You’ve finished off a few years of college and everything has been going smoothly – until you realize that you want to pursue a career outside of your major. With only a short period left before you graduate, there’s no longer time to switch majors – so what should you do?
The first step after making this realization is to avoid getting too stressed. You shouldn’t feel like you’re locked into a career just because you majored in a certain subject. Although some careers — such as medicine and law — require you to get an advanced degree in a specific subject, many other careers allow for more flexibility.
College Confidential had a chance to chat with Antonio Neves, author of 50 Things Every College Student Should Know, to get the scoop on how you can enjoy a successful career that may not be related to your major.
College Confidential: Is it possible to pursue a career in something outside of a college major?
Antonio Neves: It is absolutely possible to pursue a career in something outside of a major when school is over. In fact, data from the Federal Reserve Bank of New York in 2013 determined that less than 30 percent of graduates are in a job closely relating to their majors.
The truth is that our interests evolve. What students were fascinated about when they were 18 or 19 years old (when they selected their major) can drastically change over the course of just a few years. I know this firsthand, as I’ve had already three different careers. Something to always remember is that your first job won’t be your last job.
It’s no wonder that Gallup found that in 2016, just 33 percent of employees in the United States workforce are engaged. In my experience, a good percentage of people who are not engaged at work are those that are still working in the field of their major that they are no longer interested in.
Sometimes students choose a major and stick with it so they don't let their parents down, when they truth is that long-term, they’re really letting themselves down.
CC: What if someone graduates and decides to apply for a job that has nothing to do with their major? How can they explain this to potential employers?
AN: More than ever, and unless it’s in a specialized field, employers are hiring employees based on company culture fit, not a student’s major. If it’s a great candidate who doesn’t have the professional aptitude but he or she is a great fit for the company culture, the company will gladly train and develop the person. This as opposed to hiring someone who has the professional aptitude but is a poor company culture fit.
If a graduate is applying for a job that has nothing to with their major, it’s critical for them to be able to have an “agenda” during the interview process. First, this means being able to have a response, and solution, to any objections the potential employer may have with their experience and lack thereof.
Second, they should be able to demonstrate their level of “hunger” and commitment to pursue this new path. A great way to do this is by presenting or submitting a project or research based on the company (or industry) when applying for the job or during the interview process. Very few people do this, and it will help them stand out in the crowd and be memorable.
Third, they should be able to provide real-life examples of the key skills that employers crave beyond the major. These are leadership skills, soft skills, collaboration skills, creative thinking skills and problem-solving skills. If an applicant has all of these skills but not the “right” major, an employer will be likely to hire them over the candidate who doesn’t have those attributes.
CC: If a person decides mid-career to shift fields, should they go back to school and get a degree in another field, or can they often just start at the bottom of another field and work their way up (with the exception of something that requires an advanced degree, like an attorney)?
AN: If a person decides mid-career to shift fields, I would first recommend that they conduct as many informational meetings as possible with professionals in the field they plan to pursue to decide if getting another degree is required. In my experience, outside of specialized fields (such as law or medicine), rarely do you need to go back to school.
Second, before quitting your job to pursue a new field where you lack experience, I recommend that professionals get experience during the “after hours.” This means that although you may have a “nine to five,” you can learn about your new field of interest from “five to nine” or during the weekends. This can be accomplished by taking continuing education courses, shadowing someone who has the job you desire, getting a part-time job or volunteering your time in the field of interest.
The key when you begin to apply to these positions is being able to overcome any objections based on the job description and demonstrating how your experience, although from another field, adds real value to the employer that others don’t have.