A panel of businessmen and historians advised History graduate students how to market their academic skills to suit the demands of non-academic professions such as business and consulting at Dudley House yesterday afternoon.
Many of the students present said they were forced into the market for non-academic careers after finding permanent teaching positions to scarce.
The major problem historians face in the non-academic world is that few have the skills needed to "sell themselves" to prospective employers, despite their research, writing and information skills. "The fact that they have a Ph.D. and have taught esoteric courses is worthless," from the businessman's point of view, Robert Pomeroy, deputy advisor of the Inter-American Development Bank, told the students.
Pomeroy suggested that students take courses in statistics or computer programming, and use these skills as an "intellectual tool" to make their talents in historical analysis more useful to an employer.
Other panelists emphasized the practical aspects of job hunting, such as the importance of the resume which students tend to underestimate. Pomeroy said he was shocked to see resumes from history graduate students "with ketchup and mustard on them, and misspelled words."
The worst error students often make on their resumes, is over-emphasizing academic achievements, instead of focusing on job skills more immediately sought by employers, he said. Pomeroy also advised students not to be too selective in accepting possible jobs, and not to overlook "humble" jobs.
Student reactions to the panel varied from confusion to confidence to neutrality. "As a result of the meeting I have more questions that answers," one graduate student said.
Another student who wrote his dissertation on Medieval Russian criminology said, "I've got my share of job rejections, but it's challenging. You just have to convince yourself you can do it."