By Susan Ott
Many students who go back to school assume that they must earn a degree in a business major to compete for jobs in the business field. But times are changing, as more and more corporations look beyond students with business degrees and are hiring those with degrees in other majors as well, since those majors tend to teach skills that some business majors lack. According to the New York Times, many business schools are even revamping their curriculums to add more non-technical, liberal arts type courses to make graduates more well-rounded, and therefore more marketable in today’s job market.
“Soft” Skills Can Be Strong
Many employers now look for job candidates with “soft skills” in written and oral communication, analytical thinking and teamwork that tend to be emphasized in non-business degree programs. In fact, HR experts now estimate that up to 30% of all companies have begun using “behavioral interviews,” which focus far more on the candidate’s experiences, behaviors and complex thinking abilities than on technical or business skills. According to the Wall Street Journal, Microsoft is just one of many companies which freely admits that “behavioral interviews might take precedence over candidates’ technical skills.”
If you already have some credits towards a non-business degree, you may be able to use the knowledge gained in your current program to get started in a business career, rather than switching gears completely to go after a more classic business degree. Below are some popular non-business degrees that can translate well into a career in business.
A degree in Psychology will train you to study and analyze human behaviors and emotions while honing your oral and written communication skills. Many psychology majors find their talents well suited for a job in human resources or management, since their degree prepares them well to deal with personal issues and conflicts on a daily basis.
Marketing is another business field where a psychology degree can be a strong fit. Developing and selling products depends largely on understanding human behavior and desires, creating perceived needs and then developing and advertising products to fill those needs. Psychology majors tend to be well-equipped to study and analyze human behavior and advertise products to appeal to a large population, which can be a strong foundation for a marketing career.
It is possible to study psychology with a specific business specialization. Industrial/Organizational (I/)) Psychology is a major that concentrates on the study of workplace behavior. The courses in this major equip students to use research techniques to analyze business environments from banks to car assembly lines, and then use that research to create recommendations on how to improve employee productivity. The information may also be used to help a company select the employees who are best suited for particular jobs. Degrees in industrial psychology were once offered only at the graduate level. But because the field has grown in popularity, it’s now possible to study it at the bachelor’s level. Graduates with this specialized psychology degree pursue careers in business areas including human resources, management, marketing and sales.
You may think an English degree will only prepare you for writing poetry or analyzing literature. But English majors actually possess a variety of skills that are valued in the business world. English majors usually write well, are often good public speakers and generally have a good set of communication skills. In addition, they tend to be used to analyzing a complex problem or opportunity and drawing succinct conclusions about it. These are skills many employers need, but have difficulty finding in business school graduates, who often focus their studies on math-oriented analytics.
Business careers at which English majors can excel include public relations, where communication and presentation are central, and administration of all sorts of businesses in media (online, print, television or radio), government and advertising. Because communications skills are also critical to sales, English majors are often found among the ranks of top sales managers. And while a graduate law degree is required to practice as an attorney, a very large number of successful lawyers start their career path by getting a bachelor’s degree in English.
If you thought that all a history major is good for is teaching or working in a museum, think again. A history curriculum is heavy on research, analysis, persuasive writing and dealing with documents, all which can be translated to the business world. And history majors are experts at evaluating past trends and forecasting future outcomes — skills that many businesses need to draw up business plans, launch new ventures or even borrow capital. History majors have good training in how to understand past business models in-depth, how those models related to and functioned in society at that time, and how that information can be used to develop new business models that will succeed today.
This unique set of skills can equip a history major for a variety of careers in the field of business. Business jobs for a history major include banking positions, stock analyst, research analyst and advertising or marketing executive. Certainly some on-the-job training will be necessary, but the core skills possessed by a history major can help open doors in these business categories.
If you decide to obtain a liberal arts degree and then apply it to a job in the business world, be sure you have a clear plan. As you can see, many liberal arts studies translate well to careers in business, but it’s a good idea to think through how you will sell your unique set of skills in job interviews for a business position such as management or sales. And if you’re still in school, consider adding a few economics or business courses to your liberal arts studies to make you even more marketable. But the bottom line is that you don’t necessarily have to get a business degree to achieve success in the business world.
John O’Brien has been a writer, editor and consultant in higher education for over 14 years. His background includes writing for insidehighered.com and The Chronicle of Higher Education. As editor of College Degree Complete, he has advised hundreds of adult students on how to transfer colleges without wasting the credits they’ve already accumulated, to finish their degree programs in the fastest and most affordable way.