using interactive tools as you learn.

If you’re up for doing the course, but need some moral support, sign up for the course and let’s do it together. I’m excited to gain some practical knowledge in business planning, but I know that my biggest challenge with free online courses is staying committed without the financial investment. Send me a message if you’re keen!

Have you come across some great resources for start-ups, entrepreneurs or freelancers? Share them in the comments!

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