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How important is my college major?

Student Career Placement Consultant

There are some fields—such as engineering, business administration, education, and accounting—that suggest a specific path to a career. But it is more often the case that an academic degree, and even a specific major, does not lead directly to a particular position or even a particular type of position.

Finding a job for most majors in the sciences, social sciences, and humanities will require either additional academic work (that is, a graduate degree or a certificate) or that applicants demonstrate specific skills and experiences (such as internships and extracurricular activities) in addition to what is required for a four-year degree.

This is where you are going to have to think carefully about not only what you have learned in college, but also what you have done (or can do if you’re still in school).

Identify skills

Keep in mind that by skills, we’re not just talking about your ability to use a particular type of software or speak another language. Important skills for you to develop/recognize includes things such as communication (written, oral, interpersonal), leadership, organization, time management, collaboration, research, critical thinking, and planning.

Show, don't tell

You need to be sure you can provide evidence for anything you claim as a skill: a specific example of a situation or action that demonstrates how you have used that skill in the past and can use it in the workplace. The profile you complete when you enroll in 1stGig asks you to provide examples for your attributes, so that’s a great opportunity for you to think carefully about your skills and how you can justify your claims about them.

You may want to develop a document for your own use that lists the skills and talents you have to offer, perhaps based on the results from producing your 1stGig profile or from any aptitude tests you’ve completed. Then, as you read job ads, see which skills are most pertinent for jobs in different environments and use your list to help you create resumes tailored to each specific job that you want to apply for.

A degree isn't the full story

The flip side of this is that employers need to focus on the skills, experiences, and attributes that an applicant brings to the job, not just the “label” that he or she earned by completing a college degree. The degree is a credential that demonstrates an individual’s ability to complete academic work, but it doesn’t always indicate what that individual can do outside the classroom. Descriptions of skills and accomplishments need to play an important part in the job application process, and assessment and thoughtful consideration of them will be a significant part of the best hiring decisions.

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