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“I Don’t Want a Desk Job”

#wocintech chat

Humanities majors often start with what they don’t want when they start exploring their career options. “I don’t want to teach” is the first filter, often followed by “I don’t want a desk job.” Sometimes it’s more specifically, “I don’t want a corporate job.”


If a desk is a deal-breaker, so be it. But it’s usually not about the desk.

By “desk job,” people frequently mean a job that requires them to:

  • Advance organizational goals they don’t care about.

  • Tap on a keyboard all day.

  • Work mostly alone.

  • Make little impact on the lives of others or the world at large.

  • Spend the working day in a sterile, boring environment.

  • Earn a good salary at the expense of other life goals.

A “desk” doesn’t automatically come with all of these qualities. Rather than ruling out the “desk job” altogether, it’s helpful to think more about the positive qualities that you want your career to have.

  • A purpose you care about?

  • A lot of variety in your day-to-day work, including working in a group around a conference table, working remotely, spending time outdoors, going from place to place?

  • Rich interactions with other people, either one-on-one or as part of a team?

  • Opportunities to learn new skills or advance to greater responsibilities?

  • Day-to-day tasks with a demonstrable impact on the world in ways that matter to you?

  • A lively, vibrant workplace?

  • A livable salary, also but meaningful work and good quality of life?

If you can pinpoint what matters to you in avoiding the “desk job,” you can get closer to identifying the work you would enjoy.

Rather than ruling out a “desk job” (or even assuming you know how much desk time a particular job will require), learn more about what kind of work might be meaningful and interesting to you.

  1. Recognize that up to now, you have probably only encountered a fraction of the jobs that are out there in the world that you could do — and open yourself up to serendipitous discovery.

  2. Go to career talks and events on campus to learn more about the options available to you.

  3. Talk to the professionally employed adults around you about what they like about the jobs they do.

  4. Use LinkedIn to reach out to alumni from your program and learn about their career paths.

  5. Go to the Humanities Professional Resource Center or the LAS Life and Career Design Lab to map some provisional next steps based on the the things you have found meaningful and interesting in your life so far.