What it is

Business, aka the private or for-profit sector, involves the sale of products and/or services in the hope of financial profit. Because business involves a great deal of informing and persuading, there are many plausible roles for humanities and social science PhDs, drawing on their common skills of writing, research, teaching, and analysis. Some academics take a dim view of business, believing that the presence of the profit motive somehow nullifies the possibility of intellectual challenge or moral goodness. This view is ill-informed. Depending on the company you work for and your role within it, a career in business can be packed with intellectual challenge and positive social impact.

Starting points

Numerous. The projects you voluntarily take on, the non-academic subjects that already interest you, and the products/services you already use all provide clues to possible entry points for you.


The variety of advancement pathways in the business world is truly astonishing. You can move up within your area, cross over into another, change companies or even change fields altogether. Or, you can “advance” by eventually starting your own business—a risky strategy, but it does pay off for some.


All humanities and social science disciplines provide equal preparation for a career in business. Skills are key, not subject matter knowledge, although subject matter knowledge can sometimes be useful.

Personality and outlook

All personality types can succeed in business given the right match of person, role and company. An entrepreneurial streak, while not critical, is helpful. What is critical is a willingness to use your skills and intellect towards applied purposes, and to shift your mindset from valuing problems to valuing solutions.


Conduct informational interviews of businesspeople; look to friends and family for candidates. Take a business class. Pick a business field that interests you; read and blog about it. Do service projects that will demonstrate and develop your skills in teamwork, project management, communicating with lay audiences, and delivering results on time and on budget.

Real Life Examples