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Why can’t I find a job?

Student Career Placement Consultant

Frustration by Peter Alfred Hess, on Flickr ( survey of entry-level job seekers conducted last fall provided an unfortunate look at the lack of success many college graduates were having finding employment: 70% of the respondents were either unemployed or working in full-time jobs that did not require a college education. You can read more about the survey online, but in this post I want to talk about what you can do to avoid being among those people who can’t find a worthy position.

One of the big decisions that college students make is choosing a major, and having chosen a major (which you have to do) can cause you to encounter two distinctly different kinds of problems after graduation: you may feel limited by your major, or you may realize that you have no idea what the options are with your major.

Feeling limited by your major

There are some majors that can lead directly to fairly specific careers — engineering, computer science, accounting, business management, and so forth — and that’s great if you are eager to get started working in that field.

However, those majors can feel limiting if at the end of your degree, you realize that you no longer want to have a career in that field. I was an English education major as an undergraduate, and in my final semester, when I completed  my required semester of student teaching in a junior high school, I realized that I had no interest in ever entering a public school again!

What I had to do was find a job that would utilize the skills that I had developed in my major and elective courses: I was good at communicating both in writing and orally; I was organized and could prioritize both my time and my tasks; I could analyze audiences and situations to create an appropriate response; and I was detail-oriented and meticulous. All of those are skills that most employers are going to look for, even if they’re not all spelled out on a job description, so including them on my resume (and finding anecdotes from my experience to back up my claims) was an important factor in finding that first job.

No idea what to do with your major

It’s likely that there are more majors that do not lead to a direct career path than majors that do. For example, degrees in the humanities (e.g., English, history, art appreciation), the sciences (biology, chemistry, physics), math, and many of the social sciences (sociology, psychology, anthropology) don’t suggest any obvious career, except, perhaps, teaching, which a lot of people just aren’t that interested in.

If this situation describes you, you're going to need to think about your skill sets, just as with the individuals who feel limited by their major, but you are also going to want to take advantage of resources available to you on campus and online to determine the kinds of careers typical for people in your major.

The counselors in your career center are going to have this kind of information, and while that’s an important resource, you need to do more than just visit your career center. Use LinkedIn to identify people who graduated with your major and see what kind of jobs they have. Once you’ve graduated, join your alumni association and use alumni resources to locate alumni who completed the degree you completed and contact them to learn about their careers. The professors in your major courses may also have suggestions about career options or alumni you can contact for more information.

I think that most of you will be surprised by what people do after college, often in jobs that have little obvious connection to the major. For several years, I have maintained a list of alumni who graduated with a degree in English from my university, and here are just a few of the job titles they currently hold.

  • Account Development Specialist
  • Senior Managing Editor
  • Pre-Audit Technician
  • Instructional Designer
  • Program Manager
  • Recruiter
  • Occupational Therapist
  • Investigative Reporter
  • Chief Executive Officer
  • Communication Coordinator
  • Production Assistant
  • Data Scientist
  • Web Producer/Developer
  • Information Developer
  • Regional Sales manager
  • Marketing Manager/Specialist
  • Content Manager

The above list comes from an alphabetical list of alumni holding a BA in English — and only looking at names beginning with A through D on that list!

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