I’ve been fed up for quite some time now with the notion that history majors are of little practical use to the world, won’t land good jobs, and have no place on senior management teams of the Fortune 500. Articles like this leave me gobsmacked.
I don’t know where that idea comes from: We history majors (and often the parents) or the business world. So a word to each.
But first – just to shake it up quickly – Martha Stewart. Lee Iacoca. Tamara Vrooman. Lord David Sainsbury. Anita Roddick. All history majors, and that’s just a cursory check.
History Majors: Do you want to be a barista? Then by all means go to Italy, learn all about coffee, and be the best barista you can be. But for god’s sakes don’t start out in life assuming your only option will be serving coffee or something else equally low-paying. That’s simply not true unless you perpetuate the myth for yourself – and others – by spending your energies getting that kind of work.
Do you, O History Major, harbour suspicion towards the business world? You should – we all should – in that anything involving people is riddled with self-interest, corruption, and competing interests. That’s the way of All Of Life, not simply the business world. But surely as history majors you also know this by now: there are greater and lesser Goods. Some businesses operate more ethically than others. Some places that ostensibly are doing good are naively doing harm. Some places (I’m thinking of the mining industry) have a bad rap but are in fact sometimes surprising us by taking real leadership. All places are a mix, and you can be part of influencing that mix. Or you can serve coffee and bitch about it.
Will you need to make the case to prove your value, even when you shouldn’t have to? Perhaps. So did women. So do people of colour. So go out and do likewise. Here is a starter list of why you should be running Starbucks, not serving it.
Decision makers and HR folks, a letter:
Allow me to make the business case for hiring, promoting and prizing history majors.
1. History majors can scan vast amounts of information, find what is relevant to your business, and also discern which sources are credible, and which are not.
Need someone who can scan the business environment and reliably provide you critical information? Hire a history major.
2. History majors know that what is not said can be as important as what is said.
What’s your churn rate? Do you know why your customers are leaving? History majors can find out what your customers aren’t telling you, and recommend win-back strategies. Hire one.
3. History majors can identify themes and zeitgeists. What value do you place on picking up trends before your competition does? History majors can keep you ahead of the curve. Hire one.
4. History majors are usually fluent in more than one language. If you’re only doing business with English-speakers, skip to the next point and history majors, move to the next employer.
5. History majors connect the dots. They know that what happened in Country X affected Country Y. Need talent who knows the implications of seemingly disparate events? Hire a history major.
6. History majors construct well-thought-out arguments, after weighing one set of possibilities against another. Need someone to create smart, grounded strategies? Hire a history major.
7. History majors have a global mindset, having immersed themselves in learning about wildly different cultures and social systems. Need someone with humility towards other cultures and a flexible mindset? Hire a history major.
8. History majors know how to research and evaluate the findings. Need someone with the analytical skills to not only assess data, but who knows which questions to ask in the first place? Hire a history major.
9. History majors find out who the key influencers are. Need someone to lobby for you? Hire a history major.
10. History majors get the big picture. In fact, it usually spans millennia. Need someone not easily thrown by immediate events and can frame the micro events of your business into perspective? Hire a history major.
Photo credit: nemzetikonyvtar