Why do we have to learn humanities

Humanities scholar in business

As a historian in management consulting? As a doctor of philosophy in the management of a large corporation? Anything is possible, say experts. Jana Degener asked around.

Tax evasion, environmental scandals, human exploitation - for some humanities scholars, “the economy” may be seen as greedy and mendacious. On the other hand, there may also be one or two HR managers who dismiss Germanists, historians or philosophers per se as unworldly and unqualified.

But reality shows: Many humanities scholars find their place in the economy.

“Humanities scholars are extremely important to us; in many of our content businesses they certainly make up more than half of our workforce,” says Dr. Nico Rose from Bertelsmann. On the one hand, this is of course due to the fact that the media company earns its money with creative content: “It is often humanities scholars who fill the magazines and online portals who make the television programs and produce films and series.

Journalists work at Gruner + Jahr, there are many editors in the books division, who have usually also studied humanities, and musicologists often take care of the artist repertoire, i.e. maintaining contact with musicians, ”emphasizes Rose. In the Corporate Center, the headquarters of the international media group, the density of business graduates is greater, especially in areas that are originally economics such as controlling or taxes, but there are also areas in Bertelsmann's management in which a disproportionately large number of humanities scholars work.

"His boss is a PhD philosopher"

For example, (former) journalists, communication scientists or media managers who have studied a mixture of communication sciences and business administration work in corporate communication. And psychologists, among others, work in human resources. Rose himself works as a psychologist in management development, his boss is a doctor of philosophy, the boss of his boss - the HR director - also has a doctorate in humanities.

In addition, there are colleagues working in the department who have a strong business or IT background. “The tasks are diverse, so we have employees with diverse backgrounds,” explains Rose. After all, Bertelsmann has its own vocational school and training academies, in which many humanities scholars are also on the go. In principle, Rose does not rule out the possibility that humanities scholars would have a chance even in a classic business administration area such as strategic controlling - provided that they can prove relevant experience through successful internships, for example. However, according to Rose, most humanities scholars are not interested in it - at least immediately after graduation - so that he has not yet received such an application.

"Guides in the knowledge society"

Other companies such as management consultancies, financial service providers or automotive groups offer products and services for which humanities scholars seem less predestined than economists or engineers, for example; But they do come back to them, especially in the areas of human resources and communication or in marketing. And even in the management or board of directors of large companies you can find - even if only occasionally - humanities scholars.

In addition, there are fields of activity in new, emerging areas: "Humanities scholars can take on a pilot function when it comes to orientating themselves in the complex world of knowledge," explains Prof. Dr. Frank Wießner from the Catholic University of Eichstätt-Ingolstadt, who dealt with the professional opportunities for humanities scholars in a study. When it comes to IT-based archiving, for example, you need not only programmers and data managers, but also humanities scholars who process and reproduce the knowledge.

Gianna Reich, who deals with the topic in her blog Geisteswirtschaft.de, gives another example: “When companies are represented in social media channels or run their own blog parallel to the company website, they don't want their company based on just a few facts introduce, but tell stories about the company, about the mentality of the employees and about the projects that are being worked on. Through their studies, humanities scholars can do just that, namely address a specific target group and convey it through the language, whether they are addressing experienced entrepreneurs or young people, for example. Anyone who also has an affinity for Facebook and Twitter in their private lives, for example, has excellent prerequisites for entering the field. "

"This is our customer file, take care of it"

In addition, Reich emphasizes that humanities scholars work independently through their studies and find solutions, but can also deal with sources and deal with people from different cultures without stepping on their feet. Dr. Katja Puteanus-Birkenbach from the Chair for Innovation Management and Entrepeneurship at the University of Potsdam: “Before the change from the industrial to the information society, education was power: Institutions provided access to the knowledge that was necessary to make a career.

Today everyone has this knowledge and a career, those who can cope with uncertain areas of activity due to their personality development. ”Accordingly, employees in companies today receive tasks instead of instructions:“ In the past, the supervisor would have explained to the employee how certain tasks were to be carried out. Today he goes there and says: 'This is our customer database, these are our products, please take care of sales and make sure that we generate twenty percent more sales than last year'. "

In Puteanus-Birkenbach's assessment, humanities scholars in particular can benefit from this development because they learn how to solve problems independently during their studies and are not afraid of uncertainties: “Today we have to think in complex structures and repeatedly look at completely unknown fields of knowledge and action claim. This is exactly what humanities scholars learn in their studies, because they quickly familiarize themselves with unknown topics in presentations and term papers and then have to present them. "

"Use five percent of the content that I learned during my studies"

And that will benefit them later in a professional career in business: “If a literary scholar works in corporate communications and is supposed to write a press release, he only has to look at three examples to understand the structure and a topic that is previously unknown to him was to translate into this structure. An economist, on the other hand, might have to take a course first because he is not used to recognizing structures himself and to familiarize himself with an unknown topic on his own. And scientists can talk wonderfully about their subject among their own kind, but not necessarily in a language that is easy to understand. They also need a clear, predetermined structure within which they can move, ”says Puteanus-Birkenbach.

According to Puteanus-Birkenbach, humanities scholars are also in good hands in marketing and human resources because they can form an opinion, develop ideas, create concepts, write texts, present topics and deal with people: “They recognize whether something fits a company's strategy. And even as students they talk to each other more often because the humanities often do not have the same elbow principle as, for example, economics or natural science courses. "

Rose also essentially agrees with this assessment: “In my professional activity, I can only use a maximum of five percent of the content that I learned during my studies. But because psychology is a relatively young discipline - for example in comparison with mathematics - there is relatively little reliable knowledge here, so that we always had to work out an opinion on a topic from different perspectives. ”The ability to To work deeply into a topic, to look at a topic from different perspectives, to develop your own point of view and also to represent it appropriately, is certainly a strength of humanities scholars, emphasizes Rose. “In business administration, on the other hand, it is often more about learning and applying theories. Because much of the content of business administration is more or less irrevocable and less debatable than an interpretation of a poem, if you like. "

"Practical experience is more important"

Rose himself found his psychology degree very valuable because he had to give a lot of presentations here and learned very early on how to prepare topics and present them to people: “In my job, too, I often have to design presentations in such a way that I can attract people with different interests to a topic ”. On the other hand, Rose emphasizes that these skills are also taught in more economics and natural science courses: "I know many modern universities and faculties where business administration is largely taught through group work and case studies, so that students learn how to reflect and defend their results. And soft skills such as presentation skills are taught in a wide variety of courses - the more that happens, the easier it is for people later on in their job, because presentation skills are important in every position and in every company. "

Like economists and natural scientists, humanities scholars are of course a large and very heterogeneous group, which makes general statements difficult. "There are a large number of humanities subjects and faculties, so that it is difficult to speak of THE job market for THE humanities scholars," emphasizes Wießner. Foreign-language philology graduates, for example, have certainly learned more by heart than philosophers during their studies, but on the other hand, with their knowledge of foreign languages, they have the right skills that are in demand on the international job market.

"Sniff corporate air"

And even if, in case of doubt, it does not matter for a company whether an applicant has studied Romance studies, history or sociology, the job market chances of course also and especially depend on personal factors such as interests, practical experience and additional qualifications: "I start with humanities scholars, who have conscientiously completed their studies. But here, too, there are those who, for example, bring several languages ​​with them, can deal with a blog or have got to know programs like Photoshop or SAP. These are competencies that can be used anywhere and qualify for a wide variety of areas, ”says Reich.

For Rose, the subject is just one of many criteria that play a role in the selection of applicants, and good grades are less important to him than, say, some management consultancies. He finds the practical experience the applicants have gained much more important: “I'm interested in what internships people have done. And they should show that they have a great passion for the product, in our case for the media. Anyone who has been the editor of a school newspaper, runs a photo blog or has written a book has a good chance with us. ”Because Bertelsmann currently does not offer a trainee program at the Corporate Center, but primarily offers direct entry, Rose also values ​​its applicants have already sniffed the "entrepreneurial atmosphere": "You should have an idea of ​​what makes such a large corporation tick, how it appears here and how topics are dealt with."

Rose is also happy when applicants with a humanities background can demonstrate a certain weakness for dealing with numbers: “For example, many people do not come into contact with Excel during their studies, but in a corporation you will certainly be presented with a table like this - and be it only because you have to set a budget for a project. ”Which qualifications are also required naturally depends on the specific position that someone is applying for. Puteanus-Birkenbach, on the other hand, is convinced that most humanities scholars can handle numbers and create an income / surplus calculation without special courses or seminars. “But for many students, numbers and money are taboo subjects with fear of contact.” In general, many humanities scholars only seem unable to get into business because they have prejudices and do not have the necessary self-confidence.

"Doing something useful in business"

Puteanus-Birkenbach did her master's degree in art history, philosophy, social and economic history, worked in a publishing house at the same time and worked her way up to sales manager while she was still studying. Today she teaches both humanities and economists. Many humanities students, she reports, cannot imagine working in business: “Even when I was a student twenty years ago, many of my fellow students had the idea that the only thing swimming around in business was sharks that were personally at the expense of other people want to enrich. And when I ask my students today whether they want to work in the fashion industry, they first think of dying children in Bangladesh, ”explains the lecturer. Exactly these students would be needed here because they could bring the ethical fundamentals closer to the companies with their thinking: “The companies are looking for precisely such lateral thinkers, because in the future they will simply no longer be able to survive with buyer boycotts and similar events. After all, the social and cultural entrepreneurship scene shows that you can really do something useful in the economic field ”.

"The companies are looking for such lateral thinkers" / Photo: © Rido - Fotolia.com

Reich also confirms the impression that many students have a wrong view of the economy: “It is sad how low the starting salaries for humanities scholars are in some cases, even in the economy. Of course, that leaves a bad impression on the applicants. And of course it can be that some feel more comfortable in cultural or media companies because it corresponds more to their subject or their mentality. On the other hand, nobody wants to be unemployed either, and there are also examples of companies that pay well and generally treat their youngsters well: With a well-running automobile manufacturer, of course, you have better chances of getting a good salary than with a daily newspaper. "Reich has himself advertised at various Internet companies and had positive experiences: "Some of the employers were thrilled that after a hundred business students finally a Germanist presented herself and showed why she is suitable for the job."

"Ironic self-pity"

However, Reich also made the experience that many students of humanities courses are too little aware of their chances and accordingly sell themselves below their value: "On the one hand, the role models are missing because in the media, in the environment, sometimes also at the universities, it is suggested that Humanities scholars would have a hard time. You see unemployment figures everywhere, and hardly anyone shows you the opportunities that you actually have. Of course, this leads to uncertainty. On the other hand, humanities scholars naturally have no clear professional goal in mind, but are required to orientate themselves independently. I find that appealing myself, but many students shy away from it and deal with the topic too late. "

Reich thinks it is important that students get an early picture of how the economy works, for example by doing internships, reading business magazines or evaluating job advertisements: "There are also business magazines like Brand Eins that don't knock the hard stock exchange prices off your ears, but show alternative models, for example. And in job advertisements you can find out what the job market demands, what you contribute to it yourself and which skills you still need to acquire during your studies so that you can get started more successfully. ”If humanities scholars know what their work is worth, then maybe they are too More successful in salary negotiations: "If you are happy that you have a job at all, you can also convey that in conversation with your supervisor," says Reich.

Unfortunately, instead, it happens too often that students pity themselves self-deprecatingly: “I don't know any humanities scholar who doesn't know the joke about the taxi driver. And some really think that is their future perspective. I also started my blog because I would like humanities scholars to be more confident about saying what they can. After all, others - for example, most economists - would never get the idea of ​​doubting themselves during their studies. ”Given the diverse training landscape, one cannot expect HR managers in large companies to know the strengths of individual humanities courses. Rather, it is the job of each individual applicant to present their strengths and make it clear in which areas they can work. "But that contradicts the mentality of many humanities scholars who see self-portrayal as something negative," says Reich.

Reich would also like to see more lecturers from business teaching at universities - something that is common in economics, but not very common in the humanities: “When someone from an agency gives a seminar on corporate communication and also from his career start and everyday working life, the students can get great insights. "

She recommends that the students themselves apply for interesting vacancies at an early stage in order to practice the process and to be able to calmly go into the first interviews: “You can only learn to present yourself and negotiate salaries if you get into the situation. The more you do it, the better it works. ”In addition, you can use appropriate courses to prepare, which the CareerCenters, the university groups and the Federal Employment Agency often offer free of charge. Puteanus-Birkenbach also recommends that students look for a mentor at the university or in private circle of friends who accompanies them in monthly meetings to become aware of their own worth and to articulate this verbally and in writing.

That makes it easier to get started - and once that is done, humanities scholars can grow into a wide variety of branches of the economy. “It happens again and again that humanities scholars move up to the higher management levels or to the management and board level. In this process, they are accompanied by us with seminars so that they can successfully cope with the new tasks, ”explains Rose.

Puteanus-Birkenbach is convinced that a paradigm shift is currently taking place, which means that more and more personnel developers in companies are specifically looking for humanities scholars. And Reich is also certain that the much-touted shortage of skilled workers will also have positive effects for humanities scholars - provided they lose their fear of contact and learn to say what they can.