For many students, settling on a major is a choice that causes anxiety and quite a bit of hand wringing. Will I learn enough to succeed after graduation? Will I gain the skills I need to get a job?
At a recent panel hosted by the Office of Personal Career Development entitled “You Majored in What?” a group of UD alumni explained to anxious students how the comprehensive liberal arts education they received at UD opened doors and led to opportunities that they would never have thought possible. Below are their responses to questions posed by students, faculty and staff.
How did your background in liberal arts help you in your career?
Yvonne Freeman (BA Mathematics, 1989), VP of Total Rewards, Michaels: I think people underestimate how effectively liberal arts majors can block and tackle and process problems. There were a lot of things I could’ve done–and my liberal arts degree opened up a lot of possibilities for me. I, personally, would rather hire a liberal arts major because they are better prepared to tackle the unknown.
Bob Hyde (BA Secondary Education, 1975), Senior VP, Bank of Texas: They used to say that BA stood for “didn’t buy anything,” but I disagree. One of my first assignments was to take a 6 page letter that my boss wrote, make it better and reduce it to one page. People with liberal arts degrees focus on the view from 10,00 feet instead of the microscopic view.
Steven Harrell (BA English, 2009), Communications/PR Specialist, Jackson Spaulding: Marketing and communications is really just storytelling. With a liberal arts degree and especially with an English major, you’re really trained to tell stories and to synthesize large swaths of information from an intelligent point of view.
How do you balance the pursuit of education with the pursuit of a specifically liberal education?
Shannon Doherty (BA Psychology, 2013), Business Development Analyst, GM Financial: I had no technical skills when I graduated. But it I had 90 days to get a job or I would be living in my parents’ basement. You have to find a way to gain some hard skills. Chip away at them through summer jobs and internships. That’s one thing I wish I would have done differently.
Matt Victorine (BA History, 1991), VP and Regional Manager, Fidelity Investments: When you apply to a company, learn about all the jobs that they have to offer and figure out what skills you need to get into the job you want. You want to apply to a company that teaches how to do their jobs. I’ve done hundreds of interviews and these days, if you can half-way speak well, you’re advancing to the next round.
Hyde: Don’t be too hard on yourself. You’re not expected to have a full skill set when you graduate. And macroeconomics are in your favor–there’s a shrinking work force right now. Don’t be afraid to make a mistake. If an opportunity doesn’t work out, chalk it up to experience. Don’t get caught in analysis paralysis.
Victorine: There’s no better job market in the country right now than Dallas/Fort Worth. It’s a fascinating time if you’re looking to explore different companies. If you’re flexible and nimble, there’s a lot of jobs out there.
Harrell: I wandered in the desert for a good long mile. But I did a lot of freelancing while still at UD and I learned to say “yes” to just about everything as long as it was ethical. Even though I might not be an expert in a particular subject, I at least had some familiarity and could move forward with a little training.
Freeman: We have a saying at Michaels that we hire for attitude and train for skills. If someone can at least carry themselves well, that’s half the battle. As a hiring manager, I know I’m not getting someone with a lot of prior experience, but I know that I can train the right person for the job.
The University of Dallas does not seem to have a high brand recognition, even in the Dallas/Fort Worth area. How have you explained UD to potential employers?
Victorine: It’s important to know your story. Explain to people that UD is a great, small university and tell them why you came here.
Harrell: The lack of recognition can be a negative but it can also be a real positive. You can tell your own story: “Here’s the kind of person I am because I went to UD,” instead of, “Oh, you went to Baylor, I know what you’re all about.”
Doherty: There are a lot of Ivy League grads in the The GE Capital Leadership program that I’m in. But because UD grads have proven themselves so well, there are more and more UD people in the program. UD people want to help UD people.
How did you gain the additional skills you needed to be successful in the job market?
Victorine: Take the first opportunity you can to get in the door of a good company, and then they will train you to do the job they want you to do. Big companies will teach you how to do the job.
Hyde: Think about what you would like to do, and then getting paid is the frosting on the cake. Look for companies that have a future and who are doing something good in the community.
Do you use your major in your job?
Freeman: Math at a liberal arts school is different from math at another college. I feel like I use my ability to think logically every day. I like having problems to solve. I would get bored otherwise.
Hyde: You’ll be surprised–you’ll use your major in unusual ways.
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