It's Not Too Late to Choose Business

Regretting the low pay that comes with your liberal-arts degree? Here's how to get paid business-world salaries without losing your focus

We all know the problem. Your high school buddy, who lives down the street, majored in business as an undergrad and is now headed for a high-paying job that has her parents smiling ear-to-ear and your parents wondering why they just shelled out $30,000 a year so you could major in the lucrative field of philosophy. And you, being a soon-to-be officially unemployed philosopher, are wondering the same thing. Indeed it has an official philosophical name. It's called the "Why Didn't I Study Business So I Can Make Big Bucks Like Johnny Problem."

Well, we've got some good news that you can wave in front of your grieving, cash-strapped parents. Or if you're a parent, something that you can e-mail to your needy, restaurant worker/historian child. There are ways you can turn that emotionally rewarding but low-paying liberal-arts degree into a relatively high-paying gig in the financial world…and without completely abandoning your four years of training.

Here are five suggestions for how to make that happen:

The Major: English

The Job: Intellectual Capital Expert

Writing and editing positions aren't exclusive to newspapers, magazines, and publishing houses. Investment banks, consulting firms, and accounting companies have jobs in those fields in their communications and marketing departments. These jobs often pay higher than other traditional writing positions, but usually significantly less than their counterparts in business departments.

Someone writing a corporate newsletter or working in the marketing department of a bank, for example, would probably earn a salary in the upper-$30,000 to low-$40,000 range, though he might not be entitled to the bonus system many companies have, says Carl Martellino, director of Career Services at Pomona College. However, that employee might still earn more money than if he took a writing job at a consumer or trade publication, which would probably pay in the low-$20,000 to mid-$30,000 range.

Money is one reason why Melissa Master decided to go into corporate writing. A 1996 English graduate of Franklin & Marshall College, Master wanted to work in book publishing—until she saw the average salary. Instead, she opted to work for investor-relations agency Financial Relations Board, performing administrative-assistant duties and writing press releases, fact sheets, corporate overviews, and annual-report material.

Then, despite less-than-decent pay, Master headed into the world of magazines. She worked at trade publications, inching her way up to managing editor and news director for two VNU Business Media titles, until she received a call from the editor-in-chief of consulting firm Booz Allen Hamilton's magazine. The editor wanted to improve the quality of the company's white papers and get them up to journalistic standards. Master was ready to take on the challenge.

Now, Master works as senior editor of intellectual capital at Booz Allen (see, 7/31/06, "A Jumping Off-Point for More"). About a third of her time is spent cranking out content for the company's magazine, which has about 80,000 subscribers and is sold on newsstands. For the publication, she ghost-writes pieces for executives and edits stories they write themselves. She also creates articles for other magazines, and contributes to white papers that go out to clients and the media.

The Major: History

The Job: Corporate Historian

Marian Calabro, president of in New Jersey, is someone who turned her history degree into an entry point to the corporate world. Calabro is hired by companies to write their histories. She has penned books on PSEG (PEG), The Pep Boys (PBY), and the Phoenix Companies (PNX), among others. The price for Calabro's services starts ranges between $25,000 and $250,000 depending on scope and complexity of the project.

From start to finish, it takes Calabro about 18 months to put together a book, since she typically interviews 60 people. "You need a cross-section of the folks in the corner office but also the rank and file," she says. "With Pep Boys, I interviewed the guys who change the brakes." Calabro started her post-college career as a copywriter. After about 10 years, she went freelance, did some promotional writing, and then segued into writing books, starting with young adult novels and working her way into corporate histories.

So why do companies want books written about them? For one, they're relatively cheap marketing materials. The books can also serve as a reminder to the public that the company has a clean history and a proven record of success, especially important since the Enron scandals of 2001. Or companies can create a book as a turning point, to show revitalization and/or rebranding.

Not all corporate historians are self-employed. They can work as both in-house staff members and outside freelancers. For historians who work in-house at a large company, job duties often include running a museum, maintaining and building archives, conducting research, and doing some marketing work.

Most corporate historians have advanced degrees and years of work experience. So for students interested in the field, a smart place to start would be in the corporate-communications office of a company or at an outside business. It's also helpful to take business classes while in college and to strengthen communications skills through writing and public speaking courses.

The Major: Art

The Job: Art Advisory Services

Clients who use wealth-advisory services usually have a diversified portfolio made up of real estate holdings, stocks, mutual funds, and, often, art. Hence, many companies that offer wealth-management services are focusing some attention on the art world and hiring employees with that type of knowledge.

Citigroup (C) has been operating its extensive art-advisory service since 1979. The private bank employs advisers with expertise in various types of art, including Asian pieces, contemporary works, and jewelry. Advisers do research and help clients decide which pieces would be most beneficial to add to their collections and which to sell. Advice on each purchase or sale is conducted in the context of financial markets and personal financial affairs, giving clients the benefit of financial knowledge as well as artistic expertise. Citigroup can also catalog pieces in a photographic database, handle insurance needs, and give advice on estate planning for clients with extensive collections.

Smaller companies without art advisers often hire employees with art backgrounds and contract out work when necessary. Lexington Wealth Management, based in Lexington, Mass., recently hired someone with an art-history degree. Though that wasn't the only reason he was hired, his background certainly helps him speak with clients who have collections, says president Michael Tucci. Lexington also outsources art appraisers on a case-by-case basis.

The Major: Psychology

The Job: Consumer Psychologist

Who determines how package design affects product likability? Studies consumer response to advertisements? Focuses on buying-behavior trends? The answer is the consumer psychologist. Consumer psychology is the "study of human responses to product and service related information and experiences," according to the Society for Consumer Psychology.

That means consumer psychologists work in a variety of settings to help companies and other organizations figure out how to make their marketing strategies most effective. They work at advertising agencies, universities, research firms, and courts, among other settings. In a court, a psychologist can be an expert witness in a trademark-infringement case, whereas in an ad agency, a psychologist can show findings on the effectiveness of different commercials, according to Psi Chi, the national psychology honor society.

For the most part, a Master's or PhD. is needed to practice as a consumer psychologist, however, an undergraduate degree in psychology is a smart way to launch a career. Most consumer psychologists earn advanced degrees in marketing, management, or advertising. Academic positions at colleges would most likely require a PhD. (According to the Society for Consumer Psychology, the following schools have some of the best marketing PhD. programs: The University of Florida, Columbia, Northwestern, Penn's Wharton School, the University of Texas, and Ohio State.)

The Major: Philosophy

The Job: Compliance Officer

Corporate ethics have been a hot topic since the Enron scandal of 2001, hence compliance is one of fastest growing fields on Wall Street. Though most current available jobs are in the middle or senior level, there are some entry-level positions out there, says Jack Kelly, managing director of Compliance Search Group, an executive-search firm that specializes in compliance. "They would make sure brokers aren't taking advantage of clients, not calling up an unsophisticated client just to make commission," Kelly says.

Entry-level candidates should look into regulatory agencies—such as the New York Stock Exchange, the Securities & Exchange Commission, or local exchanges—or a company such as Merrill Lynch (MER) or Morgan Stanley (MS). At such companies, employees would be charged with oversight of certain areas with regards to rules, regulations, and ethical standards. Pay would run about $55,000, plus bonuses, in New York. Pay varies in other parts of the country, Kelly says.

Compliance work is often done by people looking to go to law school or get into the law-enforcement field. Business coursework is also helpful for the job, since it's very legal-, audit-, and risk-based.

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