by Andrea L. Spencer (@__aerdna___)
On Friday, February 8th, 2019, the Lepage Center for History in the Public Interest sponsored its second annual History Career Day.
The day began with a presentation by Emily Swafford, Director of Academic and Professional Affairs at the American Historical Association. Swafford acknowledged that it can be hard to explain what you learn in a history degree and articulate the skills you learned that can help you get a job. Swafford assuaged fears of not getting a job or not making money with statistics that the AHA collects. Swafford also focused on how to articulate the “soft skills” historians have into words and phrases employers want to hear. For example, history majors learn how change happens, how to find, process, and communicate information that is new to them, and how to make judgements and evaluations on complex issues.
After Dr. Swafford’s presentation, the Lepage Center provided lunch and an hour for attendees to informally network and she their experiences as history students–both undergraduate and graduate.
After lunch was a panel made up of 3 Villanova history alumni–Mark Kehres, Kathryn Szumanski, and Alain Duroseau–and moderated by Dr. Paul Steege. Each panelist described their career paths after Villanova and how their history degree helped them get where they are today.An audience member asked the panelists how their skills as a historian translate to their day-to-day job responsibilities. Duroseau replied that being a historian teaches you to be able to make an argument and support it convincingly, which is important in any job. Szumanski said that the most valuable skill she learned was how to put everything in context, which means learning from and understanding the past and how that informs present and future projects. Kehres believed that the most important skill he learned was clear and concise communication.
When asked specifically about applying to jobs, the panelists offered three main pieces of advice:
- Apply to any job within your interests. Many employers are interested in having all majors apply. They want diversity and creative thinking.
- Focus your job search by industry and then see how your skills apply.
- Know that, as a history major, you learn how to think about the world, how to problems solve, and how to communicate solutions.
The final session of the day was a workshop by Jhaakira Jacobs, the Assistant Director of Career Development at Villanova’s Career Center. Jacobs primary focused on how to write a great cover letter. Her advice was:
- Begin with an intro paragraph about how you heard about the position. This is a good place for name-dropping any connections you have to the company.
- Tell the reader why this organization appeals to you. Do your research, and decide if the company aligns with your values and interests.
- In the second paragraph, pull from the transferable skills you learned in the classroom, from your research paper, and your presentations.
- Here, you should mention 2-3 qualifications/experiences, what you took away from them, and how that is applicable to this organization.
- In the third paragraph, you want to reiterate your interests and tell them you will follow up soon.
Jacobs also said to follow up on a job posting 2 weeks after the close date. If you are struggling to describe yourself in your cover letter, get feedback from supervisors and professors about your strengths and talents. When writing your letter, a good way to start is to pick out the key words in the post and brainstorm how you are qualified for them.
All in all, it was a successful and informative day that left attendees feeling positive about their position as job candidates after graduation. The Lepage Center always welcomes feedback on all its events, so please drop by SAC 410 or email firstname.lastname@example.org with your comments!
If you want to learn more about getting a job as a history major, here are some sites to check out: