How to land a job in tech with a liberal arts major

How to land a job in tech with a liberal arts major

There’s avid discussion in tech these days about the relative value of liberal arts degrees in the tech world. After all, what can you do with an English degree that is actually applicable to a rapidly growing software company?

As it turns out, I’ve observed a whole lot of value in my five years at HubSpot. Others disagree and consider a liberal arts degree pretty useless; take Marc Andreesen, for instance, with his oft-repeated quip that the “average English degree holder is fated to become a shoe salesman.” Ho hum.

In fact, I’ve hired 100+ liberal arts graduates, and interviewed a multiple of that number in search of the very best to work at HubSpot. Based on that experience, here are three key tips for liberal arts graduates to land a job in tech, no shoe-selling required:

Actively Invest In Your Potential

One of the buzzwords around hiring liberal arts majors is “potential,” as in, “your rhetoric degree provides you with potential to succeed in a communications-related marketing position.”


But as a hiring manager, “potential” is something I’m only willing to invest in if you’ve already invested in yourself and can show how your skills are relevant. For example, I love seeing English majors who managed their college newspaper – it shows leadership, and typically reflects an ability to give and take feedback well. But just working on your college newspaper puts you in the same category as thousands of your peers. That’s an unfortunate fact of life for recent grads nowadays.

So how do you stand out from the pack? In the example above, I’d look for a college newspaper editor to have a WordPress site featuring his or her recent content, along with some pieces they’d crafted for Medium, or LinkedIn. Doing this reflects an ability to go from consideration to action, and shows me that your “potential” matches a willingness to work hard and try new things. Unrealized potential is an un-cashed check – plan accordingly and take that next step to show off your skills and potential.

Revise Your Resume’s Narrative 

Most people have terrible resumes (or at least terribly boring). Liberal arts majors are no exception.

Many liberal arts majors focus their resume real estate on college coursework or high school awards and recognitions, neither of which do much to support your hunt for a great job in tech. Take a long, hard look at your resume – what story does it say about your ability to learn new skills, demonstrate technical savvy, work with others, and communicate effectively?

If you can’t answer that question, invest time and effort to revise your resume with new projects that highlight your skills. I’m more interested in someone who took the time to create the world’s best damn cat blog (and probably learned a thing or two  about marketing and web design) than the class numbers for all the classes you took in philosophy this semester.

hiring company building blocks

Liberal arts majors tend to think of resumes as a list of accomplishments, but good resumes tell great stories, and are part of a broader narrative for your candidacy that includes your digital footprint, your job application, the research you do for your job interview, and your references.

If your resume and LinkedIn profile currently read like a laundry list, spend a fair amount of time revising and updating them–your experiences and skills should be recent, relevant, and readable even with a quick scan. In this specific instance, cat blogs > course numbers and details.

Do Your Homework 

Actual homework is important, but researching potential employers is imperative. It’s also a remarkable way in which liberal arts graduates can use their research skills to really stick out from the pack. Most candidates do a quick Google search before crafting their cover letter and resume, and that’s a fatal mistake: instead of applying to thousands of jobs with the same application, identify a few companies with roles that are truly a fit for your skills, background, and interest.

Really invest the time to understand what their company culture is like, what they sell, what problem they uniquely solve, and how you could contribute to their success.

The best candidates show what they know about our company in their application, and approach phone and in-person interviews with surgical precision, arriving armed with recommendations on things we can do better on our website, a clear understanding of HubSpot as a company and culture, and having read a reasonable amount of the content we produce.

> on July 5, 2013 in Alexandria, Virginia.

Why is this so important? If you can apply a critical framework to researching a company and preparing for an interview, it shows hiring managers you can think, prepare, and work toward a goal. And that’s important in business, too! If you can do it outside of a job, you’ll sure as hell do it once it pays your bills.

There is massive demand in the job market for engineers and developers in the tech world, but people often underestimate the demand for problem solvers, great communicators, and employees who can quickly and efficiently learn new things. Those skills are imperative to delivering a great customer experience, to marketing a remarkable product, and to scaling a rapidly growing team – all of which most tech companies need to do today.

So don’t let the lettering on your degree determine your ability to land a job in tech. Convert your potential into action, tell a compelling story, and do your homework instead.

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