A French Major Walks into an Ad Agency

One of my very best friends from undergrad combined her French studies with a degree in biology, and this year she’s finishing her post-grad work in bioscience management. Last weekend she called me to say that she scored an interview for her dream job, and needed advice. Thanks to having recently completed Apples & Arrows’ own internship hiring process, I was primed to help out. Although my knowledge of pharmaceutical lab management is minute at best, I advised my friend on how best to present herself and told her our favorite candidates were the ones who spoke slowly, intentionally, without trying to fill the air just to avoid silence. Then I reminded her that she didn’t really need my help. With her background in French and the arts, she’s statistically more likely to be successful in her chosen field.

In Originals, Adam Grant cites the data that Nobel Prize winners were 12x more likely to win if they had artistic training in poetry, novels, and other writing, compared to other scientists. Grant goes on to point out that successful entrepreneurs also are more likely to engage in artistic leisure activities, a fact that reflects their curiosity and aptitude.

Carey Smith, Founder of Big Ass Fans, supports this theory in an interview with INC. magazine, stating:

“If your employees have no creativity, no imagination and no historical perspective, they can get stuck applying the same comfortable approaches to new problems. Of course I need engineers and accountants, but I don’t want an entire company of engineering and accounting majors. I want a workforce full of people who are intellectually curious, dynamic and who can hold their own in conversation. From my perspective, what defines employees’ success isn’t what they know when they join the company, but rather what they’re interested in. I’d take one aggressively curious religion major over three well-trained, but complacent, engineers any day.”

Understanding how skills, concepts, and personalities translate is huge when it comes to hiring and being hired. This was a major theme in our recent intern hiring marathon. We spent 2 months reading cover letters, scheduling interviews, and sitting down to talk to more than 30 intern hopefuls. Not every candidate we interviewed had perfectly relevant experience. In fact, some of our top candidates had extensive backgrounds in retail and waiting tables. We liked these candidates because they were able to explain to us how those experiences translated to the position they wanted. One candidate even used planning her wedding as an example of real-world project management skills. (She got it.) Diversity in experiences is a great advantage for any team.

As a foreign language, literature, and linguistics student, I got used to explaining how my education prepared me to be employable. Although there were times I wished I could simply answer “accounting!” when someone asked my major, I wouldn’t trade my training for anything.

En bref, the rigors of literary analysis and thinking in a new cultural headspace singularly prepared me for solving creative problems. My experience in literally translating concepts between languages—uncovering themes, finding common ground between cultures—translated to developing strategy by spotting connections between people and ideas. Plus, my coworkers love it when I correct them on the pronunciation of French words.

The next time you’re hoping to be hired, or looking to hire—look for diversity in experiences. Your team will be stronger for it.

p.s. This blog post isn’t meant to hate on any career field. Lots of my friends & family are engineers & accountants, and they are all mostly interesting, strange, wonderful people.