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Looking past the statistics

Zhibin Dai | Friday, September 16, 2011

As a recent graduate of the college of Arts & Letters, I am encouraged to see discussions about the challenges A & L majors face as they near graduation. However, I do take issue with some the statements in the “Don’t be Discouraged” letter (“Arts and Letters students: don’t be discouraged,” Sept. 15).

The primary issue is the use of employment statistics. While these statistics which claim that “97% of A & L majors are employed within a year” may be vaguely comforting, they may also be vaguely misleading. The statistics fail to elaborate on two key details. 1) How many students responded to the survey? 2) What types of jobs constitute “full-time” work? For example, the 97% employment rate is less rosy if the response rate is only 50%, and a number of those in “full-employment” were working in jobs that did not require a college degree.

The reality that A & L majors should acknowledge and accept is that, while it’s true that they possess strong “personal, analytic and communication skills,” so do students studying business, engineering, etc. But many of them have specific tangible trade skills in addition to strong intangible personal and intellectual abilities. The challenge for A & L majors is not simply to sell their abilities to employers, but to sell their abilities to employers relative to other job candidates who may possess a greater quantity of abilities.

Although this sounds bleak, all is not lost. My recommendations “in addition to seeking out the help of Career Services” are:

1) Be patient and persistent. The job market is tough, meaning that you will most likely face adversity. You will be discouraged from time to time. What is important is that you don’t give up.

2) Be flexible. Consider doing things you wouldn’t normally be willing to do, in employment contexts that are not ideal, i.e. working as an unpaid intern. Pricing your labor at zero is never ideal or encouraging, but companies often hire interns on full-time, so it may be a risk worth taking.

3) Get help from your parents. Networking isn’t simply about going out and meeting new people, it’s also about leveraging existing networks.

Good luck.

Zhibin Dai

alumnus

Class of 2009

Sept. 15