Alex Mylonas
Tuesday, November 22, 2022
8 min read

Help! I'm a historian

The year was 2022 – a summer’s afternoon. Your parents’ garden. Charcoal flaming, bottles popping. Sausages sweating. The sun set, the food served, the blankets out, and… surely not… you’ve made it. An entire family BBQ without anybody aski––“So you’re going to become a history teacher?” No, Uncle Terry, for God’s sake.  

But let’s be honest: if you can count on only one hand the number of times your family and friends have asked you that question, the likelihood is that you’re not an historian… (or teacher-to-be). While it’s easy to assume that historians could only ever possibly be qualified to work in schools and museums, the reality is that they are more likely to pursue a career that might not, at first glance, be directly related to their degree.  

Don’t get me wrong, if you’re an historian and your dissertation hasn’t put you off the thought of handling another primary source ever again, then congratulations! You picked the right subject and should certainly pursue your calling as a museum curator, archivist, or similar. If, on the contrary, you decide that reciting rhymes about Pudding Lane and drawing whiteboard diagrams of a Napoleonic rearguard action aren’t a bit of you either, the good news is that there are options for you, my friend. 

Many (aka Uncle Terry) mistake a history degree as something vocational, like becoming a doctor, or a vet; but it’s actually a pretty good foundation to build on. In a recent survey of Cambridge history grads (https://www.careers.cam.ac.uk/using-your-degree/using-your-degree-history), 33% continued into further education, 10% chose to pursue a career in law, and only 6% went into teaching. Aside from those options, historians tend to follow a vast selection of careers, ranging from the Civil Service, consulting, and journalism, to marketing & communications, politics, and the media. How about that, Uncle Terry? 

Employers aren’t necessarily interested in how quickly you can recall the events of 1066, 1666 and 1939. They are, however, interested in transferrable skills. History doesn’t just teach you about the past, it also shows future employers that you can read widely and research topics in depth. It shows that you can critically evaluate and synthesise the information at hand to reach a logical conclusion, construct a compelling argument, and present your findings in a clear and concise manner.  

Whether it’s a Business Development Representative crafting an effective pitch, a PR Account Executive drafting a punchy press release, or a consultant writing up reports, all of these skills will come in handy. Similarly, the ability to communicate and eloquently present your findings will stand you in good stead for any front-facing role, whether it be account management, customer service or recruitment. Here are a few more suggestions from BrighterBox about how you can put that history degree to good use. 

Marketing 

Historians are used to reading a lot, bringing all of that information together and, somehow, making it all sound interesting. Ergo, as an historian, you’ll have what it takes to be writing blog posts and copy for social media ads. Combine your knack for presenting and essay writing with a data course and some experience using Photoshop and Canva, and you’ll be in a position to apply for end-to-end marketing roles. The ability to work with and analyse data is increasingly desirable among employers, so brushing up on Excel knowledge, or even learning some SQL, Python or SPSS, will look great on the CV. 

Public Relations & Communications 

Likewise, historians are likely to find a happy home for their writing skills in PR. Spotting news stories to ‘hijack’ and finding a fresh angle through which to tell a story isn’t a far cry from having your own, unique say on a past event that’s been well-covered by academics in the field. The communication skills – both written and verbal – that historians build at university makes them a hit with clients and journalists alike. As well as short-form writing, PR Account Execs spend a lot of time pitching stories to journalists, in the same way that a history student must convince their tutor of an argument.  

HR & Recruitment 

Managing relationships, matching candidates with a job of best fit, or sourcing the right talent are some of the things you might be getting up to in this department. Sifting through a lot of information (in this case CVs) and spotting what’s relevant is something a history degree would have sufficiently prepared you for, just as the nuance and discretion with which you approached your essays will be useful in HR.   

Business Development & Account Management 

Don’t be put off by candidates on The Apprentice. Sales isn’t always BS and the hard sell. Hitting targets, pitching and closing deals are all a part of the job, granted; but if those are the means to a consultative sales approach, the end is surely building relationships that benefit all parties. Combine the writing skills of an historian with good people skills, and you have yourself a Sales/Business Development Representative with a knack for writing snappy emails, creating persuasive presentations and nurturing leads. Successful SDRs/BDRs might then progress into Account Management, which is more concerned with the onbaording of new customers and their experience.  

What skills can I put on my CV 

It goes without saying: be sure to tailor every CV you send out to the role and company. That said, there are still a few things you can be looking to cover in your master copy. Time management, organisational skills, and the ability to work independently and/or part of a team are all salient points. Think about how you might also be able to embellish your CV using skills you’ve gained from extra-curricular positions and work experience. Make the most of your time at university by getting involved with student societies that suit your interests. Run for a position or, worst case scenario, attend some events to meet people and learn something new. 

Build your CV and add to your skillset by taking online courses (many of which are free of charge). Examples might include Google Digital Garage, LinkedIn Learning, Coursera or Udemy, but check in with your university to see if they have any partnerships or resources you can access. You can also take matters into your own hands. For example, if writing is your thing, start blogging about your interests and use that as evidence of your passion and written ability when applying for PR & Comms roles. If it’s marketing you're after, set up a social media channel and get up to speed with designing graphics on Canva.  

The internet is your friend when it comes to adding relevant skills to your toolkit. Regardless, history, and any humanities degree for that matter, will provide you with a good foundation to build upon, and will in and of itself equip you with enough transferrable skills that will make you attractive to graduate employers. 

So, remember to keep up with the times. And, as for you, Uncle Terry: you’re history.

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