Is this a gross generalisation or is there a spark of truth in the belief that most people who choose to study arts degrees have no interest in ‘the business world’? If you’re not an arts graduate, do you agree with this statement? If you are an arts graduate then I hope that this statement troubles you at least a little …and perhaps a lot. Is this statement fair or true of you? Is it something that you are happy to have others – business graduates, employers, and the government – believe about you and of arts graduates in general? Could you talk with confidence and in detail about the skills you have developed during your degree and relate these to what you will bring to a future work place or to a future career?  

If you, for the sake of argument, eschew the business world, why is this? Is it the ‘corporate business model’ and the absolute prioritisation of corporate and investor wealth creation? Is it the potentially problematic environmental, social and political footprint that this creates? We all have a vested interest in enterprise in general and of course many of us rely on employment with small and medium-sized businesses to support ourselves during and after university and appreciate the contribution small businesses make to our lives and the economy. But if the ‘business world’ is really unattractive to you, it is essential to understand why and to be able to articulate your reasons clearly and rationally. It isn’t enough to say “I don’t like big business” because like it or not, big business is part of your life if you have bank, phone and email accounts and consume power.

If you are an arts graduate and have an interest in business you will need to work hard to address potential employers’ natural questions such as why you didn’t take a business degree and what you have gained from your arts degree, and your time at university that is useful in the business world.  What evidence would you provide of ‘business thinking’ in your CV? What types of business questions would you be in a position to answer during an interview?

On the website, are two recent survey reports on specific interview questions being asked by business sector employers including ‘The Big 4’ business consulting firms, Ernst and Young, PricewaterhouseCoopers, Deloitte and KPMG. Questions are inevitably business-oriented and would present a challenge for almost all graduates of all disciplines. That’s the intention. Clearly anyone who has studied business has a head start but in my experience, the majority of commerce students would struggle to provide satisfactory answers unless such questions are anticipated and prepared for carefully. The Internet is a beautiful tool in this regard; even if you have never formally studies business, the answers are out there. No excuses. Do your research.

  • Why do you want a career in business consulting?
  • Why our firm?
  • Tell me about a time when you worked on a team?
  • Tell me about a time when you made a mistake and how you went about correcting it?
  • Give me an example of a time you failed.
  • What are your best qualities?
  • What are your worst?
  • How do you value a company?
  • What’s the most difficult thing you’ve ever had to do?
  • How well do you work under pressure?
  • Have you ever persuaded others to accept and implement your ideas?
  • Describe situations where you’ve used technical writing skills.

If you honestly felt that all of these questions were within your comfort zone, then that’s a great result, but don’t get complacent. The questions for those interested in the ‘management consulting’ and ‘investment banking’ sectors are far more technical and the pace at such interviews is relentless.

  •  What’s 16 x 17?
  • If you overstated depreciation by $100 million on your income statement, what would you need to do to correct the error, and what is the impact on the three financial statements?
  • How would you explain what present value is to your mom?
  • In plain English, tell me how to price a bond?
  • In three minutes, give me an overview of what caused the 2008 financial crisis and the steps that have been taken to help get us out of the recession.
  • Pitch me a merger of any two companies.
  • Would you rather I give you a dollar a day for the rest of your life or $1,000 right now? Why?
  • What can you tell me about the current market?
  • What is you interest rate outlook?
  • What does it mean to have business ethics?
  • What does risk management mean?
  • If you had three million dollars to invest right now, what would you do?
  • What was the last thing you researched or learned about because you wanted to understand it, not because you were told to for a class?


Related article:

Life after university – 14 careers tips for arts graduates

Join the conversation! 4 Comments

  1. I think this asks a great question, because there are some arts students out there who have no interest in business, which is particularly interesting for those that do decide to stay in their art, because being an artist in many ways is like being an entrepreneur, as it is very much about building your own career. However, for arts students that decide to then enter the business world, I think the employer needs to learn how to better judge the actual skill set that is sitting in from of them, especially if the job they are interviewing for has any sort of critical thinking or creativity involved. For instance, when I’m looking to fill a Marketing position, seeing a candidate that majored in marketing, had a marketing internship while in school, and then was a Marketing Assistant as their first job out of school shows me they do indeed have experience, but really what else do they bring to the table? It’s like they just followed a very specific path without a dose of ingenuity or individuality. However, I find that artists tend to be excellent at asking questions, at looking at problems from different angles and taking their imaginations to a level most people could never conceive. I can teach an employee what risk management is by having a great training program that most companies (like the big 4) send employees through anyways. You can’t teach creativity. I think arts students who are interested in business need to learn to pitch themselves for what they are worth.


    • Thank you for your reply you’ve raised important points.

      Not all arts graduates (with degrees in arts and humanities subjects) are ‘creative’ and there are of course many business graduates out there who are. So my comments were not intended to type-cast graduates by their study choices.

      Those who study the fine arts (eg. painting, sculpture, design), as you have stated, bring creativity, a different perspective, and a different, even intuitive approach, to problem solving. In a team setting, this can stimulate the creativity of others who are used to more conventional problem solving approaches, and provide a business advantage.

      Similarly those who study the performing arts (eg. theatre and dance) often have abilities in process thinking, organisation, time management and public speaking. They may also be strong in personal impact, stamina and resiliance. The challenge I think is for students to use their time at university to look beyond the skills within their degree, and also analyse and promote the skills and knowledge they gain from their other activities such as projects, field work, workshops, part-time work, voluntary work, campus- or community-based clubs and societies and leadership programmes. Ideally, all sudents at the beginning of their studies, should be aware of, and exploit, the opportunities they have during their time at university, to develop a wide and impressive skill set. I agree that it would be great if recruiters could ‘read between the lines’ (or use psychometric assessment tools) to gain greatre insights into a candidate’s potential beyond their degree and resume, but I also accept that most recruiters would say that the ‘burden of proof’ (of capability and potential) lies with the applicant.



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