Philosophy in the workplace

There are many reasons for choosing to study philosophy at degree level: enjoyment, personal development, and career change or progression are some of the reasons given by Open University students. Some people might be surprised by the last one: a qualification in philosophy, after all, is not required for any job, other than teaching philosophy in further or higher education. This is something it shares with many other Arts and Humanities subjects. But like other Arts and Humanities subjects it is highly valued by employers. Philosophy in particular fosters skills in analytical thinking and clear communication that are useful in a wide variety of careers. Graduates who have studied philosophy may go on to careers in the law, business analysis, administration, or software design, to name just a few.

This page describes some ways you can use your study of philosophy to benefit your career.

Employability Guide

The Higher Education ASC-PRS logocademy, through one of its Subject Centres, has produced an employability guide specifically for philosophy students. It articulates the skills philosophy students develop; the kinds of skills employers say they look for in graduates; examples of how to demonstrate to employers that these two sets of skills can match up; information and case studies about the career paths of past graduates; and advice about additional sources of support and guidance. You can download the guide as a PDF [419 KB].

What skills can I tell a potential employer that I have developed by studying philosophy?

The philosophy programme offered by the Open University is intended to foster a variety of skills, many of which will be of value in a range of careers. They include the following, which are drawn from the criteria used to ‘benchmark’ philosophy teaching in Higher Education in the UK.

Cognitive skills

  • The ability to think logically;
  • The ability to extract a philosophical argument from a prose text, analyse and evaluate it;
  • The ability to understand and evaluate secondary literature (including commentary in some recorded audio format)
  • The ability to formulate your own views about the problems discussed;
  • The ability to plan and execute philosophical writing at the appropriate level, including the ability to organise a number of arguments and counter-arguments into a coherent essay
  • The ability to understand and evaluate primary source texts in a philosophical manner.
  • The ability to conceive, research and write an extended project (at fourth level and above).

Key Skills

(a) Communication

  • The ability to communicate effectively by means of appropriate academic forms, e.g. the essay;
  • The ability to read and synthesise substantial amounts of material.

(b) Learning how to learn (Improving your own performance)

  • Knowing how to study a complex subject;
  • Knowing how to study and learn independently;
  • Knowing how to seek and use feedback from a tutor, and through self-assessment activity, to improve performance in the academic context;
  • Knowing how to learn from a variety of different media and different teaching methods;
  • Knowing how to reflect on the learning process and evidence of progress.

Practical and/or Professional Skills

  • The ability to understand the logical structure of complex and controversial problems, with an understanding of the major strategies reasoning designed to solve these problems;
  • The ability to read carefully and interpret texts drawn from a variety of historical periods and/or traditions with a sensitivity to context;
  • The ability to judge the success of arguments;
  • The ability to recognise textually-based arguments and subject their structure to rigorous assessment;
  • The ability to use and understand some specialised philosophical terminology;
  • The ability to employ detailed argument to support or criticise generalisations about the relevant subject-matter;
  • Readiness to view unfamiliar ideas with an open mind and a willingness to change one’s mind when appropriate.

Philosophy and employability

In the audio recording below, Nigel Warburton talks to Clare Saunders, from the Subject Centre for Philosophical and Religious Studies. Clare has done research on philosophy and employabilty and this interview focuses on the kinds of career philosophy students tend to go on to; the skills they bring to the workplace, and how best to explain the benefits of studying philosophy to a prospective employer.

How can I get more information about careers with philosophy?

The Open University careers service offers careers information, advice and guidance to all its students. There are useful links on this and the FASS website to further information on graduate careers and recruitment and vacancy sites. The site outlines how to assess yourself in planning your career and how to apply for jobs as a mature student. It highlights the kinds of skills that OU students can gain through study and those that are highly valued by graduate employers. To find out more, visit the Careers Service website.