Does Your Liberal Arts Degree Belong at a Startup?

Spoiler: we think yes.

It’s Spring, and with it, a new crop of liberal arts graduates prepares to pass through the gates of hallowed institutions across the country into well-trodden career paths like law, medicine, academia and consulting.

Perhaps you’re one of these freshly minted grads who’s having trouble getting excited about the options ahead of you or maybe you’re a couple years down a path that you’re beginning to question. Either way, there’s a career track you should consider:

Join a tech startup.

At fast-growing startups, problems are always evolving, contexts are rapidly switching, and there is an almost religious devotion to self improvement and lifelong learning. It’s an environment that’s well-suited to critical thinkers like you.

In the past, maybe you’ve heard that the only interesting roles at these companies are doled out to computer science majors and you’re not sure if the critical thinking skills you’ve built over the past four years would even be valued at one of these companies.

You’re not alone. At Tradecraft, I often speak with applicants who’ve chosen a liberal arts major out of passion or curiosity and want a career path in technology but don’t know what startup roles would be a good fit.

The good news is that your liberal arts degree can make you a strong fit for plenty of strategic and impactful startup roles.

Below are some common liberal arts degrees that I’ve matched with the entry-level roles that they’re best suited for in the startup ecosystem. While these are suggestions, they should by no means feel constricting, I’m certain you could find plenty of examples of each of these majors leading to each different role.

If you’re interested in learning what it takes to land one of these roles, you can learn more in this post.

Psychology / Education / Communications

You’re fascinated by people and are naturally curious about what makes them tick. Don’t spend the next year working toward the ivory tower of grad school. Instead utilize your understanding of human behavior in a real world context.

Sales Development Rep — The Hunter

A company is driven by its sales, making salespeople one of the most valuable assets in any startup that sells to other businesses. Part team sport, part individual competition, sales is an opportunity to fulfill your natural competitive drive while simultaneously deepening your understanding of how human beings act in the wild.

Your day starts off with a team meeting reviewing progress on this month’s goals. Overhead, a screen shows how your team is doing and where your performance ranks among them.

You spend most of the morning following up on emails and the afternoon calling prospects to assess if they’re a good fit for your product.

While some days can feel like a grind, you’re making amazing friends on your team and are enjoying mastering one of the most sought after skill-sets in business.

Roles that you’ll set yourself up for:

  • Business Development/Partnerships
  • Renaissance Rep
  • Non-technical founder (particularly for a company that sells to businesses)
  • VP/Head of Sales
  • Chief Revenue Officer
  • Chief Executive Officer (particularly for a company that sells to businesses)

Further Reading:

Customer Success — The Nurturer

To be clear, customer success is not customer support. Rather than handling inbound help tickets from unhappy customers, your role is focused on proactively building relationships and ensuring that customers are getting as much value out of the product as possible.

Today, you’ve got a full docket of meetings. Some will involve on-boarding new customers. Others will give you the chance to strategize with existing clients about how to understand industry trends in the context of their business.

Apart from the relationships you’re building externally, you’re also building relationships with people on the product team, meeting with them weekly to communicate recommendations and incorporate customer feedback.

Roles that you’ll set yourself up for:

  • Business Development/Partnerships
  • Non-technical founder (particularly for a company that sells to businesses)
  • VP/Head of Customer Success
  • Chief Customer Officer
  • Chief Executive Officer (particularly for a company that sells to businesses)

Further Reading:

Economics / International Relations / Political Science

You’re a naturally analytical thinker for a fast-moving career path that engages both the right and left sides of your brain. Perhaps you’ve been thinking about going into finance or consulting, but get turned off by the rigid hierarchy and bureaucracy. If you want a challenge that will get you thinking on a systems level and that is equal parts analytical & creative, here are a few roles that might be a good fit:

Growth Marketing Analyst — The Experimenter

Your day is centered around coming up with, executing and measuring experiments to drive critical metrics like user acquisition, retention, or revenue. One day might involve testing out a new paid acquisition channel like Facebook advertising while another might be focused on A/B testing the copy on your landing page.

By pulling and parsing data, you will be surfacing insights that drive the company’s product and marketing decisions. While the scope of your role will depend a lot on the size of the growth team, you‘re an integral part of the engine that drives the company’s ultimate success.

Roles that you’ll set yourself up for:

  • Growth Marketing Generalist
  • Channel specialist (Paid User Acquisition, Conversion Rate Optimization, etc.)
  • Product Manager
  • Non-technical founder (particularly for a company with a consumer product)
  • VP/Head of Growth
  • Chief Executive Officer (particularly for a company with a B2B product)

Further Reading:

Business Operations Associate — The Systematizer

You’re in charge of building the systems and processes that allow the company to reach scale and no two days are the same. One day you’re conducting an analysis on the performance of the sales team and the next you’re negotiating with the company’s biggest supplier.

For the past week you’ve been working with the sales and finance teams to build out a better process to ensure that new sales are converted into cash in the bank. Today you’ll be presenting to the department heads as well as the CEO.

You like getting to put your analytical horsepower to work for a broad range of teams like sales, product and hiring and being the girl/guy who can come up with solutions for their biggest challenges.

Roles that you’ll set yourself up for:

  • Sales/Marketing/Marketplace Operations
  • Business Development
  • General Manager
  • Non-technical founder
  • VP/Head of Operations
  • Chief Operating Officer

Further Reading:

Sociology / Anthropology

You’re a keen observer of people and culture and find yourself constantly asking “why?” When you see a problem, you’re naturally inclined to seek the root cause and start tinkering around with solutions. If you’re excited about shaping the impact that technology is having on society and individuals, here’s a role you should look into:

UX Designer — The Observer

As Paul Graham from Y Combinator tells his companies: “Build Something People Want” How do you do this? By understanding your customers and their needs.

It’s a UX designer’s job to deeply understand a company’s customer base and then prototype solutions for their implicit needs. Then, working in collaboration with visual designers and product managers, they help to flesh out these prototypes into products that can ship.

Your day involves touchpoints with customers, heads-down time for thinking on complex interface issues, and an ample supply of sticky notes. The UX field is very collaborative, so you’ll likely be working in a team with other designers.

Roles that you’ll set yourself up for:

  • UX Researcher
  • Senior UX designer
  • Product Manager
  • VP/Head of Design
  • Product-focused founder
  • Chief Product Officer
  • Chief Executive Officer

Further Reading:

For the English/History/Philosophy Major

After spending your college career researching and writing about intellectually stimulating topics, the idea of becoming some publicist’s underpaid assistant is a painful prospect. If you’re seeking a role where you’re valued for your ability to write and engage an audience then read on…

Content Marketer— The Writer

You’re the driver of content strategy: the public megaphone of the company offering insight and clarity into the product, building relationships with customers at scale.

You’re in the office early putting finishing touches on today’s blog post. After reading it over for the fifth time you decide you’re ready to hit publish.

From there you’re off and executing on your promotion plan– posting to social media, emailing influencers in your industry and ensuring maximum exposure to as many many potential customers as possible.

After that, you’re heads down writing, trying not to pay too much attention to your buzzing phone notifying you about likes, comments and shares on your latest post.

In the afternoon, you’re meeting with the rest of the marketing team, strategizing about the company’s marketing goals and planning the first episode of the podcast that you’re spearheading. The rest of the day will involve more writing, getting through emails and updating your metrics.

While there’s a lot of work to be done, you can’t think of many other jobs that would give you a great paycheck for writing and a platform to brand your name and expertise.

Roles that you’ll set yourself up for:

  • Channel specialist (Email Marketing, SEO Specialist, etc.)
  • Product Marketing Manager
  • Head of Content or Editor and Chief
  • Non-technical founder
  • Chief Marketing Officer
  • Chief Executive Officer

Further Reading:

For the Architecture/Fine Arts Major

You’ve got the right mix of empathy and aesthetic sensibilities to create elegant solutions to other people’s problems. With hard work, it’s possible to leverage your artistic education into a fulfilling career designing the kind of digital products that are adopted and beloved by users all over the world.

Product Designer – The Architect

You get in the office early because it’s easier to concentrate when things are quiet. You’re already in Sketch designing assets for the new iOS app.

Later in the morning you’ll be meeting with the engineering team to walk them through the new on-boarding flow you’ve created.

You’ve set up back-to-back usability tests with customers to ensure that the flow you’ve created is easy to use. Afterwards, you’ll be meeting with your product manager to give a report on your progress and get feedback on your initial designs.

You like that your day has a mix of in-person meetings as well as solo time where you can crank out work.

Roles that you’ll set yourself up for:

  • Senior UX /UI/Product designer
  • Product Manager
  • VP/Head of Design
  • Product-focused founder
  • Chief Product Officer
  • Chief Executive Officer

Further Reading:


Hopefully this guide has given you a better sense of some of the options out there and some peace of mind that with additional effort and focus, you can leverage your existing skill-set into a really fulfilling role at a fast growing startup.

At Tradecraft we’ve helped a few hundred people transition into fast-growing startups like Facebook, Uber, Medium, Udemy, Gusto,etc. If you’re serious about making this your career path and you want hands-on help with tactics & execution, drop us a line.