Published Date

October 21, 2018

Resource Type

AHA Resource, Booklet, For Departments, For Professional Development, For the Classroom

AHA Topics

Academic Departmental Affairs, Career Paths, Professional Life, Teaching & Learning, The History Major, Undergraduate Education

This essay is part of the AHA’s Career for History Majors Booklet.

By Loren Collins

In her book You Majored in What?, Katherine Brooks addresses a question heard frequently by history majors and graduates alike: “What are you going to do with that?”

As I neared graduation with my own BA in history, Anne Paulet, a professor and active member of the AHA, advised my cohort to be prepared to tell employers how our degree enabled us to “read, write, and communicate” with the best of the competition. Brooks, a career counselor, extends the argument, arguing that liberal arts degrees open an uncommon variety of doors that lead to boundless possibilities when we know how talk about them fluently and demonstrate the skills they describe.

As job candidates, we cannot assume that potential employers understand the value our degrees represent. We must be able to articulate that value in order to close the gap in their understanding. Fortunately, the American Historical Association’s Tuning project has traveled much of this distance for us. Every year, the National Association of Colleges and Employers (NACE) surveys a variety of industries to provide a ranked list of the top skills employers want from college graduates. When asking yourself how studying history has prepared you for the job market, start with the Discipline Core, and learn how it addresses the top 10 skills NACE has identified, listed below:


Top 10 Skills Employers Seek in College Graduates

  1. Communication
  2. Teamwork
  3. Making decisions and solving problems
  4. Planning, organizing, and prioritizing
  5. Obtaining and processing information
  6. Analyzing quantitative data.
  7. Technical skills related to the job
  8. Using computer software
  9. Creating and editing written reports
  10. Selling and influencing others

History is a dynamic course of study that will help you become an inventive and capable thinker, researcher, writer, and communicator. Take a moment to ponder those roles, as well as the projects, courses, or jobs that inspired you to experiment with them.

The history major encourages teamwork and trains students to approach issues from diverse viewpoints on the road to making informed decisions. Can you recall an instructor or fellow student who compelled you to reckon with an idea that ran counter to your experience or beliefs?

Historical research requires an apt use of primary sources, secondary sources, and an array of technology- and web-based resources—building a skill set that makes history graduates valuable assets to a variety of organizations. Few disciplines on your campus will come close to demanding the kind of writing and effective argumentation that your degree requires. And because history students take responsibility for much of their own learning and research, they can approach the job market with the confidence born of genuine independence.

So when you begin looking through job ads and job descriptions, don’t limit yourself. Instead, take a step back and ask yourself what skills you have that answer their needs, and consider how you can articulate those skills in the general terms above as well as in ways specific to your unique experience of a distinguished discipline.

Loren Collins is a proud graduate of the undergraduate history program at Humboldt State University in California. He has seen the value of the foundation it provided in his later endeavors: earning his MA in sociology and working to build career curricula for a variety of disciplines and programs at Humboldt State.