Interview Advice from the Classics

Hui Li ‘21

Chief Photographer

Those who know Professor Thomas Martin of the Classics department may occasionally hear him quote William Faulkner, “The past is not dead. It’s not even past.”

This was certainly true in “Classics and Job Interviews: Success Strategies,” a discussion in which he and Joe Aramini ’19, a History major minoring in Classical Archaeology, spoke about bringing the knowledge and skills from studying the ancient world into the present-day job market.

Professor Martin and Joe Aramini ‘19 hosted a discussion called “Classics and Job Interviews: Success Strategies” on Saturday, February 23. Photo by Hui Li ‘21.

Professor Martin listed the vast range of disciplines within the Classics which go beyond studying Latin and Greek. In addition to humanities-oriented aspects such as languages, history, and philosophy, the study of the ancient world also involves looking to STEM fields to shed light on ancient science and architecture, and to the social sciences to analyze how ancient peoples structured their hierarchies and perceived their world.

With so many different aspects of the field, there are many challenges in studying the Classics. Studies of the ancient world lack the contemporary sources that modern studies can more easily consult for clarification. Professor Martin noted that for questions he might have about a modern language, he can call a native speaker from a different part of the world and have them answered over the phone. For ancient languages, there are no native speakers we can call to clarify ambiguities about pronunciation and semantics.

With these challenges, however, comes an important advantage. Through piecing together and analyzing the ancient world through the sources we do have today, Professor Martin stated that we develop a comfort with ambiguity. Having the know-how in dealing with unknown information is crucial in adapting to a rapidly-changing world. We are always facing novel problems in the present, and knowing how to make sense of ancient sources gives us experience in making sense of information today.

Joe Aramini ‘19 spoke about his experience applying for a position in the fashion industry. Starting next fall, he will be working in merchandising at TJX in Framingham, MA. Like the Classics, there are many unknowns in the fashion world. Trends come and go rapidly; what is the next hottest look on the horizon? For his job interview, he kept his audience and prior experience in mind in answering the questions.

During his time at Holy Cross, he took several classes in the Classics department and listed Classical Archaeology as an influential course. He stated that in studying the past, he also studied diversity. He took the chance to expand his knowledge and experience in places he wouldn’t have before. The practice he got from studying trends in Classical archaeology helped him analyze fashion trends in the modern world.

Joe Aramini ‘19 spoke about how his experience studying ancient trends in Classical archaeology at Holy Cross enriched his ability to analyze modern trends in fashion. Photo by Hui Li ‘21.

Joe also spoke about the importance of concision. He said that he learned to condense his writing into a clear, concise, and engaging style, crucial for cover letters and resumes. For a successful job interview, Joe also stressed the benefits of not only eliminating jargon from your answers, but also of practicing your speaking skills thoroughly before the interview.

He told his story about what made him stand out from the other applicants in his interview: knowing how to tell a story. According to Professor Martin, the story is “about you, but about them,” your potential employers. The goal of telling a story is to convince the hirers about how you will be valuable to them. It is here where concision is crucial. Professor Martin invited the participants to think about parts of an interview as an “elevator pitch.”

The key is to convince a company why they should hire you within the span of the time it takes to ride an elevator. Every word counts. And you need to be persuasive in such short amount of time. Professor Martin stated that to this day, people still look to ancient sources of rhetoric such as the ancient Roman rhetorician Quintilian for techniques on speaking and persuasion. Even though Quintilian’s works date to the 1st century C.E., the techniques in his writing are still relevant in the modern day.

Joe talked about the stories he told in his interview with TJX. He had mentioned how he had gone on an archaeological dig, an experience that was different from those of other applicants and made the company ask more. Not only did he tell the story of his experience, he also told the story of what he learned and how he could use his knowledge in the present and future. He said that he had learned how to better analyze situations and contexts in his field work. He also told stories about his Classics courses at Holy Cross. Joe emphasized how he had selected a specific example from a very broad topic. It takes just one concise example to make the interview and story memorable and interesting.

At the end of the discussion, Professor Martin gave his advice: show that you can apply what you learned. The important thing, he stated, is “not ‘to learn’, but to learn how to learn.” He re-stressed the importance of learning how to interpret and resolve ambiguity and how to communicate and work with others. In “learning how to learn,” one can adapt and apply previous experience to anything “immediate and present.”

After his closing remarks, the discussion took an interactive shift toward a workshop, complete with handouts from the Holy Cross Center of Career Development. The participants, all Classics students, considered how they could apply their own experiences, both in and outside their Classics courses and Classics-related activities, to their stories for job interviews. They shared their varied experiences with each other, ranging from classes and academic fieldwork to summer jobs and off-campus opportunities, and practiced giving concise answers to sample questions. One of the last pieces of advice Professor Martin gave at the workshop summarized the entire event quite concisely: “Never say ‘unrelated’ when explaining the experiences that have prepared you for the job you want; everything you have learned through experience and training contributes to the invaluable job skill of learning how to learn!”

Classics students applied what they learned from the discussion to their own lives through exercises from the Center for Career Development. Photo by Hui Li ‘21.

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