It was the French philosopher René Descartes who said: “I think, therefore I am.” But devoting your days to thinking about life’s big questions hardly translates into an obvious career plan. No wonder philosophy has long been derided as a degree for drifters.
But while it might be true that a philosophy degree is not a vocational subject, the wide variety of professions its graduates enter – and the array of skills it equips you with – mean you don’t have to be Plato or Socrates to make your mark in life. Just under half of 2009 philosophy graduates found employment within a year. Popular sectors include business and finance (10.2%) closely followed by commercial, industrial and public sector management (9.8%) and marketing, sales and advertising (8.1%). But nearly one in five were in retail or catering roles, reflecting general difficulties in the current jobs market.
High-profile philosophy graduates such as poet TS Eliot, film director Woody Allen, martial arts actor Bruce Lee, civil rights leader Martin Luther King and former US president Bill Clinton are all examples of how the subject can broaden your employment horizons as well as your thinking.
What skills have you gained?
Studying philosophy will have taught you to think logically and critically about issues, to analyse and construct arguments and to be open to new ways of thinking. In addition, you should be able to write clearly and persuasively, absorb and sift complex information and to distinguish between different views and come to a reasoned opinion. You will also be self-motivated, creative and used to prioritising your work and working to deadline – all talents sought after by employers.
What jobs can you do?
“A degree in philosophy does not lead directly into many jobs, an exception being teaching the subject at post-16 levels in colleges or universities,” says Margaret Holbrough, careers adviser at Graduate Prospects. “However, philosophers carry certain kudos, being viewed as ‘thinkers’ with a perception of life and society that can be very useful in numerous environments.”
Careers in central and local government, the legal profession, training, recruitment and human resources, advertising, marketing and journalism are also possible job options. “Working with people and understanding their thought processes and emotions is an alternative area that might appeal to philosophy graduates too,” Holbrough says. “Psychotherapy or counselling are two careers that offer this.”