When I came to the Wisconsin School of Business and joined the Center for Brand and Product Management, I was transitioning from a fairly unusual background: A reference archivist in a research library. In my position as a reference archivist, I took on some social media duties, which quickly led me to believe that marketing was my true passion. Despite knowing that marketing and brand management were my passion, I didn’t see my history degree and archives background as being directly applicable to an MBA program, and I anticipated having to overcome that background in order to succeed. And certainly, when it came to subjects like accounting and finance, the first semester occasionally felt like hazing. But I started to realize fairly shortly after starting that the unusual backgrounds of not just myself, but many of my classmates, led to unusual perspectives and compelling work and conversations.
However, what finally impressed upon me that the skills and instincts I had gained from my humanities background were a strength in the business world was the experience of my summer internship at Boston Scientific. While there, I was working on a project that was focused on determining what physicians wanted to be in the next iteration of a particular system. As I was coming from neither a business nor a medical background, there was certainly a lot to learn. But I quickly found that many of the skills I had picked up in libraries and archives were directly applicable to my project.
As a reference archivist, I had spent much of my time interviewing researchers, trying to draw out details about their projects. At BSC, these interview skills were crucial when it came time to hold conversations with our sales team or physicians, as I tried to learn more about their pain-points and wishes. My interview skills were crucial to being able to make strong recommendations.
Even more than interview skills, the storytelling abilities I had developed through humanities coursework and library work, including trying to share complex histories in short blocks of text through either museum plaques or social media posts, were extremely important. These storytelling skills meant that my final presentation was easily understood by colleagues across a wide spectrum of divisions and roles. Just as importantly, though, I found that my colleagues and managers wanted to use some of my introductory slides in presentations to their managers. As it turns out, being able to distill complex information is both a rare resource and a vital skill when it comes to making the case for funding.
For those considering changing their careers, but are concerned about the transferability of skills, I would recommend reaching out for informational interviews with people in the field you’re interested in. I would guess that there’s more overlap in skillsets than you realize.