How To Use Your Liberal Arts Degree To Get a Government Job

I have been someone negative about the job prospects out there for people like me with a liberal arts degree before. While it is still not what I recommend for most people coming out of high school, it can be a valuable tool in your career tool belt if leveraged correctly. With so many people out there today wondering what to do with a liberal arts degree, and such poor job prospects for people under 25, I thought I might share a few insights about one place where a liberal arts degree can be pretty valuable – the government.

Big Government Can Always Get Bigger

Now, on a philosophical level, I would argue that having too many people in government is a bad thing, but on a practical level, I would recommend that everyone out there with a degree and no job take a hard look at the thousands of government positions that are open coast-to-coast in Canada. Working for the government is a perfect example of a huge organization that can bring you many different places and present many different experiences once your foot is in the door. For many, that liberal arts degree that the private sector is laughing at is the perfect ticket to get in the door and start building a career within government. While it is true that not many people get rich while working for either Provincial or Federal Governments, many live very upper-middle class, have unparalleled job security, and have superb benefits their whole lives from finding little places to hide from roles to fill within government. That certainty probably sounds pretty good to a lot of recent graduates, and it is also a great springboard into working out a side gig since the hours are usually pretty set, and the job security is so great.

Here Is The Pack… and Here I Am!

use liberal arts degree to get government job
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So how do you get your tiny, fragile foot into that hulking, crushing door? You don’t merely list your degree on your resume, and you don’t sit bank on that mediocre-to-slightly above average GPA doing it for you either. Instead, you present the skills you learned while doing your liberal arts degree. This is the stuff that will make you stand out from everyone else with a BA and can help employers understand why they should hire you. There are probably some buzz words that these guys hear all day when doing interviewing, so try to give specific examples of how you honed your research skills while pursuing a history degree, or how your political sciences background has allowed you to become experienced at synthesizing information from a variety of sources. Bachelor of Arts degrees are perfect for claiming that you are adaptable to many different fields, that your education is well-rounded (as opposed to those dumb scientists who got “non-well-rounded degrees” in fields that are in high demand), and that you know how to communicate in many diverse types of circumstances and scenarios. If your liberal arts degree didn’t teach you how to dazzle with brilliance, then baffle them with bull**** ;)

So How Good Are These Government Jobs Anyway?

Government jobs are almost recession-proof (even during the recent economic downturn, “only” 19K people got the axe, and many of these positions will be people retiring and their positions just not re-filled, or people in their last few years of work taking decent buyout packages). They also enjoy a huge advantage in terms of bargaining positions over private jobs. Unions have a much easier time pushing the government around because the government is not really competing in the same sense that a private corporation is, and they are playing with other people’s money. This is why I was able to get 2-3% yearly raises all through the recent recession as a public school teacher, whereas many private sector unions simply can’t take a hardline approach because they will cripple the company’s competitiveness inside the industry.

A prime example of this is the vehicle manufacturing industry in the USA. For years those unions were the epitome of strong and tough, but industry standards and competition forced the union to work with management (which is how collective bargaining should work anyway!). Government jobs are great like this. Plus, many government employees enjoy a crazy amount of great PR that they skillfully use to their advantage during negotiation sessions. Who has ever successfully argued that cops and fireman get paid enough? Isn’t there a point where this should be true? Nurses? Teachers? Heck, even doctors in Canada. What politician could ever say that these government positions were getting paid too much without being immediately lambasted? This basically guarantees a decent career because many government agencies use each other’s collective bargaining arrangements to leverage up their own deals (ie, the tax people at the CRA will present the case that what they are doing is no less important than the white-collar crime division of the RCMP etc.).  To me, this basically means that current trends indicate public sector jobs will be just fine going forward, and are probably one of the safest bets out there for someone with a basic BA.  It is also a great way to build contacts, gain experience, and use the job security to build a side gig.

I’m willing to bet there are several of our readers who have used their vaunted, well-rounded, non-STEM educations to find themselves a spot in the public purse (including yours truly).


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12 years ago

When I was doing my undergraduate degree as an engineer, during frosh week we were encouraged to chant “McDonald’s!” and trace large arches with our hands anytime we walked by a group of arts students. An arts degree is what you make of it – it can be useless or incredibly practical. Its all about how you sell yourself. I don’t really see though how an arts degree is any more valuable or likely to get you a job in the public sector than the private sector though. I think the arguments in this article would equally apply to anyone… Read more »

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