What I learnt in my job search as a fresh grad in S’pore with a ‘useless’ humanities degree

Hazimah Aminuddin reflects on the anxieties she has faced in her job search as someone who graduated with a more general degree.

Mothership | June 13, 2021, 11:44 AM

COMMENTARY: 23-year-old Hazimah Aminuddin shares her perspective as a humanities student who has often had to respond to questions on why she chose a more general degree, compared to something more specialised and "useful".

As a fresh graduate trying to look for a job in the midst of a pandemic, she also reflects on the anxieties she has faced in her job search.

Hazimah graduated from Nanyang Technogical University (NTU) with a degree in History in 2021.

By Hazimah Aminuddin

I’m one of those graduates entering the workforce in the midst of a pandemic. And the climate that we are graduating into seems gloomier than before.

For graduates of general disciplines like humanities and social sciences, anxieties are heightened as many companies have shifted their focus to preserving the core of their businesses, and are hence also more likely to prefer graduates from specialised courses.

If you are one of them, you are not alone.

After four years of being a history undergraduate, I’ve grown used to seeing faces of disbelief whenever people ask me about my university course. Often, people would ask “why History?” or “why not other more useful degrees?”

At some point, it gets frustrating and annoying.

But having applied to numerous companies (and to no avail), the internal voice of self-doubt has only grown louder, making me wonder if I have indeed gone for a "less useful" degree.

“Just apply”… but to what extent?

Unlike graduates of vocational courses, the career path of a humanities and social sciences graduate is not as straightforward. Due to the general nature of the discipline, it is possible for graduates to enter a range of industries.

It can be very tempting to indiscriminately spam your resume to multiple jobs at one time, making only small tweaks to your resume to fit the job scope. Constantly being told to “just apply” since “there is no harm trying”, I did just that.

Spamming job applications seemed like the most efficient method, but going through the same application process repeatedly proved to be exhausting.

At some point, I even started feeling guilty about all the jobs that I was not applying for. I wondered: Am I just being “picky” if I’m not genuinely interested in them?

No, I’ve come to realise that some form of interest in the job scope that I’m applying for is still important for job satisfaction. A potential problem? Finding out where my interests truly lie.

I’ve always felt that young people are magically supposed to know what they are passionate about as they enter the workforce. But perhaps it’s completely normal to feel clueless at this stage.

Although I can’t be certain of the exact job I am hoping to land, I have learnt that it is helpful if I can at least have an idea of the fields I would like to be part of, as well as the fields I definitely do not want join.

Another useful strategy that has worked for me is to reflect on the various experiences I’ve taken up, including courses, volunteering stints, and internships. From there, I am able to have a better idea of the types of tasks I enjoy and what motivates me.

Understanding our skillsets

Hoping to improve my job search prospects, I tapped on my school’s career office services such as one-on-one consultations, various workshops and many more.

In this process, I chanced upon Talented, an app launched by a local talent development company, JobTech.

The app identifies the skills that I acquired through the modules that I took during my undergraduate years. By analysing these modules, it shows me a personalised “skills portfolio” and maps out a broad variety of possible career paths for me — public policy officer, curriculum developer and social worker are some examples — given my skillsets.

Unlike generic career advice, this application allows me to understand how my skillsets are compatible with the proposed career paths.

As a fresh graduate, there’s a worry that I lack “useful” skills, such as coding, computer programming, video editing etc. However, a humanities degree is far from “useless”. Several skills that are often overlooked as a history graduate include storyboarding, problem-solving, facilitation and even a strong command of the English Language.

By appreciating my strengths, skills and interests, I can streamline my job application process, hunt for jobs that better match me and emphasise what I can bring to the table for each job that I interview for.

What to do with a lack of experience?

Trawling through job portals, a significant number of job postings indicate a requirement for several years of working experience. But how does one find a job to get work experience when work experience is required to find a job?

At first glance, it might appear that fresh graduates lack the relevant experience, but this does not mean we do not have any experience at all.

I have since learnt the importance of not discounting my past experiences and instead, deeply reflecting on them. In the process, I can tease out the characteristics that would make me a more valuable employee. For instance, experiences drawn from co-curricular activities in school, internships and even odd jobs, have honed certain skills such as critical thinking and problem-solving, which are transferable to different jobs.

The Talented app has also helped me in picking out other useful skills I can develop to better prepare myself for a role in a desired field. For instance, if I am interested in pursuing a career in public policy as proposed by the app, one of the things I can consider learning is regulatory compliance. In other words, Talented identifies both my strengths and the gaps that I should fill to get to where I want to be.

While this process of searching for a job can seem like an unsettling limbo sometimes, it is perhaps an excellent opportunity to beef up our experience and arsenal of skills.

From one fresh graduate to another: It might seem a little daunting at first but hey, we got this.

Top photo via Pang Yu Hao/Unsplash.