The Stand-Out Job Applicant

When you're applying for your first post-college job, chances are you'll be competing with other graduates who majored in the same thing you did. Employers will be looking for an applicant that is exceptional, that stands out from the crowd because of what he/she brings to the table besides the skills and knowledge that all applicants are expected to have. You want to be that person.

But how? Let's start by examining what employers look for besides the technical skills required for the job.


What Are Employers Looking For?

Employers want people who are able to problem solve and come up with creative solutions, to see things from multiple points of view, to make sound and ethical decisions, to work well with teammates and be able to take on leadership roles, and to communicate well with different audiences, both verbally and in writing. (For more on what employers want, read "8 Essential Skills Every Employer Looks For In Recent Graduates" in INC Magazine.

You may aspire to be a scientist or a hotel manager, an entrepreneur or a registered nurse, a social worker or a financial planner. The common thread through all these professions is that to be good at any of them, you must be a creative problem solver and a strong communicator.


➤ Doctors and nurses need to communicate with patients from all walks of life, explaining complex procedures simply, and insuring that their patients understand what they need to do to get better.

➤ Retail managers' ability to problem solve and communicate with customers may mean the difference between a customer who raves about the business to his/her friends, and one who writes a such a scathing review that it hurts the business.

➤ Scientists need to explain their research and its applicability to funding agencies, and to advance their field by publishing articles in scholarly journals.

➤ Artists need to be able to communicate about their work to galleries, funders, and the public in order to get their work viewed, and graphic designers create visual solutions to complex problems every day. 

➤ Lawyers need to overcome potential problems with their cases through research, and then communicate with jurors to make an effective case; their clients' futures often rest on their ability to make the jury understand and sympathize with their arguments.

➤ Politicians need to find solutions to problems that will serve all their constituents, and they need to be able to communicate with everyone, from million-dollar donors to voters to members of Congress. 

Employers know the importance of communication, and besides looking at your resume to make sure you have the education and experience necessary for the job, they will be looking at your cover letter for evidence of your writing skills and interviewing you to see how well you communicate your ideas. If you're able to sell yourself well, chances are you'll be able to represent your future employer well also. 

So what skills will you need to learn to be a great communicator? (Hint: Effective communication takes a lot more than good public speaking skills!)


Improving Your Communication Skills

Effective communication skills are based a combination of factors. To do it well, you must be able to:

➤ find creative solutions to problems—which often includes knowing how and where to research—and translate those solutions into clear, simple, persuasive language

➤ speak clearly and smartly, with poise and self-confidence

➤ view things from multiple perspectives, so you can take your audience's viewpoint into consideration. You'll be a lot more persuasive if your audience knows you understand where they're coming from

➤ evaluate information—whether from newspapers, your future company's survey, or your competition's advertising. What's true, what's significant, what's biased, what's objective?

➤ write well. Whether you're writing an article for publication, a pitch for your company, or an email to your employees, you want to sound professional and you want your writing to be interesting and engaging

➤ communicate with people of different cultures and backgrounds, whose perspective may be different from yours. This may involve being fluent in Spanish, having an understanding of world religion, or spending a summer studying abroad to learn firsthand about another culture.

The Liberal Arts and Arts offer lots of minors that can help you with all aspects of developing your communication and problem-solving skills. Because of the strong reading, writing, speaking, research, and critical thinking components of classes in the humanities and social sciences and the emphasis on public performance in the arts, our graduates are prepared to meet the world with skills that go beyond job training. They are able to analyze and solve problems and communicate their solutions and strategies effectively to different audiences, making them both a great choice for employers and well-educated citizens who will be the movers and shakers of tomorrow.


A&L Minors on the Job Market

Minoring in the arts, humanities, or social sciences can provide you with a focused way to improve your thinking, writing, and oral communication skills, and an additional incentive for an employer to hire you when you graduate. No matter what your major and future career goals, a liberal arts minor will make you more competitive.

Minors typically require 18-21 hours (six or seven 3-credit classes). If you've already taken classes in a particular area and want to see how many additional classes you would need to take to earn a minor, you can run a What-If Report, which will show you what your advisement/degree progress report would look like if you added a particular minor.


Which Minor is the Best Option for You?

If you're interested in getting a minor, but you're not sure which one will best suit your needs, we encourage you to talk to your advisor about your goals for the future are. If you're not sure what you want to pursue for a career, Career Services has a great staff who will sit down and talk to you about your talents and interests and help you plot a course for a successful and fulfilling career.

(If you're really undecided, you can always take electives in more than one area. Perhaps you'll find a subject you love that will change the entire course of your life, or maybe you'll just become a smarter, better communicator one class at a time!)

Consider just a few of your options:  


➤➤ Philosophy

There's a reason philosophy majors do so well on their law school entrance exams: philosophy teaches students how to think, to grapple with big questions, and to communicate their ideas effectively. The philosophy minor requires courses in logic and ethics, two areas much in demand by employers, whether the field is business, law, education, science, religion, or health. Philosophy emphasizes skills that are useful in many careers: reading and understanding complex materials, developing logical arguments, explaining ideas clearly, and thinking about things from multiple perspectives. Students can tailor their minor in philosophy to their interests, with coursework in the philosophy of science, health, religion, human nature, health care, and environmental ethics, to name a few. In a competitive and increasingly global job market, graduates who are agile and nimble thinkers and who can adapt to changing circumstances will have a great advantage, both at home and abroad.


➤➤ Communication Studies

Communication Studies teaches students not only how to communicate effectively themselves, but how others communicate, which can be even more important as graduates navigate real world settings in their first jobs after college and throughout their careers. Courses in business communication, persuasion, the social and political uses of humor, lying and deception, and small group communication give students a real advantage in the workplace. If your chosen career will involve working with team members, communicating with clients, presenting your ideas to funders or upper management, or supervising and motivating others, a minor in Communication Studies will give you a huge advantage. (And if you will one day be responsible for other people, don't miss our class in Crisis Communication!)


➤➤ English - Professional/Creative Writing Emphasis

If you've taken English 101 and 102 at Southern Miss, you'll already know the strong emphasis our first-year writing program places on writing for specific audiences. Being able to write clearly and convincingly for an audience is a skill that will serve you well for the rest of your life, no matter what career path you choose. Professional writing will prepare you for the types of writing you'll need to do in professional settings. Our creative writing classes are workshops, which teach you both how to make your writing interesting and dynamic and how to take and give effective criticism in small groups, using others' ideas to make your own work stronger, an essential skill for jobs that require you to work on team projects. And no matter which emphasis you choose (or take courses in both professional and creative writing), your cover letter will get attention when you apply for a job, and your strong writing skills will make you an extra-valuable member of your profession.


➤➤ Graphic Design

Graphic design is all about effective communication and problem-solving. How do you make product packaging appealing to your target audience? How do write newsletters, reports, resumes, and websites that make information clear and interesting—and engaging enough that your audience will read them all the way through? How do you make a client's custom wedding invitation so beautiful that s/he'll want to frame it? The graphic design major concentrates on typography, layout, and basic design skills. You'll come out of the program with a resume that stands out from everyone else's, and can offer future employers a preview of your skills at putting together effective advertisements, newsletters, and graphics. If your career plan involves working at a small business or even opening one yourself, your ability to communicate visually in an increasingly visual marketplace will be invaluable. Studio design classes require students to present their work to their classmates, and to give and take critiques, which will teach you how to make professional presentations, how to make effective cases for your ideas and concepts, and how to use your knowledge and skills to help others improve.


➤➤ Sociology

Very few careers will allow you to sit alone working in a darkened room; most will require you to work with, and therefore understand, various groups of people. Sociology minors study human interaction, and the way people behave in and are influenced by the groups, cultures, and institutions they are a part of. If your future career will involve healthcare, criminal justice, social reform, politics, law, social services, advertising, market analysis, or working with people of different cultures or nationalities, a sociology minor will provide you with a deep understanding of human behavior and the ability to communicate effectively with different groups of people. The sociology minor is flexible, and will allow you to take classes that align with your interests, among them globalization, race and ethnicity, criminology, rural and urban sociology, health, aging, immigration, and wealth and status.


➤➤ Spanish

Spanish is the second most frequently spoken language in the United States, and employers are increasingly looking for graduates who are fluent in at least one other language. If your future career will involve business, human resources, marketing, politics or political activism, law or law enforcement, education, social work, media, the entertainment or hospitality industry, health care, or any profession that will bring you in contact with people from different backgrounds, being able to communicate effectively with native speakers of Spanish will give you a huge advantage. And from an employer's point of view, bilingual employees are particular valuable, especially in locations with a high non-native English-speaking population. Being able to list on your resume that you speak Spanish just might be the added extra that gets you the job over other qualified candidates.


And Many More...

The minor you choose should reflect your interests and passions, and we encourage you to explore all the minors in Arts & Letters to find the best fit for you. Many of our minors require one or two core classes, but then allow you to choose from a series of electives which will further allow you to tailor your minor to your goals for the future.

  • Minors in Human Rights, Black Studies and Women's and Gender Studies combine many different disciplines and allow you to approach ideas from multiple angles, learning historical, literary, and political perspectives on the same issue as you go. 
  • An understanding of history and how political movements work (History or Political Science minor) can be invaluable in helping you find and articulate solutions for the future. Has an idea been tried before? What were the results? How can you find solid, well-researched information to help you determine possible outcomes?
  • A minor in Dance or Theatre can teach you poise and self-confidence in front of crowds, as well as effective non-verbal communication, which can be just as important as verbal communication in getting your point across.
  • Our Journalism minors can teach you about public opinion, marketing, and how to write for various forms of media.
  • Legal Studies can teach you about law as it applies to the environment, business, media, entertainment, real estate, or civil liberties.
  • Non-Profit Studies is an interdisciplinary minor, and will allow you to take classes in a variety of fields from sociology to business to public relations and marketing, and culminates with an internship, which will give give you the kind of experience employers value.
  • The Department of Interdisciplinary Studies offers a Leadership Experience certificate, which allows you to take classes in various areas in the liberal arts, improve your leadership skills (one of the major things employers look for), and get real world experience for your resume. 

In short, your journey through the College of Arts & Letters can be as varied and fulfilling as you make it. Talk to your advisor about your options, visit Career Services, or make an appointment with one of our department advisors

And if you're really unsure what field you want to go into when you graduate, take a variety of electives that interest you and become a smarter, more confident, and more effective communicator one class at a time. You'll learn skills in Arts & Letters that will serve you well for the rest of your life, no matter what you choose to do for a living.