I'm a recently graduated political science student from McGill University looking for a job in the Greater Toronto Area. I find it hard to get an entry-level job in companies because a bachelor of arts doesn't seem to resonate well with employers compared with a degree with more apparent skill sets. Do you have any advice on how to promote my BA to employers as more than just a run-of-the-mill degree?
Unless you are applying for positions that require a specific knowledge base (such as an entry-level position in a DNA testing facility where a science degree is preferable), employers generally don’t put a lot of emphasis on what kind of bachelor’s degree you have, as long as you have one. This is because graduating with a degree usually means you are trained in a particular way of thinking – being logical, analytical and methodical. Hiring managers look for these general skills as they can be applied to any work environment.
Rather than putting all your emphasis on the political science degree itself, focus on selling how the skills you’ve acquired from your degree can translate in the workplace. Employers are time-strapped, so don’t wait for them to make the connection between your degree and your work skills. Make that clear connection yourself. Highlight your ability to think independently and critically.
Demonstrate how your spatial and abstract thinking allows you to conceptualize strategic ideas. Promote your political science degree’s advantage in understanding how government processes work. Create a portfolio of writing samples to show prospective employers your skills in technical writing, editing and analysis.
Keep in mind that you are competing against many fellow students in your job search. You must sell yourself, not just your degree. Articulate your “whole package.” What kinds of extracurricular activities have you participated in? Did you work through your university years? Did you do volunteer work? What kinds of transferrable work skills did you acquire? For example, if you hosted a debating tournament for 200 out-of-town students at your university, translate this into event-management skills. If you were an athlete in university, talk about your competitive edge.
Speak about what you’re capable of in the most succinct manner possible, and be smart in how you present yourself. You’d be surprised to hear how many new graduates use the word “like” excessively. Keep all the rules in mind, such as dressing the part, offering a firm handshake, and above all selling your personality with confidence.
There’s a saying that goes, “Hire a smile and train the rest.” Companies can teach new skills, but they can’t teach someone to have a good personality. Show employers who you are, and let them know: “I have a lot to offer. You need to pay attention.”
Julie Labrie is the vice-president of BlueSky Personnel Solutions in Toronto.
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