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Understanding Yourself and Making a Plan

We’ve shown that classics majors have a rich skill set that makes them distinctive and gives them a competitive edge with potential employers. But how do you know which careers might be a good fit? How do you discover what your strengths are? What knowledge, skills, and dispositions do you have that will translate into a career? These are good questions. This section will guide you through the process of making a career action plan in three steps: 1) examine yourself; 2) look at career sectors; 3) get feedback from others.

Before we get to the three steps, though, we want to bring up a resource that is going to be invaluable to you through every aspect of defining and pursuing your career: the campus Career Services Office (or whatever this particular office is called at your school). This office typically offers self-assessment tools (like the Myers-Briggs test), templates (for things like résumés and cover letters), workshops (to practice interview skills or learn how to build your professional network), access to specific job databases and subscriptions (which are often behind a paywall unless you go through Career Services), help in connecting with alumni from your school, and good old-fashioned in-person advice from kind people who are eager to help. Not only can your Career Services Office support you through every step of the job-seeking process, it can also provide you with time-saving shortcuts that will make that process considerably easier.

The first step in planning for your career is following the famous motto of the Delphic oracle, “Know yourself.” Each person who majors in classics has distinct interests, background, and experiences. The first step, then, is to do some self-reflection and begin to articulate what you do well and what your passions are (these may or may not coincide).

1. Reflection

First, do some brainstorming. Open a blank document to take notes or fill out this action plan for career exploration.Then ask yourself: What do you like about classics? What extra- and co-curricular experiences have you had? What other activities are you passionate about? What part-time or full-time jobs have you held? What skills have you shown on the job? What things are most important to you? How would you describe your own personality? What are your core values? This is an informal exercise and you won’t be sharing it with anybody so be open and honest. Try not to let yourself be limited by any pre-existing expectations or assumptions you may have and write down absolutely anything that pops into your head.

As you brainstorm, some patterns may begin to emerge. These should give you some general ideas about what kind of career is right for you. While this exercise might lead you to think about specific kinds of jobs (it might not), you don’t need to worry about the specifics just yet. Instead, focus on broader, more abstract values. For example, if earning a high income is important to you, then this may guide you to a particular subset of careers. If you value serving the underprivileged, achieving a work-life balance, or attaining maximum job satisfaction, then these values can help you discern what careers may be right for you. Similarly, if you are passionate about pursuing further education, that can help you define a next step in your career path.

As you’ll notice reading the alumni profiles in this guide, many classics grads do choose to complete additional education as part of their pathway to the career they ultimately pursue. While, in some cases, additional credentials may not be necessary, it’s a reality of today’s job market that many jobs increasingly request additional qualifications. There are lots of things to think about if you are considering a return to school: Will you attend in person or online? Is the tuition affordable or can you apply for scholarships and bursaries? Do you plan to continue working while you complete your classes and, if so, can you attend part-time? We advise you to research a given field to determine whether a graduate degree is necessary and whether funding is typically available through teaching or research assistantships or other sources. Unless there is a reliable path to a well-paid job (e.g., for those going to medical school), we caution you against taking on significant debt in pursuing graduate studies. As one of our profiled alumni, Annalisa Quinn, notes, “a graduate degree is in no way necessary for a career in journalism, and is actively unhelpful if it requires you to go into debt.”

2. Career Exploration

The second step in making a career action plan is to explore various career possibilities with some of your personal values in mind. To get started, check out the list of careers commonly pursued by classics majors at What Can I Do With This Major? and see which jobs appeal to you. Then go online and find some specific job ads and see what skills are required, how well the job requirements match your preparation, and what skills you might need to acquire before applying. The Career Services Office at your college or university will be able to help you search relevant career and job ad databases. As we’ve mentioned, this office has purchased specialized career exploration instruments to help identify your strengths, interest inventories, career databases, alumni databases, etc. that are not readily available or free online.

3. Networking

The third step is networking; according to U.S. News & World Report, “more than 70 percent of people land jobs through networking.”[1] Networking in this case doesn’t mean schmoozing with CEOs at fancy galas in the hopes that they’ll offer you a job based on your sparkling personality! At this early stage all you’re trying to do is gather information and decide whether a particular career is worth investigating further or whether you can cross it off your list of potentials. There are lots of ways to start building a network. A good place to start if you’re not sure who to approach is your school’s Career Services Office. Someone there can go over your action plan with you and suggest ways to build connections in your interest area. This office might also sponsor networking events on campus. Be on the lookout in particular for opportunities to meet graduates with a classics or humanities degree who have already started their career.

The truth is, anybody you know who is already in the workforce can be a great source of advice about your own career path: a friend (or friend-of-a-friend), a roommate, other people in your campus community, a family member, or an alum are all great connections. Ask these people to sit down with you and share their observations about your skills and interests; then ask them about their job. (Refer to this career networking interview for some questions you might ask). See if they have any suggestions about careers to look into and if there’s anyone they’d recommend you speak to. If you commit to setting aside some time to have these conversations, your network will grow steadily.

[1] Hannah Morgan, “Don’t Believe these 8 Job Search Myths.” U.S. News and World Report, 17 Sep 2014.