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Wednesday, April 30, 2008

A Philosophical Job Search

Hello, Evil HR Lady. I've got a question that may be a bit personal, but hopefully it's still general enough to be useful to you.

I'm a philosophy major. (Go on, laugh, get it out of your system.) Looking at postgraduate career paths, HR is a remarkably appealing option, but I'm worried about whether my BA would be taken seriously when I'm looking for jobs. Am I fussing too much, or could this be a real handicap after graduation?

A local college offers a postgraduate program that preps students to write the CHRP exams. Certainly, the CHRP designation would help, but a fancy designation on a lame-duck degree isn't much help at all. Would such a program help make up for shortcomings in my undergraduate degree, as far as employers are concerned, or would this just be a waste of a year and tuition?

Thanks for your time, in any event!

An Undergraduate

Ahh, you are one of the many who made a choice of a major without much thought to how you would get a job. I would laugh at you, but I majored in political science and my emphasis was political philosophy. My senior thesis was on Nietzsche, so you can tell how employable I was after graduation. (I, of course, sold truck bumpers and then went to graduate school to gain a master's degree in political science, making me extra un-employable. Should I send you some applications for grad school instead?)

Ahh, but to get a job in HR. Do you have any computer or analysis skills? Well, of course you have the latter--that's what you've been doing all these years. Are you willing to start at the bottom? Of course you are.

An HR analyst job might be attainable for someone in your shoes. It doesn't require a great deal of actual HR knowledge at the entry level. Staffing is also a good place to start.

Before you go out and spend money on a course, which may or may not help you, attempt to get an HR internship. We love people who will work for us for little or no money. (One year, I asked my boss for an intern for Christmas, and I actually got one! It was fabulous.) If that doesn't work, go to a temp agency and say you'll do ANYTHING as long as it is in an HR department. Either one of these solutions will teach you the basics of the HR language so you can sound like you know what you are talking about, even when you don't.

Keep in mind that you are not the first philosophy grad to go, "Oops, I have no marketable skills!" What you need to do is figure out what you can do, and network, network and did I mention, network, to get yourself into an entry level job. If that all fails, then sure, try the course option. But, I bet you'll land yourself a job without it. Get the certification later.


Katherine said...

As a Liberal Studies Degree* holder, I second the temp agency idea. Plus, you may find out HR isn't your cup of tea and find something else that is.

*in my defense, my degree is a specialized teaching degree, but 1 semester before graduation, I realized elementary school teaching wasn't my calling. I went to a temp agency, my first position was the one I'm in today, 7 years later. I'm back in school now for what I really want to be when I grow up (a pharmacist), but at least I've been able to support myself fairly well these last 7 years!

Lea Setegn said...

I'm curious as to why it's so easy to start in staffing -- especially since that's where my interest lies. I have a great entry-level job that's exposing me to everything from policies to professional development to recruiting to upper-level decision making, but I'm still most interested in sourcing, interviewing, and hiring.

Anonymous said...

Au Contraire. I am one of those folks who has a "fancy designation on a lame-duck degree." B.A. in History with a PHR.

And now I'm a seasoned (old) & wise (cynical) HR person spouting off in the blogosphere.

I agree try an internship. Just like a lot of folks I know. HR is something that happens to you on the way to something else. And either you'll love it or hate it.

Since I had a worthless degree, I always lived by the rule, do what you love and the money will follow. It works for the most part.

Anonymous said...

I work for a staffing company. Please come to us. It is a great way to gain experience!

Also, getting your CHRP is a great idea. Most of my clients are looking for it now when hiring for their HR departments. Besides, they know the criteria it takes to qualify for one and they will appreciate it.

Good luck!

Anonymous said...

Your local SHRM chapter would definitely have some resources!
I took the PHR as a recent grad and it has served me extremly well to learn loads of HR information quickly.

Anonymous said...

I suspect you haven't learned how to spin your degree properly, Undergraduate.

I also got a B.A. in Philosophy, and mostly in self defense I developed the elevator speech for why a Philosophy grad is good for almost any job.

I consider myself very employable with that degree, because almost every job I've found interesting has been looking for someone with a variation of this list: "critical thinking skills, problem solving skills, verbal and written communication skills, computer literacy and an ability to understand and communicate complicated ideas."

They may phrase it differently, and there's often specific things a particular job might require, but these are all fundamental skills. If you have those, you can get trained in the specifics, often faster than someone who doesn't have that list above.

Your Philosophy degree should have given you those exact skills. As Evil pointed out, if you've written a paper picking apart someone else's treatise, you've worked on your analysis and written communication skills. Philosophy courses also tend to be the most demanding as far as developing critical thinking skills. The ability to sort through long and complicated arguments is a basic survival skill for most philos students.

Yes, Evil is right, you need to start at the bottom, and there will be lots you need to learn in order to be good at your job. But learning how to think is fundamental to all the other learning you will do.

So think about what skills you do have that might be valuable to employers. Like critical thinking. Like being able to follow a convoluted employee handbook (after Kant, can this be any worse?) and understand it well enough to explain it to someone else.

You'll have to contextualize it for whomever you're speaking with, since most people don't actually know what philosophy teaches. But you should have a substantial list of useful skills already. It's just a matter of naming and claiming them.

Ok, I promise not to post another rant on your blog for at least a month Evil. :D

Anonymous said...

If you're looking to make a career in Human Resources, I highly recommend taking a post-graduate diploma at college after a liberal arts degree, especially if it's HR your after. I have a BA in Women's Studies (highly employable!) and four years ago I took an eight month program at college (called a post-grad diploma) which fulfilled my CHRP requirements.. Speaking as someone who has been through it, and as someone who has hired entry-level HR employees, my opinion is that HR education is essential for entry level these days. And the CHRP is becoming more and more important (depending on your seniority i.e. if you have 30 years experience, not having a CHRP won't hold you back).
Also, there are enough applicants vying for jobs that not having it puts you at a huge disadvantage, even if you are a referral. Networking isn't a bad idea. And if you just want to see what HR is like, temping is a great way to go. Good luck!

Anonymous said...

Good response. Andrea's comment is great too.

The philosophy major needs to stop thinking that that that degree was a mistake and start looking at the benefits. Very few people have jobs that have anything to do with what they majored in in college. English and history are great examples too - there aren't many jobs that require someone to analyze Moby Dick or the Middle Ages.

What employers do want are people who can think, speak and write. Any good liberal arts degree teaches those no matter what your major may be. Focus on those skills and good luck.

Anonymous said...

Amen to Andrea! Tech skills can be learned. The ability to analyze, do research, and write and speak well are harder to pick up OTJ.

My first job out of college was with an insurance company. They deliberately recruited liberal arts majors because they knew they could get a lot of really smart, good people cheap because other companies would overlook them.

There are lots of opportunities out there for smart, hard-working people. Good luck!


The English major

HR Godess said...

I am one of the few HR professionals that don't have a degree. I do have my professional certification but none of the positions I've held, required it. (That is unusual by the way)

You definitely will need to learn HR, especially employment laws. The most important part of HR (in my opinion) is the people skills. I have encountered many HR professionals in my 15 years that cannot stand helping employees in any fashion. I've been told that my knack for working with people is uncommon and it's a shame that it's not more common.

HR is all about (again, in my opinion) helping people feel good about where they work. The better you get at that, the better the company becomes. I'm a generalist but I excel at my people skills. It really does come from inside you. I'm not sure it can be learned, but it certainly is important! (in my opinion!)

Anonymous said...

BA in Psych, and no designation or certification here. Depending on what area of HR you want to get into, a certification may be very helpful (benefits, compensation, etc.). For the others, I find hands-on experience is just as useful, if not irreplaceable (i.e., employee relations).

Every time I hear a new grad tell me they lack "marketable skills" I just want to swipe them upside the head (a little rough, I know). But really-think bigger picture. It's not whether a course gave you specific instructions or answers to questions (like knowing a math formula). Do you have good analytical, writing, and time management skills? Did you do research, where you had to be creative and find your own answers to things? Did you learn quickly? Were you really pushed to think critically about a subject and develop your own perspective? These are all very marketable skills, and can be applied to a broad range of jobs. Yes, even-did you show up to class on time and submit your papers on time each week? Did you like that, or was that painful? All these play a part in what's the right job for you when you graduate, and I'm still amazed that grads don't think this way.

Anonymous said...

Andrea makes an excellent point. To get that philosophy degree you had to develop a bit of critical thinking skill and you probably wrote a bunch. Both of those are highly desirable skills. Listen to the advice about temp agencies and all, but also spend some time figuring out what you got from your degree that makes you desirable in the marketplace.

Anonymous said...

After graduating with a liberal arts degree, I also had a minor panic attack when it was time to step into the real world and get a job. I started at the bottom with a good company, and when a slot became available in HR, I moved sideways just to get my foot in the HR door. Since making the move, I have really wowed my manager with my ability to analyze problems and communicate with employees. My point: you may have to start at the bottom, but if you are smart and willing to work hard, you'll rise to the top like matter what degree hanging on the wall says.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for your advice to start doing anything in HR. But will there be then a possibility of career growth?