“A history degree? What are you going to do with that?” There are, in fact, plenty of good jobs for history majors (yes, even in 2020). It turns out that skills in communication, research, information literacy, and abstract thought are valuable skills in the workplace. Some jobs require further qualifications while others don’t, but they’re all solid career paths suited to your skill set as a history major.
Jobs for history majors that don’t need certification
It’s okay to want a job instead of more school. You just completed 4 years of college, taking on awful minimum-wage jobs so that you could earn enough to live on while you invest most of your time and energy into a degree. It’s a lot, so you shouldn’t feel guilt at not wanting to go into grad school or some other program right away.
These jobs will get you on the right track to support yourself and to pay down student debt along the way.
I transitioned into content writing early in my career, and I honeslty think it’s one of the best jobs for history majors in 2020. Content writers tend to occupy entry-level and mid-level positions, which require two things in abundance:
- Research skills
- Writing skills
History majors spend 4 years practicing those skills ad nauseam, making it a killer match. Does this process sound familiar?
- Find sources
- Evaluate those sources
- Extract the relevant information
- Compare notes between multiple sources
- Synthesize the relevant information into a coherent piece
- Put a “so what” in the conclusion
Writing content is the same general process as writing a history essay. Content just tends to be an informal version of the same exercise. Instead of proving an academic point you provide value to readers with information and insights. It comprises blog posts, emails, social posts, guides, infographics, and similar kinds of info-filled media.
Unheard of before 2000, it’s now a common springboard into the world of digital marketing—one of the fastest growing industries out there. Even better, you can follow prominent content marketers to learn their secrets. Follow these names:
- Ann Handley
- Andy Crestodina
- Jay Baer
- Sonia Simone
Everyone thinks they can write because they recognize all 26 letters of the alphabet, but that’s just as silly as saying that I’m a mathematician because I can count to 100.
It’s just not the same. Better marketing calls for better writing.
Enter the copywriter: a classic role that’s as old as modern marketing itself. It draws on your creativity and wit to capture attention. Delight, humor, and even shock are all a part of your writer’s toolbox in this role.
Copywriting is all about winning the hearts and minds of consumers with a turn of phrase. Sometimes that means being warm and fuzzy. Sometimes it means using deadpan humor to tell readers that your brand “gets it.”
The historian’s writing ability isn’t the only qualification here—that’s just half of the equation. The other half is an ability to take someone else’s point of view so that you as a writer can:
- Reframe products according to what readers actually want
- Highlight pain points
- Validate consumers’ emotions to build trust
- Anticipate sales objections
- Convince readers to take action
Charm is the name of the game, and it can pay a pretty high salary. Copywriters can be junior, intermediate, and senior, making as much as $100,000 at the upper echelons.
I’d recommending reading up on these famous copywriters to learn the fundamental tricks of the trade:
- David Ogilvey
- Eugene Schwartz
- Joana Weibe
There are certifications for corporate human resource professionals, but you don’t need those to be a recruiter, strictly speaking.
Recruiting is about hustling and building relationships. If you enjoy keeping up with people and coaching them through applications, then you should seriously consider this as a career path.
There is a catch, though: recruiters live and die on the quality of their professional networks, and recent graduates tend to have pretty small networks. That hasn’t stopped people from entering the industry early in their careers, so it’s pretty competitive.
Pro tip: you don’t need to “know” people to recruit them, strictly speaking. The recruiter who poached me from my agency role actually reached out to me on LinkedIn. It was a gamble on her part, but she sent connection requests to enough people to get a few people interested—like me. I didn’t even know who she was before that.
With that in mind, you can still leverage your network of graduates to to bring business into a talent acquisition agency and place them with clients. our worth as a recruiter grows along with your network over time, and you can take that network with you wherever you go.
Recruiters don’t really become famous in the way that some professionals do in the marketing industry, but it’s an industry with some growing to do. If you’re interested in bringing new, personalized energy to that kind of role, then you should check out Liz Ryan at the Human Workplace.
Market research analyst
If you like tracking down info to identify patterns that nobody else sees, then you might be a market research analyst waiting to happen.
Every company needs market research to be successful in some shape or form. That includes things such as:
- Product-market fit
- Demographic analysis
- Geographic analysis
- Competitor analysis
Finding, reading, synthesizing, and translating that data into something useful and digestible is the essence of market research and analysis. You’ll put together analyses for startup companies, product development teams, and marketing departments so that they can decide how to proceed with their product or service (if at all).
Research is one of the key skills to this job, but it’s not all qualitative. You’ll need to work with quantitative data too, so a moderate background in statistics and spreadsheets will take you a long, long way on the road to success in this role.
Jobs for history majors that need additional certification
Other careers might be your calling, but some of them might call for further training in some form—law being among the difficult fields to enter. There are plenty of jobs for history majors that work in conjunction with technical skills acquired from specialist certification as well, and these are some of the most prominent ones you’ll find.
Paralegals are great fits for history grads. Not only do they spend time researching old cases in search of legal precedents, but they also synthesize those sources into coherent reports and analyses for lawyers to form cases.
And they do it with extensive written reports. It’s a direct application for your skills as a history major.
Paralegals do a lot of the legwork for lawyers leading a given case. That means hunting down legal documents like land deeds, contracts, and past cases. Finding key pieces of information can make or break those cases.
Certification doesn’t need to be a slog if you’ve already earned a bachelor’s degree. Some programs let you earn a certificate in as little as 8 months, and you have a wide range of schools to choose from.
Significantly harder to become than most roles on this list, lawyers undergo several years of law school on top of a bachelor’s degree in order to earn a juris doctor (JD) degree. That’s after passing the LSAT exam, but before the bar exam—and you need to pass the bar exam for different states if you plan to practice in more than one (very similarly, Canadian lawyers need to pass provincial bar exams).
Lawyers do need to conduct research, but paralegals are often present in law firms to do the legwork. Lawyers assess the quality of the research, formulate the arguments based on that evidence, and call the plays to direct cases (depending on seniority).
Law school is also expensive, making it incredibly important to have a financial plan. It’s an incredible amount of student debt to pay off. You’ll be able to do it on a lawyer’s salary, although you’ll be working late nights most of the time.
The field of journalism is in an interesting transition right now. Newspaper subscriptions are down across the world, yet quality journalism has never been more sorely needed in the era of fake news.
Journalists spend their time doing what historians do best to track down stories:
- Synthesizing information
There are several different roles in journalism, including:
- Freelance writer
- Print journalist
- Broadcast journalist
- News copy editor
It’s possible to get hired as a freelance writer with prolific online magazines like HuffPost, but that’s extremely competitive work for relatively low pay. You might have better chances going after entry-level print journalist jobs. It’s still competitive, but there’s a higher barrier to entry—and that can become part of your competitive advantage after getting the proper training.
You can get an undergraduate degree in journalism, but it’s also commonly available as a professional graduate degree at the master’s level. It complements humanities degrees like political science and English, as well.
Teachers and the education system have received quite a bit of publicity in 2020 due to the debate about sending children back to school during a pandemic. 2020 might not be the year to do start, but it’s one of the classic jobs for history majors that hasn’t seen decline for decades.
There are many different roles within the world of education, divided by grade level as much as by subject expertise. Teachers with backgrounds in STEM and non-English languages are in more demand than those with backgrounds in history, but the background still lends to teaching effectively at primary, middle, and secondary levels.
While academic degrees tend to attract introverts at the post-graduate level, you’ll need to wear an extrovert’s cap to interact with large classes for hours at a time on a daily basis, drawing on your ability to communicate complex ideas to groups. Then you’ll need to shuffle your way of thinking to explain concepts to individual students with thought processes on a different wavelength who need to learn things a little differently.
And, of course, you’ll need to regulate the classroom social dynamics at the same time. Then create lesson plans and mark assignments. It’s a hard job.
You’ll likely need a master’s degree in education (assuming you already majored in history, English, philosophy, or political science—but it’s possible to major in education as well).
From there, you’ll need to earn the relevant teaching certifications for the state where you’d like to teach. Praxis is a widely recognized certification in the United States. In Canada you’ll also need a certification from the province where you wish to teach, such as Ontario or British Columbia.
Many people think that libraries are irrelevant with the rise of the internet, that couldn’t be further from the truth. The world is now saturated with misinformation, and libraries might just become the gold standard for credible information once again.
It’s important to keep that in mind as you’re considering career paths, including library sciences. It’s not just about the Dewey Decimal system. It’s about understanding how to catalogue information, understanding what credible information looks like, and connecting people with information in a way that goes beyond a news feed or the first two pages of Google. It’s important stuff.
Libraries are also community centers. They provide places for children to learn and socialize, to say nothing of providing access to technology. Some librarians can even help with genealogy, organizing volunteer initiatives, and helping people to catalogue their personal information for legal or medical purposes.
Becoming a librarian is about curating knowledge for an informed public, facilitating access to information in all of its forms, and creating a space that the entire community can rely upon. It’s an underappreciated role in society, and still quite important.
Financial advisors can make a lot of money over the course of their lives, and personal finance is a field on the cusp of a huge payoff for most people in the industry (more than usual, anyway). Here’s why:
- We’re about to enter the largest generational wealth transfer in history: Baby Boomers are retiring or passing on, leaving their money to Generation X and Millennials. $30 trillion, to be more specific.
- The average age of financial advisors is 55, just years away from retirement. The industry needs younger professionals to carry the torch.
- The financial tools exist to do the complicated math on a day-to-day basis, leaving networking and relationship building as one of the strongest competitive advantages you can develop to increase your income in this role.
It’s worth mentioning that these salary figures tend to be for in-house advisors in retail institutions, but the real money comes from semi-independent roles in which they effectively run their own businesses. Within 10-15 years of diligent work you can earn more than $100,000 per year by running your own business. It’s one of the most lucrative jobs for history majors out there, especially for those who like to work independently, enjoy using pattern recognition skills, and value interpersonal relationships.
It’s wise to start in retail banking roles or something similar first, though. I explored the independent roles during my unemployment stretch and found that each one wanted me to build my own business with my own network from scratch.
The problem with that approach? Recent graduates don’t have “professional” networks.
If you’re a recent graduate then most of your contacts are also recent graduates looking for work, and they won’t have disposable income to put into investment portfolios. You won’t earn income trying to lay long-term foundations alone.
If you’re interested in finance, then start with a regular salary and learn the ropes. Build your network, earn the licenses you need, and work your way into the role you want without throwing yourself into the deep end without a steady salary.
With all of the technical skills and a reliable income stream accounted for, you can turn to growing your network to build a business of your own. My own financial advisor has told me that his ability to grow relationships and networks has been the single best tool in his business’ toolbox, since most other advisors are 55-year-olds preoccupied by retirement.
If you put in the work on certification and patiently invest in relationships, then you might just find that you can drum up more business than a math whiz who graduated with a finance degree.
In America, you’ll want to look at these financial certification courses:
- Securities Industry Essentials (SIE), an introductory investment course
- Series 6 Investment License
- Series 7 Investment License
In Canada, you’ll want to explore these financial certificaiton courses:
- Investment Funds in Canada (IFC), a mutual funds license
- Canadian Securities Course (CSC), an investment course
- Life License Qualification Program (LLQP), a life insurance course
There are more licenses than just those, but they can give you a strong foundation to see if you really like the material. Even if you decide it’s not for you, the financial education will be invaluable on a personal level.
What do you do with a history degree, then? Quite a few careers are available to you, both immediately after graduation and with additional certification. No, you won’t program an app with your research skills, but jobs for history majors are out there if you take the time to look. You will, however, have access to a wide range of career options. Your ability to adapt to multiple roles gives you solid chances at employment in the mid- and long-term, with those chances growing even further when you invest in additional certification along the way.
Go get ’em.