It’s a mistake to obsess over decisions you made before you were old enough to legally drink. Sure some choices can come back to haunt you. Your college major shouldn’t be one of them. Maybe your university advisor offered dire warnings. Perhaps your well-meaning parents or peers painted pictures of poverty if you pursued Art History. No matter what others have told you, you are not defined by your degree. Your passion can take you places you couldn’t have imagined a few years ago. The secret lies with proper positioning –– putting yourself in the right time and place to land your dream job. So how do you go about getting a job unrelated to your degree?
Mind Over Major
If you’ve kept in touch with your school chums, you probably won’t be surprised by this widely reported statistic. According to a 2014 report by the Federal Reserve Bank of New York, only around “27 percent of undergraduate degree holders are working in a job that is directly related to their college major.” Far more are working at jobs that don’t require a degree at all! Almost 40% of recent college graduates fall into that category. More recent and extensive examinations by labor market analytics firm Emsi used 125 million professional profiles and other sources to show how top career choices for each major were predictable. Twenty percent of engineering grads, for example, landed their first job in industrial and mechanical engineering. Language and philosophy degrees led to careers in education, journalism, and writing.
Yet these “top choices” show that the majority of those degree holders aren’t following the expected path. You’d be forgiven for assuming top technology jobs require a computer-based degree. Turns out many top tech firms are hiring liberal arts majors. Why? Because a humanities degree requires a wider range of studies and experiences. Plus, liberal arts majors have the “soft skills” that are so much harder to teach –– including critical thinking, communication, and problem-solving. Regardless of your degree, focus on polishing your talents in these areas. Because not only are employers not focused on the degree, in some cases they aren’t even focused on the skills with Amazon joining a growing list of employers who are offering their own in-house postsecondary training and credential programs.
Few people want to be poor. So you’ll be pleased to know that it’s the field not the major that is responsible for the higher paycheck. Dedicating your college years to business, medicine, or law doesn’t guarantee higher earnings than those who entered the field with a completely unrelated degree. If you earn an undergrad degree in Creative Writing followed by an M.D. you’ll make as much as peers who followed traditional trajectories. In the real world your ethics and attitude are far more valuable than the calligraphy on your sheepskin.
Investment bankers are high earners because of what they do, not because they majored in finance. If that seems obvious, the more daunting question in how do you land an interview –– let alone a job –– in a high-paying field if you don’t have the traditional credentials? Part of the problem lies with the college curriculum. As Emsi chief innovation officer Rob Sentz explains, “There is an enormous part of the economy hungry for graduates with skills in analysis and communication –– skills students are honing as they conduct close readings of texts, persuade their classmates in seminars and hone the style and structure of papers. Students outside STEM fields often lack the sense that they are gaining discrete, in-demand skills in the course of their studies. Consequently, they do not perceive a clear line between their education and the working life for which it laid the foundation.”
The secret to getting a job unrelated to your degree is to put yourself in the right rooms. If you’re still attending university, you have a leg up. Just one or two courses outside your major can provide invaluable contacts. Don’t just collect phone numbers and email addys. Form genuine relationships based on shared interests. If you’re an English major, you may be offended by people who assume you don’t understand business. Don’t apply the same snobbery to your new friends. Plenty of finance-focused undergrads appreciate classic literature. Discussions of Jane Eyre may get you closer to an internship than talking about trends in Swiss francs.
Internships in or out of college are another great foot in the door. Yet many are as difficult to land as top jobs. You may need to start by volunteering. If you want a career in business, your local Chamber of Commerce is a great place to start.
Employers are less impressed by your degree or the university you attended than by your experiences. A Russian Literature major who transformed an idea into a successful business could score more interviews than a Harvard MBA with limited “real world” experience. “There’s no need even to have a college degree at all, or even high school…” Tesla founder Elon Musk explained in a 2014 interview. Instead, he looks for “evidence of exceptional ability. And if there is a track record of exceptional achievement, then it is likely that that will continue into the future.” Landing your dream job no matter what your sheepskin says is a great place to start.